In the current society, we often spend more time at our jobs than anywhere else. It is often difficult to count in overtime and work functions and forget that workplaces are exactly that and it is often important to separate work and other life events. In my last role, I had a large change and learned a lot- moving out of my comfort zone is something I am not afraid to do and embrace change. My last role was a large change (new industry- post-secondary and public instead of private) my wife told me I would struggle as it was slow-moving- I knew I would need to shift my mindset a bit and adapt. Part of my role was to help the department I was working with to be more reactive to change and move quicker. We adopted agile methodologies but the only way we could really change the speed at which the department and organization worked as a culture shift that had been ingrained for years. I came from many organizations where accountability and deliverable-based cultures were prioritized. I had to adapt for and understand or as it was put to me “fit into the culture” I will get back to culture fit in my next post so I will not delve more into this here. In my first year as a public servant, I was still very deliverable focused and found that I might have been on the outside of the culture a bit but I tried to do what I could to adapt. Still, I took work home most nights and felt a sense of responsibility to move things forward. I noticed my supervisor often did the same and without realizing it she was fostering a culture of getting things done. Still, she would verbalize to me not to be taking work home after work hours and things could wait- I often heard this through the department. The institution I worked at itself had a great culture for people and they pushed “work-life” balance which I will get to later in this post. I have always truly cared about my work and taken a passion for what I do, my goal has always been to provide value to my clients or company I work for. When I have found my value being delivered was slipping I always tried to work differently optimizing my value or find areas where I could provide value. I mention this as again as often corporate culture can help in giving freedom to individuals to be agile in their roles really get sh** done or remind their employees to know their place and stay in their lane; empowering employees provides value and instills accountability but that does not destroy work-life balance as some people believe. Instilling a culture of action while giving flexibility to employees will help work-life balance which I will clarify further later.
I wanted to delve deeper into my experiences with work-life balance, job demands and the overall culture of an organization. Over the last 10 years, I have been involved in some way in changing cultures or accelerating the adoption of new business practices. I have felt accountable in my role always even taking my phone and company laptop on my 3-week honeymoon, I am not endorsing to not take a break or even taking work on a honeymoon but I am saying there needs to be balanced in work-life to not take away accountability. I would not call my endeavour into the public sector a failure but it was challenging as I had been accustomed to an environment where management worked in a heavy deliverable-based culture even if other employees were unionized. I will not say work-life balance and productivity are even related but it is important to understand the items that can compete in corporate culture. I remember in one of my roles being told I care too much and I would get used to letting deliverable dates go as well that it was just the way it was. There was a complacency built into the culture at times where you could always get things done the next day unless it was a pressing need from a higher executive. Unfortunately the work being done was not prioritized by ROI and the staff were often not empowered to prioritize work across the department until after some time. Improvements were made but many issues still festered and the excuse of work-life balance was often used. At times I grew frustrated as it was important for the institution to instill a work life balance- there were stretches where many of the leaders and staff were away on vacation at times where strategic planning was essential. There were also leaders on flexible schedules such as Friday’s off or every second Friday for some of the leaders and staff but processes were weak and support was not defined for individuals who were on break so many items stalled or were slow to develop. I also realized that working outside of work-hours was frowned upon so I tried to optimize my time and closely tracked my time (with AI based time software) (Timecamp- timecamp.com) to make sure I was on task and could track my own time and cost and productivity analysis (CPA). I wanted to make sure that I was focused on providing value as I realized that it was difficult with vacation, professional development and other breaks at an 85% factor of productivity I realized I was worked about 7 months. I always asked working at this employer if they pushing work-life balance at a corporate level but not helping enforce and foster a culture of responsibility and accountability affected productivity. I often found if I saw a call from somebody I responded very promptly when I was able to or if there was a voicemail I followed up. I am a large believer of the client, co-worker and customer experiences often being a key in building a culture where accountability and agility and productivity can thrive. Cultural values in organizations need to be balanced as when they are not and you try to change or transform cultures without clarity there can be confusing. Clear communication of cultural values within a company is important but also living and acting those values is even more important in instilling the beliefs and environment of the organization. Leaders that are not accountable themselves truly set a tone where
I worked at a company also that did not hide that work and deliverables were the priority. I was told when I started that this would be the case and that if I worked 70 hours one week and 20 the next that was just how it was. Still somehow with everything I felt a passion for doing work there, they expected accountability and realistically to answer emails and calls promptly. This was clear from the environment and the culture- still working long hours at the company but they provided flexibility and I got to work at home when appropriate as well it was deliverable focused and I had no worry in regards to punching a clock. I also had healthy anxiety of making sure I was responsive and productive. It was easy to fit into the culture there was no confusion in regards to the direction that Executives were going there expectations were clear and if you met or exceeded them you were usually rewarded. I had very little need to track my time at this position as providing value to the company was priority number one. I really felt work-life integration but in a healthy way- even though I worked 30-40% more at this organization. I question some of the practices when companies expect employees to work excessive hours and I understand it is easy to say to move on. I also understand that many people are working just to put food on their family’s table and am not ignoring this as they feel forced staying at a job but I am not focusing on this scope I am focused on knowledge workers who are doing well enough and skilled enough to be mobile in their choice of employers. There can be a culture change in regards to work-life balance but it should be remembered often when you change X it will affect Y and there are levers and trade-offs I have seen this very commonly in my experience with acquisitions as company’s I worked for often purchased other company’s and the culture of the acquisition company changed significantly, this was often forced upon the organization being purchased as the cultures often could be quite different (for example four day work-weeks). The acquiring organization had quite extensive integration plans and this often meant introducing processes and changing how people fundamentally worked. This change often pushed people out of there comfort zone quickly and often they left on their own if they were unable to adapt. If an individual was deemed essential to operations there was definitely flexibility afforded to that individual.
Work-life balance has tradeoffs if not managed. Corporate cultures that do not instill accountability will ultimately have difficulties in implementing flexibility without negative trade-offs in the environment. Changing work-life balance done correctly can often instill more loyalty to the employer and allow the employee flexibility to provide value even more. Many of the so-called best employers hide behind a guise of work-life balance but instilling passion in their employees for the work they perform would be more beneficial. Work-life balance should not mean just giving more days off, balance can be gained by affecting many factors personalized to the individual. Stress and work pressure are parts of work-life balance and can be managed. The overall environment of the organization needs to be managed as employees also need the tools to do their jobs and to increase the engagement of employees. It is important to manage employees and culture this will have more impact than any other initiatives and benefits. Employees put a value on each work-life balance initiative and each employee does not place the same weight on each factor so managing this with some personalization will help employers make sure employees are more engaged in their roles.
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Fahim Moledina is the Principal Consultant for Opti-Syn Consulting and is a business leader with expertise in project/change management, finance, lean/agile methods, as well as marketing and sales.
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