Life and Work Balance

How do you successfully combine your professional and personal life while working for a global corporation? How do you manage to stay positive, full of energy, smiling most of the time and have a happy family? A large global company can be a great place to be for numerous reasons, such as unlimited opportunities, interaction with different cultures, access to the latest technology, etc. However, to make it happen, and this is a must and the only rule, you ought to set your own path where life and work balance is a vital component.

2018-09-24 13:11:12

It took me a while to decide what to write about for the Q3 edition after focusing on market evolution and the trends of tomorrow for our BPO / SSC / GBS industry in Q1 and discussing trust-based relationships and emphasizing the value they bring for your team, you and your organization in Q2. In the end, I chose to share my thoughts on a subject that is extremely, if not the most, important for us all, i.e. life and work balance.

Throughout my professional life I’ve worked for global corporations. Quite often I am asked by my friends and colleagues how I do it, meaning how I survived for so many years working for organizations that, whether we like it or not, do not always have positive PR. How did I do it that I am generally positive, full of energy, smiling most of the time, and above all that I have a happy family? My very simple answer has been the same since the very beginning of my career. A large global company can be a great place to be for numerous reasons, such as unlimited opportunities, interaction with different cultures, access to the latest technology, etc. However, to make it happen, and this is a must and the only rule, you ought to set your own path where life and work balance is a vital component. In other words, you lead yourself, you do not allow a corporation to lead you, because if you do, it will suck you in, digest and then replace you. As brutal as it sounds, everybody knows that there is no such thing in corporations as irreplaceable people, no matter how great and good you are. Remember this. If you stick to my rule, you’ll get the best you can out of it for yourself. In fact, in most cases getting the best out of it for yourself translates into getting the best for your company, which is a win – win situation, and it’s been the case for me so far.

That’s the theory, but what does it mean in practice, how can we set our own path? I will group my answer into a number of categories:

 Establish your personal boundaries

We should all be adaptable, have a can-do attitude and be ready to go the extra mile when needed, but you have the right to do it within your accepted boundaries. In other words, constructive assertiveness is the way to go. In fact, it is the nature of human beings that at the end of the day we value and respect those who do not always follow blindly more. Remember this. If your current manager expects you to follow no matter what, think about a change.

Many years ago, my global transition lead from the US said that he could work from morning to evening on week days, however weekends were reserved fully and only for his family. Today, I follow his example. Obviously, the unexpected happens sometimes, which brings me back to my point about adaptability. However, it is more an exception than a rule. And on that note, access to email on your smartphone is extremely dangerous. There was a period when I was using it constantly, which meant that I was still at work after getting home. It wasn’t right as I was not getting any rest, and most of all I was not paying any attention to my family or myself, so be careful here.

Right People in the right roles

Creating the right team is key. It’s always been my number one priority after being appointed to lead a new team. For many years now I’ve been following the simple strengths and trust-based model in my people management approach. Delegation and empowerment as the outcome of the trust-based model are working magic with our people.

When applying it, please make sure that it works right through to the bottom of your organization as quite often it can get stuck with your direct reports. If you do it right, i.e. apply it to everyone involved in your operations, your people become far more engaged, more valued and more appreciated!

Organizational & operational excellence

This is fully under your control, but yes, it does take time. And it is about organizing your operations and yourself, including setting meetings with your external and internal stakeholders, setting deliverables along with the KPIs / SLAs you report on, agreeing on an escalation path to follow, meaning it does not start with a global lead but a local one, etc. I am talking about designing a governance & operating model and making it work with as little burden on you as possible. In fact, for me the best testimony of you being a great leader is your annual leave. Do you put your team as your back-up contacts, showing your trust in them? Are they empowered, or do you always put your own name down, disturbing your holidays at the same time? Obviously, there are cases that I will get engaged during a holiday, but these are truly limited to urgencies.

