Work/Life Balance – Myth or Something Else

work/life balance as teeter-totterDuring last week’s chat, we discussed  emerging workplace trends.  But what is really underneath the desire to telecommute, inclusive workplaces or even how the space is designed? From the employee’s perspective and probably even the individual executive’s perspective, these trends are happening because people are want their work and life to be more fulfilling..

What is work/life balance supposed to be anyway?

Most people believe that it is a fairly even split in how you devote your time to work and to the rest of your life. There is a sense of achievement and satisfaction in how you structure your days leading to excellent health and well-being.

The reality is that we are at work for the majority of our days and have to fit in the rest of our lives around our work schedule. There is generally very little balance unless you are very lucky or independently wealthy.

A teeter-totter or woven fabric

With the Eurozone crisis continuing and other economies not recovering as we had hoped, there is apprehension and pressure to do more work with less resources. If people are doing this work, does work/life balance exist? Scott Eblin doesn’t believe in it. He writes:

By seeking a rhythm, you acknowledge there are times when the pace is much more oriented to work and there are the times when the counterpoints of the other aspects of your life come to the fore….Instead, you recognize all of the factors that come together to create the rhythm of your life – your life at work, your life at home, your life in your community. You identify and act on the simple routines that support the outcomes you’re looking for in those three arenas of life. They’re the routines that keep you physically strong, mentally acute, relationally healthy and spiritually grounded.”

It is unlikely that people in the workplace are able to balance their days so each segment of their lives gets attention. The teeter-totter model may be creating a ideal that simply cannot be real life. The model of developing a rhythm between work and life might be more realistic. However, there is still the question of whether we’re developing a culture that denies workers at all levels an existence beyond work.

Are we really expecting everyone to just work 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

Now it has been going on for years that people carry their laptops, smartphones and tablets so they can instantly be connected to their office. There is this belief that if you unplug from your workplace, it will be interpreted as slacking. If you are in a lower-level position and want to take time off from work for a family event or an appointment, you risk being passed over for promotions or fired. Does anyone else think this might be insanity?

Maybe it’s hard to feel sorry for C-level executives when they complain about the amount of pressure that they endure. On the other hand, how did companies exist and thrive before we had all this technology that allows us to be “in the office” no matter what? In a recent Reuters article, it featured Oscar Gomez Barbero, chief technology office at Prisa, a Spanish and Portuguese-language business group in the fields of education, information and entertainment and he seems to exemplify the notion that once you’re in the  c-suite, your time is no longer your own. You must respond to your organization any time.

Is work/life balance becoming a myth?

Maybe the emerging workplace trends do point to a rhythm or an integration of work and non-work activities. Yet, with all of the technology that connects us, there is a creeping sensation that everyone (not just upper-level executives and business owners) has to be connected more to their workplace and less to other parts of their lives. There seems to be a mythology that if we could add something or let go of something, we could feel the balance. It could very well be that we understand more clearly that work/life balance cannot exist and we’re seeking an alternative way to work and live.

How do you understand work/life balance?

How do the emerging workplace trends support work and life being more integrated?

What kind of culture is being developed globally that allows work to creep into non-working time?

What are the potential ramifications of this workplace culture?

Do we need a new concept that describes how our working lives and our non-working lives can bring satisfaction, fulfillment and achievement?

*Join us this Friday on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz as we discuss this topic. The conversation begins at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT




How Is the Workplace Really Changing?

Trends in the workplaceEarlier this week, I was going through the various online news outlets that I subscribe to when one item caught my eye. Business & Leadership reported that in a survey commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Vanson Bourne three-quarters of the Irish businesses surveyed are open to a flexible workplace. This seems to be reflected in employees’ desires to telecommute.

But it’s more than just telecommuting

In the workplace, there are mutiple generations, the effects of the greater global recovering economy and rapid changes in technology both creating obstacles and opportunities. In Sodexo’s 2012 Workplace Trends Report, they listed the top 10 workplace trends discovered in their research.

1. Integration of workplace solutions: creating higher value

2. Workplaces that promote sustainability

3. Inclusive workplaces

4. Rewards and recognitions

5. Virtual workforces

6. The built environment as driver of employee engagement

7. Evidenced-based Space Design

8. Quantifiable employee health and wellness initiatives

9. Psychological health in the workplace

10. Flexible workplaces

Is there a quiet revolution happening or are the companies surveyed outliers?

Since the most basic element of a business is to meet the business goals, it is interesting to see how various companies get the work done. There is an interesting example on by Helen Cousins (@excelbusiness) of how one UK accountancy firm found a way to keep a valued employee by creating the means for her to work virtually from Ireland. Other companies are trying to find ways to integrate the push for more work/life balance. Sodexo notes in their report

We forsee a new business formula for success which includes integrating workplace + work style + life-style needs of the organization and its human capital, resulting in full engagement and maximized productivity.

