Achieve a work-life bal­ance

It has never been more chal­leng­ing to set bound­aries, writes Re­becca Zucker

Cape Argus - - LIFE -

YOU sched­ule a yoga class, lunch with a friend or happy hour. But how of­ten do you can­cel for what seems like an ur­gent work de­mand? With the un­re­lent­ing pace and vol­ume of work, it has never been more chal­leng­ing – or more im­por­tant – to set and keep bound­aries.

As a leader, you can model be­hav­iour in a mean­ing­ful way and fa­cil­i­tate ap­pro­pri­ate bound­ary set­ting for your team and or­gan­i­sa­tion.

I un­der­stand the chal­lenge. As an in­vest­ment banker at Gold­man Sachs in the ’90s, work came first. To the firm, I was the “ideal worker” – a fully com­mit­ted em­ployee with no per­sonal “en­tan­gle­ments”.

I was sin­gle with no chil­dren, and had al­most un­lim­ited ca­pac­ity for work. But so did my peers, whether or not they had chil­dren, part­ners or age­ing par­ents. It was just the in­dus­try and the com­pany cul­ture.

It wasn’t un­til I moved to Paris in 1997 to be­come a fi­nance man­ager for Dis­ney that I ex­pe­ri­enced some­one set­ting a non-ne­go­tiable bound­ary.

We re­ceived a re­quest from Dis­ney head­quar­ters for a fi­nan­cial anal­y­sis. I told our con­troller that she needed to work late that night. “No.” Stunned by her re­sponse, I didn’t re­call pos­ing the task as a ques­tion, nor did I even know this re­sponse was an op­tion.

She was a sin­gle par­ent who needed to pick up her child at day care. She was also French. She just shrugged her shoul­ders, seem­ingly not feel­ing any sense of con­flict like her Amer­i­can col­leagues might in the same sit­u­a­tion.

I re­mem­ber feel­ing both re­spect and envy for the bound­ary that she had set. She gave me the data to com­plete the task, and the world didn’t fall apart when she left at 6pm.

Twenty years later, I now work as an ex­ec­u­tive coach, and work-life bal­ance is an is­sue that my clients fre­quently grap­ple with, as they face the new work de­mands that come with tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances. For ex­am­ple, one client in San Fran­cisco who works for a fast­grow­ing tech com­pany shared that she gets up at 4am to work.

She has anx­i­ety about the pos­si­bil­ity of miss­ing an e-mail at mid­night. “Is this nor­mal?” she asked. I re­sponded that even if it is the norm at this com­pany – it is not ac­cept­able uni­ver­sally, nor should it be.

A re­cent sur­vey re­vealed that the re­struc­tur­ing of work has re­sulted in sig­nif­i­cant burnout. Nearly half of the hu­man re­source lead­ers sur­veyed re­ported that em­ployee burnout ac­counts for 20-50% of their com­pa­nies’ an­nual turnover. 87% of HR lead­ers cited im­proved re­ten­tion as a crit­i­cal or high pri­or­ity over the next five years, but 20% said they had too many com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties to fo­cus on fix­ing the prob­lem this year. – New York Times

Zucker is an ex­ec­u­tive coach and a found­ing part­ner of Next Step Part­ners, a lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment firm.

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