Stakeholder management vs. “all” being of highest priority

It is related to the governance model, but not only. The stakeholder map exercise is what I recommend to everyone. I am talking about identification of your stakeholders. Remember that these are not only your clients/customers, but also your employees, peers, managers, etc. Once you have the list ready, you should assess the relationship status (positive, negative, neutral), and based on that you should be finding your way to a positive relationship with those that influence / help your team and yourself the most. I will hopefully not sound like Machiavelli, but we cannot please all. Pleasing all is a path to a totally disturbed life and work balance!

Remember that the higher you sit in the organization, the greater the accountability you have, but the number of hours per day remain the same.

Your way of relaxing / switching off, i.e. sports, reading, sleeping, etc. Each of us has his or her own way, but remember about the importance of it. For me playing football at the weekend and exercising at the gym twice a week is almost like “breathing”. If a week goes by without exercise, I don’t feel well. This is, however, only my way, and each of you have to find their own path here. To conclude on the above section, remember that the higher you sit in the organization, the greater the accountability you have, but the number of hours per day remain the same. That is why all the above are so needed. My sincere advice is to start implementing it from the early days of your career, so that it becomes your DNA. I have a friend, a very good friend indeed. In the first years of our professional lives, when he was with Deloitte and I was with HP, it was quite common for him to be taking work home and doing a lot of overtime. 15 years later he is still in this mode, obviously holding a different role now, a very senior one. We were joking recently about why it is so, and believe it or not, but we pretty much went through the above points, reflecting that he simply lost his momentum in adopting these practices and now it is so much harder. There are two other elements I’d like to touch on, i.e. work from home and cultural differences.

More and more companies respond to people’s needs relating to mobility and flexibility, which is great as it surely translates into better engagement and better control over your life and work balance. Now, are you working from home from time to time? How does it typically go for you? Do you work longer or shorter hours than in the office? Does it help or stop you from keeping your work separate from your personal life? For me it is a mix, and quite often I find myself working more at home than in the office, but I am doing it consciously. So if you’re aware of it and allow it to happen, then great! Otherwise, take a moment to reflect on it and adjust as needed.

More and more companies respond to people’s needs relating to mobility and flexibility, which is great as it surely translates into better engagement and better control over your life and work balance.

Cultural differences, I love that area. Working with different nationalities and adequately dealing with so many cultures is something that I am really fond of. It is so enriching for me as a human being, plus it certainly makes me a more complete leader. In reference to our life and work balance, be cautious of the different approaches to it and remember to respect that. I was talking to a US colleague recently about vacations and discussing the US and the European way. The US way is that you go on your annual leave but you obviously check your emails regularly, plus a week is typically the longest they can go away for, while the European way is often 3 weeks, and going totally offline. I see Poland right in the middle, but again there are no good or bad ways here as it is very much related to cultural differences. I could come up with many other examples, including the “right to disconnect” law that was introduced in France couple of months ago and the fact that in some cultures people get offended if they get emails at night, etc., however I am not going to as it is not the primary point here. The primary point for you is to remember, understand and respect cultural difference and play to its strengths.

And last but not least, two crucial remarks

Firstly, life and work balance, can and will differ person by person. We all understand it differently for various reasons. People who don’t have families or are simply hungry for new knowledge or love working a lot might interpret life and work balance quite differently to those who just became parents or after 10 years of extremely intense work want to basically slow down, or there might possibly be some other personal matters that impact their availability. And this life and work balance is changing as time passes and we change, etc., so there isn’t one model that applies forever. Few weeks ago, I did a little quiz on LinkedIn asking people if they check emails during their holidays. I got responses from all over the globe, and I could not find a pattern for responses from junior and senior people. Approximately 50% said NO, 30% said YES TO A CERTAIN DEGREE, and 20% said YES. It means that we all find our own ways. As a little inspiration and provocation for you that resonates with me really well: one of my senior colleagues commented - “Starting from this summer – NO – great success”.

Secondly, everything that I wrote above can work only if you are a part of an organization with true values where those leading it respect people and respect their individual needs. Otherwise it is  a lost game. However, back to my key message that you have to set your own path: nothing is stopping you from a change here, it is your life and your career, so make the best out of it for yourself.

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