In tech, the work is never done. Just when you have launched a great new update to your product or ventured into a new market, you’re already knee-deep in whatever comes next, whether it’s another version of your product or something brand new. Layer on a set of industry challenges and competition and pretty soon you’ve got a culture that is known for workaholics — people who won’t quit ‘til the problem is solved. There is just one problem with that: There are always problems to solve, and the work is always there.
While it might be tempting to squeeze out every ounce of productivity you have, that’s not going to fare well for long-term success and motivation. In fact, according to a Gallup poll (registration required), 53% of employees say a role that “allows them to have greater work-life balance and better personal well-being is ‘very important.'”
So how do you create work-life balance for yourself?
Think of work-life balance not as a scale to balance out, but more as a living pie chart. Framed another way: Work-life balance is not a problem to be solved, but a tension to be managed. Sometimes there are things you need to pay more attention to than others. When your kid comes home sick with the flu, the parenting slice of your pie chart just got a whole lot bigger. When you are executing on a major product launch, your other slices may need to be a little smaller.
Thinking this way allows for fluidity, whereas work-life balance implies that you’re always working toward a permanent balance and trying to meet it almost every day. Since no two days are alike, I find that removing the goal of balance removes the burden of focusing on the balancing act and allows you to think more about the priority of the day.
On the other side, how do companies help their employees feel like they are getting the most out of their time at work and at home?
It’s best to treat people like adults. That means trying to ensure they have enough clarity to know what’s expected, and enough freedom to use their skills, knowledge and experience to creatively address the challenges and opportunities they face. As long as everyone is clear on the company’s values and objectives, there is tremendous power in letting people do their work their way. Ultimately, this is the real key to employee engagement.
Despite the trend toward more flexible work environments, many leaders struggle with this approach because they fundamentally don’t trust their people. (And for some roles, it’s just not feasible to be away from the office at certain times.) However, anyone who has been in business leadership for more than a few years knows when their employees are not doing their jobs, whether they are present at the office or working from another country.
As your employees manage their work-life pie charts, restricting them to a traditional 8-5 window or even insisting on a rigid pattern creates an environment that makes people feel less trusted, and therefore, less valuable. Their pie chart is no longer theirs to manage.
Good leaders want happy team members, and most folks do want to do a good job. By embracing the reality that people have to juggle their health, family and work obligations while still delivering superior results, leaders can create an environment where great people want to work. So, while you can’t have your cake and eat it too, you can enjoy your “pie.”