work-life balance

Work-Life Balance in a Peak Performance Culture

By Chris McGoff

James is an entrepreneur a few years out of college, just beginning to grow his own business. Between working on projects for his clients, marketing his company, networking to foster new connections in his industry, and planning ahead to ensure that his business grows successfully, he is almost always occupied with work. This goes on for several years, and he starts seeing great results from his efforts. He’s been able to hire a team and build systems so that projects flow smoothly (most of the time), and he’s finally able to take more breaks, travel, and engage in relationships outside of work. In time, more projects start ramping up as his company grows larger, and he finds himself thrown back into long days, weeks, and months of effort only to slow down again when things fall back into place.

While these long weeks, months, and even years don’t sound like they offer much in the way of traditional work-life balance, they can be very typical in a peak performance environment full of high performers. So what is real work-life balance and how can organizations achieve it?

Work-Life Balance as a Buzzword

“Work-life balance” has become a big buzzword in the corporate world. In fact, 33% of people say that work-life balance trumps compensation, advancement, and job stability as a priority. Organizations often tout a good work-life balance as a key selling point to attract employees, and job seekers are well aware of the concept, specifically looking for employers who offer this elusive promise.

Work-Life Balance in Practice

In my experience, work-life balance itself is a misnomer. Work is a huge part of our lives, and it is absurd to suggest that companies be tasked with creating a work-life balance for their employees. For one thing, employees are not a cohesive group. They are individuals with unique circumstances, personal lives, and long-term goals. While a recent college graduate may be eager to devote more of his life to working extra hours, exploring advancement, and building a nest egg, a new parent may need more flexibility to cut back or work from home. It’s up to each employee to consider and create the balance that works for him or her.

Furthermore, balance is something to be found and maintained across all aspects of one’s life, from work to family to spirituality to self-care and encompassing everything in between. A person living in a balanced state will feel as though his or her time and attention is appropriately invested across that spectrum, but what that looks like will vary a lot based on factors unique to each person’s situation and phase in life.

As a consultant, I also think it’s important for organizations to understand that work-life balance as we think of it may not be achievable over the course of a single work week or even a month. As companies go through busier times of growth and resulting times of stability, employees may find that work-life balance is something that plays out over the course of months or even years. Only these individuals can determine whether the cyclical nature of a given industry is a good fit for their personal needs.

Peak Performance Culture and Work-Life Balance

When counseling organizations on culture, I strive to help them achieve peak performance – a highly intentional type of culture that attracts and retains dedicated employees who add value to their teams. These peak performers are committed to doing good work; they have great concern for their own performance, as well as for the impact they have on clients and colleagues. Regardless of their personal circumstances (which will, as mentioned above, determine the balance they require to be happy and successful), they understand that cycles of intense busyness followed by periods of stability are a normal part of doing business. Most of these employees will be content to find balance over a longer timespan than might be expected in other cultures.

However, even in a peak performance culture with high-achieving employees, work-life balance is critical to prevent burnout. And while an organization cannot create the kind of balance that appeals to all employees, they can nurture a culture that makes space for individual employees to find and sustain their own sense of balance.

Conveniently, the cornerstones of an intentional, peak performance culture are well-suited to allowing employees to carve out the balance that suits their personal needs. Flexibility, adaptability, and authority are all characteristics of an environment that will create space for each employee to set his or her own ideal work-life balance.

From a strictly practical viewpoint, leaders can encourage employees to develop their ideal balance by supporting the use of flexible working hours, telecommuting opportunities, and paid time off and setting a positive example. While liberal and even unlimited paid time off policies are becoming more common, employees may feel hesitant to use their PTO if they don’t feel supported by their organization’s culture. Leaders can demonstrate balance themselves by taking time off for family, to travel, to look after their health, or simply to recharge. They can also offer guidelines and collaboration tools to help their employees work productively from home or set a flexible schedule for themselves – without compromising productivity.

Has your organization found an innovative way to support employees in finding their own work-life balance? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or via email to Chris.McGoff@theclearing.com

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