Leadership

How to Unlock Better Work-Life Balance Today.

How to Unlock Better Work-Life Balance Today.

What is a healthy work-life balance or a poor work-life balance? How would you define it? I think it’s a very personal definition. We all have different lives and circumstances to consider and accommodate.

Can work-life balance be easily defined?

We could talk about stress levels, burnout prevention, time management, the impact of the ever-present technology-induced availability, and the importance of taking your vacation days. I am not competent to boil this ocean, but I want to focus on one aspect of healthy balance, particularly for executives. And that is our relationships with our children.

When we talk about work-life balance, I think we are expressing that we don’t want to neglect, even unintentionally, those most important to us. But for executives, it’s challenging to do because of our time demands and responsibilities. And logically, the more responsibility we assume in our career progression, the more time it will likely consume. We don’t often have the luxury of a flexible schedule. In other words, it will not be easy over time to carve out fewer work hours to create more personal time. 

If this is a fair statement, then perhaps the question should be: How can I best meet my most important responsibilities adequately, whether they are job or family or job and family? 

Can a healthy work-life balance be achieved?

I wish I could say that I balanced my home life and professional life well during most of my career. But, in some respects, I don’t believe that I did. There were perhaps points when I did, but I could have done much better. Along the way, however, I learned a few things from other families that worked very well for my wife and me. 

Let’s talk about this a little bit differently, though, because maybe we should look at this as a matter of setting priorities and how we do it and less of a case of work hours and time. And when you’re setting priorities, time is always a factor, and executives and senior leaders don’t have much discretionary time. The demands on your time are heavy and, in many respects, not necessarily in your control. 

But I know some executives who intentionally tried to create better work-life and personal life balance. They looked at their job and families differently than I did before I learned from them. They looked at the family and their careers as needing to be intertwined as closely as possible. In other words, they wanted to be actively involved in the day-to-day family, but they also wanted the family to be actively engaged in their career. Let’s call that work-life integration.

What is work-life integration?

It is pulling both work and family together to mutual benefit, perhaps. So, maybe a more practical way to think about this isn’t necessarily about the number of working hours or how much personal time you have, but rather how you integrate all of your time with everyone, no matter how you are engaged. Executives, by definition, have less control over the demands of their work time and associated requirements.

As stated above, there are so many considerations for work-life balance that one article could not possibly do the diverse subject justice. So, this article will primarily focus on the relationships that you want to have with your children. It is a good place to start uncovering what work-life integration can be. 

I chose this perspective because it is one with which I am most familiar. My wife and I have two boys. Coincidentally, all my mentors also have children, so we had the opportunity to watch how they handled work-life balance. I shy away from topics for which I don’t have personal experience. But I will describe three examples that we experienced that should give you some ideas

  • This first example may not be easy to understand at first blush, so let me walk you through it. So, I play golf. Some might argue that what I play doesn’t resemble ‘golf,’ but I try nonetheless. There was never a question that I wanted to teach my sons to play golf. And there was a selfish motivation there because I felt that if we did, we would have a lot of time together and probably have time together as we were older. Our eldest son learned to play golf, and we still enjoy its extra benefits. I am so glad that we did that. 

Here is where I am going with this. But what if you substitute the word golf for business experience? I’ll fill in some of the blanks for you here. What if I wanted to spend more time with my son during work and executive activities? What if I wanted him to pull him closer to what I do so that he can learn and that we can have quality time together that way? Might that be a win-win? In our case, it was. 

How can you pull your children closer to your work environment?

So, let’s be specific about some things that we did. I invited my son to attend some executive staff meetings and our strategic planning sessions. He participated in parts of some board meetings. I also asked him to social gatherings, mainly with my mentors. Most of them were golfers as well. And interestingly enough, what happened, as a result, is that many of my mentors became his mentors simply because they got to know him and liked him. 

But there was another aspect of having done this that I don’t want you to miss. Please think about the conversations that he and I had. He felt the pressure of executive staff and board meetings and asked me concrete questions about things he saw. He asked and wanted to understand what I was thinking at points during these meetings and what would come next. At some of our strategic planning sessions, there were times when the discussion got animated. He wanted to understand why.

He also saw firsthand how important it was to think and plan for the future. He described things that confused him about what he saw, and we had substantive and engaging conversations. Think about this. He was getting practical experience without the pressure. He could ask me many questions just because he had been there in person. I can tell you, and I think my son would say this as well, that we bonded on a professional and personal level. That might not have occurred; otherwise, at least not the same way. 

