I am a believer that the quest for Work-Life Balance is futile – and have recently written a book that dispels the myths of this – (see below) . There are, however, lots of ways, we can manage the integration of our work and life demands.
With the onslaught of working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic – and people continuing those practices, post lockdown, it may be time to assess some of our habits. For some remote working was already second nature. I have worked online, and from all over the place, for 15 plus years so when my partner was immersed in the new revelations that teams can meet, collaborate and still be productive without turning up to the office, I was wondering what all the fuss was about! For others, this has been a new territory to navigate.
Over the past few weeks, talking with clients and colleagues, I have noticed certain behaviours and patterns that have stood out and frustrated people with this “new norm”. Much of it is around expectations we set in our work AND personal life.
Deciphering Our Expectations
Expectations are premeditated resentments.—anon
One of our biggest barriers to finding contentment may be unrealistic expectations. Our own beliefs or intentions can spiral into internal overwhelm. Expectations are about your need to control and direct.
As a list-maker, I frequently write down things I want to do in a weekend or at work, such as by the end of the month. However, just expecting something to happen doesn’t make it happen. It is your subsequent action that matters. When my expectations are unrealistic and I don’t follow up with a plan, I end up frustrated, with my list still intact.
In a relationship, if you do something for someone and expect a certain outcome, or you expect someone to act or communicate in a certain way and they don’t, you may feel resentful. Most often the person was acting from their own good intentions and weren’t aware of your expectations. It is your expectation that can be unrealistic. You may go out to brunch and expect your breakfast to be cooked and served a certain way, and you’re disappointed when it isn’t as expected. After a week of exercise and dieting, you may jump on the scale to find that you have gained two kilos; that can make you resentful because you have tried to lose weight.
Your expectations can keep you from even getting started. Maybe your high (or unrealistic) expectations mean that you must know and understand everything before trying it. If you think you must become an expert first, then you may not try new things. But you may become resentful about your lack of action or accomplishment.
Let go of your need to control. Instead, look for gratitude, not expectations, and contentment rather than resentment.
Appreciating Others’ Expectations
In the IT industry, where I spent many of my younger years, passion fuelled my long hours and relentless drive for achievement. People achieved a badge of honour for most time spent in office: being the first person at work in the morning and the one to lock up at night. They were seen as the one who goes above and beyond. As employees, we created these expectations ourselves. We believed that more time and more commitment resulted in more recognition and rewards. Instead, we became resentful about the time we lost in other areas of our lives, and we suffered from poor health. The employer’s expectations were completely out of alignment with ours, and we rarely saw rewards or recognition. You can’t expect staff, colleagues, your children, or your partner to understand your expectations if you don’t communicate them.
This is no different, in our “new norm” of working from home. Unless we set clear expectations (and boundaries) and then communicate them, we can’t expect others to understand them. What you see as ok, your boss may not? It is all in the perception we hold. Agree with your manager and team expectations on your working hours. There are a few trains of thought on this, and it depends on your manager, your work culture and what you ALL agree on. If you have a position where you can work flexible hours, (and your boss agrees!), this means you can leverage the time of day when YOU are most productive (for me this is early mornings!). If you can do this – DO! Just make sure people know when you’ll be available for them as well.
Our perceptions and the expectations we have for ourselves dictate how we feel. You may feel guilty if you are not seen in the office between certain hours. As it turned out, I got more respect when I started spending less time working and more time with my family and taking care of myself.
Choosing Productivity Over Over Hours
Expectations for most employment contracts are based on the number of hours worked. You are evaluated and paid for completing the required number of hours. In the old norm, this was also evident in how many hours you were present IN the office. This doesn’t always produce the best results. People may focus on non-priority tasks or fill up their time with trivial activities that should be done by someone else. Studies are currently being undertaken to see the effects on productivity when a person is given five days’ worth of work to complete in four days (with pay remaining the same). It is thought that productivity will increase. People’s motivation to complete tasks in the allotted time is increased with the reward of an extra day off. It means more is done, in less time. The focus is on the outputs and value added, which, in most cases ,produces higher quality results.
