Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Great American Balancing Act

In the United States we talk a lot about work-life balance. Harried employees talk of the lack of work-life balance, while corporations entice recruits with their culture of work-life balance. Some employees and employers solve the problem with alternative work arrangements such as split shifts, telecommuting or 4-40 work weeks.

Yet, as a country we seem to be failing miserably at achieving this so called balance. Americans take fewer vacation days than any other country. We are one of the only modern countries without vacation-time minimums mandated by law.

A new study by employment firm Hudson noted that “Thirty percent of Americans say they use less than half their allotted time. And 20 percent take only a few days instead of a week or two (Business Week May 21).

Our technologically advanced culture was predicted to give us more leisure time. Instead it has increased the pressure to be “always on.” Even when we’re off, we’re at work. We have blackberrys, laptops and voice mail that allow us to remain at work even on vacation.

As the workplace grows more competitive, the pressure to be there increases. This trend however has not only impacted employees but has also affected business owners. In fact many business owners allow work to consume every waking hour believing that they don’t have the luxury of taking time off.

However, working all the time does not increase productivity, it decreases it! We all need time to decompress and relax. Time away from work allows you to come back with more energy and a fresh perspective. I have gotten many of my best ideas when I was far from an office and work setting.

Balance looks different for everyone but it is something that we all should strive to find. I suspect that for many that means first dealing with the fear of not being at work. Employees and business owners face competition within and outside of our borders. Business owners may lose opportunities to foreign countries that can do it cheaper. Employees may lose their job as organizations merge, or consolidate to cut costs. Many are afraid that if they don’t stay on top of things they could lose their income.

The answer is to overcome your fear with faith. Have faith in your talent and abilities. Focus your energies on becoming productive and giving 100% during the hours you are at work and then go home and give 100% to the other parts of your life.

Your time will be better spent focusing on the positive and living your best life now. Employees should take charge of their careers by keeping their resumes updated and networking to stay current on market trends. Working a 60 hour week does not protect you from reorganization; it simply makes you angry when in spite of all your time you too receive a pink slip!

Business owners should develop multiple income streams to protect themselves against the natural up and down cycles of business. Spend focused time weekly working on the business and not in it. Create systems and processes for success.

Time off does not detract from your competitive edge, it enhances it! Let’s face there will be times for all of us that we’ll put in more hours and work harder but that should not be our way of life. Life is far too short to spend it all working in fear that you will lose ground.

I challenge you to find a better balance, you will not regret it!

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