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Three Work-Life Strategies To Improve The High-Intensity Workplace

work_life_balance.jpgOne of the biggest career challenges many ambitious professionals face is how to achieve a work-life balance in a demanding high-intensity work culture that demands 24/7 attention to the organization.

In the June 2016, Harvard Business Review Erin Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan analyze this subject and provide three interesting options that can make organizational culture healthier and more productive.

The ideal worker, someone who is totally dedicated to their job and is always on call, is what many professionals think that they need to emulate in order to advance. You see this happening at tech start-ups, investment banks, consulting firms and in medical professions. I have in fact experienced this myself and have been in the “ideal worker” mindset.

Ideal workers find that they constantly have to make choices and prioritization on whether work is more important than any other aspect of their life. Reid and Ramarajan outline three coping strategies that employees will use to manage this high demand culture: 

Accepting – this strategy involves the total dedication to work above all else. This can result in professional burn-out and dissolution of family and friend relationships. Not an ideal way of operating. I can speak first hand because I have tried to do this (more than once).

Passing – this strategy involves giving the appearance that you are on call 24/7 even though you are pursuing outside work interests. While this does help avoid burn-out it does present the risk of being inauthentic. It can also negatively impact performance since responses will be delayed since the employee is not in “real time”.

Revealing – this strategy involves the employee prioritizing their workload and selectively responding back based on assessed urgency and importance. While this will help the employee begin to achieve a work/life balance it can negatively impact their career at a high-intensity workplace. They will be perceived as “not carrying their load”.

The three strategies do not present many appealing options to someone who wants to be part of a hard-charging organization but also wants to have friends, family, and interests.

Reid and Ramarajan in their article present three interesting changes that organizations can implement so that they can create better employee engagement, stronger workplace relationships, and increased retention. 

1. Have Leaders Set The Tone By Showing A More Balance Persona

Leaders can have a major impact by redefining the “ideal worker” as being someone who can have outside interests, volunteering projects and a physical fitness regimen without sacrificing performance. The goal is to help redefine the ideal as being well rounded. A quote from the HBR article captures this:

“We don’t want our folks waking moment at work; we want them to be well-rounded individuals, to be curious, to see things to spend every out in the world, and to have all kinds of different experiences that they can bring to bear on their work.”

2. Focus Rewards System On Quality Of Work – Not Quantity

Employees who select to use a passing strategy do so because they see that rewards are based on how much they work versus how much they accomplish. This leads to clock-watching at the office so that an employee can give the appearance of being productive even though they are creating no value (most likely spending time on the internet).

Organizations should move away from how much time it takes to get something done and focus their praise on how good is the end product.

3. Implement Boundaries For Employees Personal Lives

Organizations may have the best of intentions in trying to implement more work/life balance initiatives but they need to follow up on these efforts with clear directions regarding what they behaviors they would like to see. HR leaders can play a key part in making this happen.

Without clear direction some well-intended initiatives like family leave or reasonable work hours will be ignored because employees are unsure if they are crossing over into unacceptable behavior. By providing positive reinforcement the organizations will be able to give their employees the safe passage towards making positive changes.

The pressure to be an ideal worker is pervasive. Smart HR leaders must recognize that this behavior has a short and long-term negative consequence. This is where courageous leadership is needed to show the organization that success can be achieved with work-life balance.