Looking at who is present in the office, who speaks the loudest in meetings, or who records the most hours, bases results on input. If expectations are instead based on output, the end game is results. Setting expectations based on results identifies what is achieved, improves productivity, and provides a different perspective.
Look to measure your productivity in outputs (i.e. number of goals or tasks you accomplish today) NOT inputs (the time you spend at your desk – don’t focus on the fact you worked 10 hours, when actually you didn’t do much and some of this time could have been doing other things at home). Your manager can have more trust in the fact you are working, if the outputs are transparent and achieved.
Home is a relaxed environment, which can make us more productive. We can choose to do things in our own time which promotes life integration . Breaks can include time to hang the washing out, take time to help with kids homework but this is a change in thinking, and different things work for different people. Assess if this is a break and easy to integrate, or if you are in fact using is as a distraction.
The success of Remote-working depends heavily on whether you trust employees to do their work even if you can’t see them. Things that are visible when working side by side, in a virtual environment need to be explicitly stated and accepted. Be sure to share openly if you have family needs that require you to drop out of a meeting. Give a heads up if you need more time to complete a task. Overall, manage expectations on time and deliverables. Open, transparent communication is the only way to build trust.
Making expectations crystal clear
Talking with colleagues who have now been “working from home” for some time now, these are just a few impacts and some practical tips to think on:
- Feeling compelled to respond to emails NOW. People are now sending email at all times, when they are working, and not just during usual work hours.
- Set expectations with your team about your work hours, and expectations for response time.
- Reset your own expectations. You don’t HAVE to answer an email because you got it late at night
- Block email time (I will time management techniques in another post but this really works!) Plan to answer emails at certain periods throughout the day and see how much this improves your productivity!
- Turn OFF notifications on your phone, and laptop. Only address email when you choose to, instead of letting every notification distract you from whatever you are working on
- Put your phone on silent, or set quiet hours
- Don’t let your digital distractions rule your focused work time OR your personal time.
- Scheduling – for some, meetings have added additional stress in a remote working environment. Before scheduling a meeting, give some thought to:
- How many people need to attend? If is is more than 5, will it enable good decision making, or should it be broken up?
- If the meeting is only about disseminating information, choose another method – a video, or email to communicate. Is a meeting really required?
- Build in buffer time, around the start and end of meetings to avoid, being fatigued by endless online calls. We forget the time we usually have to walk between in-person meetings, or grab a cuppa, allows us breathing and brain space!
- You can STILL pick up the phone, and it is often quicker, more personal and less intrusive.
- Setting Boundaries is challenging for some people. Personal and professional rules provide perimeters for everyone. These are indeed personal, as everyone has different styles which work within their home environment. But give it thought.
- Set boundaries with other members of the house. Sometimes it is just as important to educate the family on your expectations. e.g. when the door is shut I’m working, don’t open it.
- Make a rule to have no devices at mealtimes – or times you share together.
- Switch off, watch the number of hours you are working (stats say they increase with home working).
- Have a ritual for ending your day – turn off the light, play a song, close the office door, get changed..anything to signify work is over!
- With colleagues and managers – set status (within Teams), set work hours, set communication standards, set feedback protocols.
- Be clear about your work hours and be consistent with them.
- Ask your company to provide guidelines and etiquette rules (or provide these for your team).
Work-Life Balance My Arse!
This is my new book! Due out next month – if you are interested, and want to stay informed, please complete the form here.
About the book:
Work-life balance is not just a hot topic – it’s a deeply misunderstood construct. We are told we should be striving for that elusive balance, the answer to feeling stressed and overwhelmed, finding happiness and contentment.
However, this quest for balance is futile. Attaining work-life balance is impossible. This book dispels three myths associated with work-life balance:
- That work and life can be separate entities
- That balance implies success happens in the middle
- That work-life balance is a destination
Debbie provides inspiration to unpick the myths and to really think through what work-life balance means for you.
Each chapter provides practical steps you can take to identify what “matters most” to you, to integrate your work and your life in ways that work for you and are true to your values, and to live with a greater sense of purpose. Understand the myths, release your struggle for perfection, and enjoy the journey to creating a magical life for yourself and those you love.