The whole story is that I didn’t foresee this benefit at the outset, but once we started, I gradually increased his exposure because it was fun, and I could see that we were growing closer. Even though he’s well into his career today, we often have business conversations that last for hours. 

Can this method work for everyone?

Please give this some thought. Your responsibilities may not afford you what my situation did, but be creative. Talk to your family about this and see what they think. Tell them you’re trying to get them more involved in your career and let them help you by sharing their ideas on how to do it.

  • My second example for you applied to our other son. He was not interested in golf. He was a talented musician with different interests. The parents among you are smiling right now because you know that all children have different personalities and one size never fits all.

A neighbor in Texas was very intentional about work-life integration, and we adopted their approach. Their premise was that time and activity spent with each child one-to-one with a parent would build stronger individual bonds between the parent and child. It is a different concept than thinking about this from a ‘family time’ perspective.

I have found this concept is a bit difficult to communicate. So, here is a specific example for you. My third example below also illustrates this principle.

Above, I described our second, uniquely different son. Remember, his passion at the time was music. In particular, jazz sax music. We planned a short summer trip to a Jazz Festival that interested him. Just the two of us. The time together generated conversations about many topics simply because we were with each other continually for a few days. That was different from merely having a few extra weekly hours sporadically over time. We learned to communicate with each other in those few days, which had a lasting effect.

Also, my wife had one-to-one trips or events with each of our sons, just as did I. Once they reached high school age, the time dynamic changed because of demands on their time, but by then, the individual relationships were better developed.

To put this in the context of our rearview mirror, family events and trips are great as a group. Still, there is perhaps a different kind of individual relationship formed that creates an additional bond on a one-to-one basis.

  • Now our final example for you is one that my wife and I learned from a different neighbor’s family. We had fantastic neighbors, by the way.

The family that I will reference here has a son and a daughter. Jim, the father, was a C-Level executive at a Fortune 500 company. He and I coached our sons’ baseball teams together. But at some point, Jim felt he didn’t have the kind of close relationship with his daughter that he wanted and decided to do something about that.

Jim set a weekly date with his daughter for breakfast at Mcdonald’s once per week on the same weekday at the same time before school. He didn’t allow anything to supersede that time together with her. She participated willingly. Not only did it have the desired effect, but the ‘dates’ continued through high school. Jim would tell you that they talked about anything and everything at a time when communication was vital for young teenage adults and their parents.

Since we still keep up with our old neighbors, we know that they are still a very close family, seventeen years after this seemingly simple Mcdonald’s date activity began. My adaptation of this idea was a Saturday morning brunch at a local sports restaurant with my son.

How do I start improving my relationships with my family?

Having your own perspective on this is essential because you know the personalities and dynamics of your family members. And understanding what you want to accomplish is important as well. You set goals at work. Why would you not do the same for what you want your relationships to be with your family members?

Perhaps the objective isn’t to reduce the poor work-life balance but to create stronger relationships through better work-life integration. Maybe it isn’t necessarily about ‘finding more time away from work,’ but having that time more targeted to activities for the kind of relationships you ultimately want.

And by the way, there is no statute of limitations on the timeframe you can form those closer relationships. If, like me, you think you could have done a better job and your young adults have been out of the nest for a while. Take heart. You can still cultivate closer relationships.

Here is one way that you may want to consider. As you spend time with your children, ask them how you can help them. Do that often and with a smile while letting them decide how and when to answer you. Genuine persistence and mostly patience can pay off here. But most times, you shouldn’t rush this. In a way, you may be reintroducing yourselves to your children when you are both now at different stages of your lives. That can be a wonderful and rewarding thing.

A final thought for executives. Remember that your employees are wrestling with their personal and professional lives. Perhaps this topic is worthy of being included in your professional development programs for your employees.

To Summarize:

The discussion of a healthy balance of work and family is far more extensive than this narrow topic, which focuses on relationships with your children. But you can find a way to make this work. Pull your family close. Perhaps there are ways that you can integrate work and family with your children. Discuss and set objectives for your family relationships and then decide how best to start moving toward those goals. You know your family. You will know what goals are realistic.

Please take the time to think about how you will do this. Time is not going to wait for you. You can do this. It’s fun, and it’s worth it. 

Conclusion:

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Enjoy!

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