Work life balance is real. I’ve seen it.
Most people I know, think that I’m crazy. Those people believe work life balance is some mythical creature, like a unicorn or perhaps just an aspiration, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
When I was in school and working at McDonald’s part time, I picked up a book called “If you want to be rich and happy, don’t go to school,” by Robert Kiyosaki. Needless to say, as a boy who hated school at the time, this book really was appealing. Kiyosaki wrote a lot about how to escape the rat race.
Careful observation led me to adopt a similar view to Kiyosaki’s. Why is everyone working long hours and working so hard for little reward? How many people are delaying happiness for a day that might never come? Plenty, it seems.
I didn’t realise it back then but working at McDonald’s was my introduction to effective business systems. Imagine a system where a bunch of teenagers can be left to serve customers, cook food, clean the store, plan parties and so one. Most parents of teenage children are probably asking the more pressing question, why can’t they cook and clean at home? I’m not a parent but I do have experience as a teenager!
My parent’s advice was to work hard and one day the boss would see this and promote me. In each of my roles, I would work when others would not. I did nights, weekends, holidays. No job was beneath me or too dirty. This work ethic carried on in each of my new roles.
About this time, I began studying my Bachelor of Commerce at university. Required reading was a book called “Maverick”, by Ricard Semler. Semler was the CEO of Semco, an advocate of work life balance but he was more than that; he was one of the first to show the world it made good business sense.
Productivity and work life balance seemed to work hand in hand at Semco. In fact, productivity under Ricardo’s lead was better than when the company had a rigid structure that did not favour balance. I would learn this lesson much later; productivity and work life balance can not only co-exist but thrive together.
In 2007, I started contract work for Microsoft. I loved it. My role was to help small and mid sized organisations set up, so their employees could work from home or remotely. Working from home, when few people could, was quite a perk. Of course, many challenges arose that we didn’t anticipate. Still, this was early days for a trend that would catch on in so many Australian businesses.
So many of my colleagues would take their work home. Some confessed they would sit up with their laptop in bed and work from late night into the early hours of the next morning. I was passionate about helping my colleagues live healthier lives and so began helping them set boundaries. One day, towards the end of my contract, a few full time employees were made redundant. Interestingly, when I think back, none of them were the employees who seemed to be living a balanced life.
Those who took long lunches, who played sport, spent more time making connections, spent less time on their computer and seemed happier all stayed in their jobs. Some hard workers stayed too but some were shown the door.
2008’s economic downturn was hardly the fault of Microsoft or the managers. Nor were the redundancies. Arguably, management did what they had to do. My point is, this experience reinforced my belief that no job is safe. Keep learning, growing and developing your career. If you want to protect your livelihood, you need to be ready for what comes. Don’t invest your whole life in a job or a company that might not do the same for you. Live a little.
Today, I get mixed reactions when I mention work life balance. I recall being on local radio promoting a course I was running, titled work life management. On air, I was speaking to the host of the show, who asked, is there really such thing as work life balance? I replied there is and he gave me that look, like he thought I needed a straight jacket. Later, off air, he explained that it was impossible for him to find balance because his circumstances were unique.
If I only had a dollar for each time I heard that. People are only busy these days because it’s trendy. When someone asks how’s work or how’s your business, few people want to admit they have time to relax. Everyone says, I’m flat out. Some people truly believe they are.
I have met hundreds of managers who keep themselves busy. A handful of them are fired or move on. Most continue to struggle. I have met a few business owners who always seem rushed. Some of them, which appeared to be strong businesses from the outside, would close their doors and call in the liquidators a few days later.
In contrast, I have met a few lifestyle business owners who keep ticking along. They invest time with their family, take holidays and they make sure they work on the right things. Focus on productivity over busy-ness. Some of them have been living the life for many years.
Systems are the key to lifestyle business design. Entrepreneurs repeat this wisdom often but very few seem to put this concept into practice. Could your employees run your business if you had to take a sick day? What about if you went on holidays? Most business owners can only step away from their business if they have systems in place to guide employees’ decisions. If you want to enjoy work life balance, you need to be able to step away from your business occasionally.
Work life balance is real. For everyone who tells me it’s not possible, I see another entrepreneur, manager or executive making it happen. Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat. You’re actually not on a train with no brakes. You’re driving the train. My advice, if you’re still searching for a better life, is to take ownership of your time.