Sounds good but…

With the ability to work from anywhere, many employees, particularly executives, are feeling like they can never unplug from the office. Mobile technology might be a great tool that enables flexibility to get work done from anywhere but it also can act like a ball and chain. And then there is the technology learning curve. As was noted in the Business and Leadership article, many Irish firms lack the technology to allow for their employees to work from alternative sites. How typical is this overall?

There is also a mindset that has to change to allow these trends to be norms. There is still a push for face-time on a daily basis at  many large and small companies. Is it simply that managers believe they must babysit their employees to get the work done?With a tight job market, it is possible that employees feel apprehensive requesting or even demanding a work environment that actually treats them as thinking, feeling and responsible adults. A friend of mine recently told me about his new job. He was totally astounded when his new manager told him to get whatever resources he needed, including hiring an assistant. His previous employer often denied even basic requests that would help complete tasks.

So what’s really happening?

It’s an exciting time of change, no doubt. With people becoming more aware that they don’t have to do the 9-5 (or 6 or 7 or…) thing in a office or cubicle and cram the rest of their lives into the remaining hours, employers will have to respond. Perhaps the Results-Only-Work Environment (ROWE) will gain momentum. Perhaps we’ll see the workplace as somewhere we enjoy spending our time because we feel valued and competent. Sure, we’ll have to figure out how to create face-time because live person-to-person contact is necessary for rapport building. On the other hand, we may make other connections in cafes, parks, online or at home that promote our creativity and productivity. The ways the workplace is morphing may be a slow revolution but there is movement.

Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz this Friday at 4pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to take a look at these workplace trends, possible causes and implications for the future.

Which trends do you see becoming every normal workplace behavior?

Is there a quiet revolution happening or are the companies surveyed outliers?

How are mainstream organizations coping with these trends?






The Perspective Of Business Operations In Strategy

On the face of it, you might think that business operations would be only focusing on the actions that will be taken to implement the strategic plan. And that is true…well, partly true. Sure, the business operations team is certainly responsible for how goals get accomplished. For this discussion, think of business operations as the nitty-gritty of the business. This means the systems, processes, product/service performance, customer satisfaction, managing logistics, inventory, manufacturing, increases efficiency in organization and other recurring activities that increase value.

Could they also bring a different perspective to the strateBusiness Operations guiding strategygic discussion?

Suchitra Mishra, a member of the Kaizen Biz community, wrote a post that elucidates the value of including business operations in where and why the business pursues a particular direction. It is easy to forget there is treasure to behold in the details.

Visions evolve…due to reality

The CEO has the job of envisioning where the company will go over time. It seems counterintuitive but business visions evolve. Conversations with their team members, participating in mastermind groups or reading material are all common ways that new ideas or techniques are discovered. Even experiences in one’s personal life can affect one’s business vision. Getting the vision realized in real life needs effective strategies.

Data is reality

As more experience adds nuances to the business vision, it evolves. Adding more nuances are numbers. This is where business operations shines. They provide the necessary grounding for strategies to flourish in real life. As Slack, Chambers and Johnston write in Operations Management, 4th Edition,

The role of the operations function means something beyond its obvious responsibilities and tasks – it means the underlying rationale of the function, the very reason that the function exists.”

The details in the data illuminate how the vision can be realized

In business, the data is reality. Having records of the customers’ experience, the performance of revenue streams, line workers’ input, leading indicators, the effects ofchange on the organization and other types of information are a start but being able to articulate them in a strategic planning session makes them more useful in the evolution of the business strategy.

Mishra sums it up best,

No one knows the inter-dependencies between people, process and opportunities better than the business operations team in an organization. So why not leverage this team for fool-proof strategies?”

What role should operations play in strategic planning?

Who is responsible for coordinating or connecting the disparate departments/groups for strategic planning?

How could business operations be the “voice” for the stakeholders?

What could prevent the integration of the business operations’ perspective?

What are the internal and external benefits of using the business operations’ perspective to drive innovation and growth?

*Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz for this discussion on Friday, March 16th at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT



Quality of Connections and Content Marketing

If marketing is about about building connections and relationships with the Consumers and Content Marketingconsumer, could we be changing how we define connection and relationship?

Content marketing includes curating information, creating avenues for conversation and user generated content. This week on, there is an interview with Julie Fleischer, Director of Content Management of Kraft Foods in which she explains how Kraft builds connections with consumers. She explained that engagement and traffic are very important but more important is identifying attributable sales growth. Fleischer has a great question for knowing if content marketing fits your organization. She asks, “What is your basis for conversation?”

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience  – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

                                                                                 The Content Marketing Institute

Conversation, not talking at, is what creates connection in the first place

Marketing has traditionally been companies talking at us. “We’re a great company and this is a great product (or service) because…” Now, marketing includes being where your customer is. As Susan Gunelius noted in her post, “That’s because consumers build brands, not companies.” But that may be oversimplifying because the consumers need a starting point.

