July 31, 2013

Topic: Management & Leadership

All-in, all-out — finding work/life balance

Recently I was fortunate to go on a fascinating trip to Jerusalem. The religious, historical, and political aspects of Israel are incredibly interesting, and the confluence of people and religion is amazing.

The Western Wall of the Temple (aka, the Wailing Wall) — probably the most sacred Jewish site, which has a constant stream of people coming to pray 24/7 — is directly adjacent to the third most important mosque in the world, where on a typical Friday 50,000 Muslims come to worship, and on the last Friday during Ramadan approximately half a million showed up.

While I was there, everyone was incredibly nice and seemed to coexist, albeit separately, and get along well enough. But the prospect of lasting peace is incredibly difficult and complex in and around this place, where some of the most important religious sites and neighborhoods of multiple cultures are intertwined. But this is not a travel or political blog, so I’ll move on with my business thoughts that sprang up on this trip.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, our company has a mandatory one-week IT lockout where employees are completely disconnected from our systems, including email. I was on IT lockout on my trip and also had no phone service (which I guess is why my carrier is called “U.S.” Cellular). Consequently, I was totally checked out and able to fully immerse myself in the trip and the experience of being in Jerusalem without the normal distractions of emails, phone calls, and work (and I only checked our stock price once!). For some, this disconnection is stressful. However, when I’m on vacation, I’m totally on vacation, so I find this lockout helps me come back completely refreshed and recharged.

When I’m not on vacation, I’m often criticized for being “on” 24/7. I respond to emails until I go to bed, and I’m notorious for leaving numerous and long voice mails over the weekend (especially after bike rides). I think I typically operate in an “all-in” fashion because I get comfort knowing I’m on top of things before I go to bed at night and am making progress on things over the weekend.

That’s not how everyone operates. Some of the people I work with have habits similar to mine, while others work a long workday and then simply check out each night. Others work as I do during the week but check out over the weekend. Everyone needs time to refresh and reenergize.

So why do people have different routines of engagement? I think some of it is driven by individuals’ personalities. If they work at a fast pace and can easily change gears, they may find it easy and natural to go back and forth between work and personal modes. However, if someone prefers to focus and diligently work through one task to completion, juggling back and forth may be disruptive and less productive.

I think another factor is one’s personal beliefs on what a work/life balance should feel like. This can be shaped by experiences or one’s personal situation, or even by generational components. A style may also be driven by the job or role a person has in an organization and the type of demand that comes with it. Company culture and/or supervisory relationships may also influence the appropriate style. In each one, the individual has a preferred way of focusing on and escaping from work to achieve balance.


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