Healthy connections and relationships are a two-way street

Companies have to produce content that has some kind of meaning for their target audience. And this meaning has to spark some kind of action. For Kraft, having people sharing their recipes using Kraft products encourages good will, enthusiasm for the products and, of course, purchase of the products.

In a recent presentation by Clay Collins, he recommended a system where you engage with your followers to tell you what they want your next product or service to be and then sell it to them before it is even created. Through email, surveys and other channels, his system enables your consumers to get exactly what they want when they purchase from you.

Using social media sites and blogging seem to be the most natural place to have actual conversations with your customers. There is a natural give-and-take there.

Content marketing may speak to a larger sociological trend

If I am responding to the online spokesperson (or spokespersons), it would make sense that I would feel a connection to that person or persons. Much like shopping at a small business on your Main Street, you might share information or a laugh. There is a wine shop I go to occasionally. They always greet me like I’m their favorite customer. When it comes to online interactions, can you give someone that warm fuzzy feeling so they want to do business with you? If you are creating some kind of platform for people to share their experiences and uses of your product and service, are you really creating a community or a group of people with similar interests. Communities have been made up of people who some kind of relationship with one another. Connections repeated over and over create relationships. Multiply that into a network involving companies and consumers and what do you have?

*Please join us this Friday on Twitter at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT on #KaizenBiz to explore this topic further.

How is the relationship between company and consumer changing?

With content marketing, how is community defined?

Do consumers have a relationship with the product, the company or the person they are interacting with? Why?

How could using more content marketing affect our perceptions of authenticity?

If the market is perceived as fragmented, how do companies connect with their specific audience?

How do you see content marketing changing our participation in communities?






Could Volunteering Be Your Elevator Up or Down?

Volunteering time and talentLast week I was at an event that focused on women’s participation on boards. Many of attendees and the participants advocated for all professional women to get involved with organizations and get themselves on boards. At another event, the president of the organization announced they were looking for committee members and board members. My local library is promoting a “Adopt An Aisle” so volunteers can come in and maintain the books in an aisle of their choosing.There are all kinds of events that can use your contribution of your professional expertise with in-kind sponsorship.

Making meaning from volunteering

Certainly in American culture, volunteering is interwoven. There is the famous speech by President Kennedy in which he exhorted, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Being willing to help your neighbor, the local sports clubs, at your place of worship or many other groups has been part of every generation in one form or another. Interestingly, a lot has been written about the Millenial generation in the US and how they have been acculturated to collaborate and participate in community service. How does this change volunteering? Have we in some way diluted the free offer of our time  and talent?

Beyond borders

While I noted how volunteerism is part of US culture, other countries have their own relationship with it. According to the World Volunteer Web, Wales has the highest level of volunteering in Europe. As we talk more about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and our own inter-connectedness, volunteerism may be on your radar.

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer

Community groups could use your help. Political groups love supporters. Industry groups need help with staging events and chapter meetings. There are all kinds of groups and events where you can donate your time and talent.

And while there could be a great many reasons why volunteering could be good for you, there are also times when it is not your best choice.

Positives of Volunteering

There are loads of reasons why volunteering can be good for you. Here are some of them:

1. It feeds your passion. Sometimes our jobs don’t quite fulfill us so we can live out our avocation someplace else.

2. It can be a great way to smooth a career transition and develop new skills. Since most organizations are grateful for help, it can be a place where you can take chances and do things you’re interested in learning.

3. It can be useful when you want to connect with certain people (or certain types of people) You’ve probably heard that job searchers should be volunteering by using their area of expertise. But committee and board membership can be a source of leads to build your business or land that dream job.

4. It feels good and it’s good for your health. Helping people feels good and provides meaning to our lives. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, there are several health benefits.

Negatives of Volunteering

It sounds counter-intuitive that there could be something bad about volunteering. Unfortunately, it isn’t always a bed of roses. Here are some of the possible downsides:

1. Your time can get sucked up. Sure, there are a set of hours you want to devote to a certain organization. But sometimes there are special events and people who just want you to do “this one little thing.”

2. It can get expensive. For some boards, there is an expectation that you will participate in the gala, the golf tournament, the capital campaign and event sponsorship. But there may be smaller organizations that have such a small budget that you feel like helping out and it adds up.

3. It can be frustrating. Passion for a cause can allow for emotional over-involvement and the feeling that what you’re doing is quixotic or Sisyphean. Sometimes leadership is lacking, resources are stretched for an indefinite period of time or people are volunteering for their own reasons rather than the interest in the organizations.

So, is it the elevator up or down for your career?

The short answer is, “it depends.” At the end of the day, it’s down to doing your due diligence. With the rise of social entrepreneurship, the idea that all businesses must serve their customer and corporate-sanctioned involvement with charity groups, you may find yourself considering a volunteer position.

 What trends in volunteerism are you noticing?

How much value do we put on volunteering?

Does it matter if people are volunteering for non-altruistic reasons? Why or why not?

What effect does it have when a company has a strong relationship with particular non-profit organizations?

How will volunteering be defined in a world of sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship?