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Friday, July 1, 2011

When Work Interferes With Private Life

"Men for the sake of getting a living forget to live!" - Margaret Fuller

By Patrick Driessen
Yesterday I was catching up with a Dutch friend from Sydney, who's enjoying a holiday in The Netherlands. When I asked him how he was doing, he told me that he had just passed a major crossing in his life, which was revealed by the leadership coach I had introduced him to last year.
His coach had made him realize that he was spending most of his time and energy on his work and even more importantly; that he had lost his focus on living a healthy and valuable life... He got up with work on his mind, he went to bed with work on his mind and even in his sleep he thought of his work... Instead of a corporate athlete he had become a corporate slave...

This must sound familiar to a lot of you because apparently as many as 50 per cent of people bring their work home with them regularly, according to research out of the University of Toronto that describes the stress associated with work-life balance and the factors that predict it. The researchers measured the extent to which work was interfering with personal time and asked participants questions like:
  • How often does your job interfere with your home or family life?
  • How often does your job interfere with your social or leisure activities?
  • How often do you think about things going on at work when you are not working?
So, how do YOU answer these questions?Are you balanced and stress-free enough?

The researchers found several surprising patterns: People who are well-educated, professionals and those with job-related resources report that their work interferes with their personal lives more frequently, reflecting what the researchers refer to as 'the stress of higher status'. While many benefits undoubtedly accrue to those in higher status positions and conditions, a downside is the greater likelihood of work interfering with personal life.

"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important!" - Bertrand Russell

From Slave to Athlete
There are a lot of useful insights and lessons learned to be found in the article 'The Making of a Corporate Athlete', written by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz for the Harvard Business Review. I've heard it's one of the most popular HBR articles ever!

In their article they conclude that if there's one quality that executives seek for themselves and their employees, it's sustained high performance in the face of ever-increasing pressure and rapid change. But the source of such performance is as elusive as the fountain of youth! Management theorists have long sought to identify precisely what makes some people flourish under pressure and others fold. Authors Loehr and Schwartz maintain the view that they have come up with only partial answers: rich material rewards, the right culture, management by objectives.

The problem with most approaches, Loehr and Schwartz believe, is that they deal with people only from the neck up; connecting high performance primarily with cognitive capacity. In recent years there has been a growing focus on the relationship between emotional intelligence and high performance. A few theorists have addressed the spiritual dimension: how deeper values and a sense of purpose influence performance. Surprisingly almost no one has paid any attention to the role played by physical capacities.
A successful approach to sustained high performance, Loehr and Schwartz have found, must pull together all of these elements and consider the person as a whole. Thus, their integrated theory of performance management addresses the body, the emotions, the mind, and the spirit. They call this hierarchy the performance pyramid. Each of its levels profoundly influences the others, and failure to address any one of them compromises performance.

High-Performance Pyramid
The Corporate Athlete approach has its roots in the two decades that Jim Loehr and his colleagues at LGE Performance Systems spent working with world-class athletes. In the early nineties Loehr and Schwartz began to develop a more comprehensive version of these techniques for executives facing unprecedented demands in the workplace. In effect, they realized, these executives are “corporate athletes.” If they were to perform at high levels over the long haul, Loehr and Schwartz posited, they would have to train in the same systematic, multilevel way that world-class athletes do. They have now applied their model on thousands of executives around the globe. The executives dramatically improved work performance and they enhanced their health and happiness!
Corporate Athlete Rules
  1. Launch each day by revisiting your personal and professional mission in life, reconnecting to your deepest values and beliefs.
  2. Establish concrete physical, emotional, mental and spiritual objectives.
  3. Develop mental preparation and visualization rituals to sustain high-level performance under stress. Example: Like an athlete before a competition, carefully rehearse desired actions before an important meeting.
  4. Institute precise personal recovery rituals to decompress and renew energy every 90 to 120 minutes. Example: Have something to eat or do deep breathing exercises.
  5. Perform a highly specific exercise routine at least three to four times a week that expands physical capacity and stimulates mental and emotional recovery.
  6. Stabilize blood sugar and energy levels by consuming five to six nutritious small meals and 48 to 64 ounces of water daily.
  7. Be consistent on sleep patterns, focusing especially on going to bed and waking up early.
  8. Implement clearly defined rituals for positively connecting with co-workers to facilitate more effective communication and leadership. Example: Take opportunities to compliment a worker each day.
  9. Build effective rituals for truly separating work life from personal life. Example: Take a walk or work out to decompress before leaving work for home.
  10. Conclude each day by holding yourself accountable for the progress made in achieving your desired mission and behaving consistently with your deepest values.
To read the Corporate Athlete methodology in full detail, please click HERE.

Countries With the Best Work-Life Balance
In case you're out of balance, what would be the best country in the world to achieve the ultimate work-life balance? Based on data from 34 countries, the OECD chose three indicators to measure work-life balance. These include a.) the amount of time devoted to personal activities, b.) the employment rate of women with children age 6 to 14 and c.) the number of employees working over 50 hours a week.
  • Not surprisingly, Northern European countries fared better when it came to leaving the office on time. For instance, the Netherlands and Sweden both only have 0.001% of their respective populations regularly working over 50 hours a week.
  • As for working mothers, the best country to live is Denmark, where 78% of mothers jump back into the workforce after their kids head to school. Turkey is at the other end of the spectrum, with only 24% of women with children also holding down a paying job.
  • If you're looking for the most personal time, relocating to Belgium might be a good idea. Belgians have an average of 16.61 hours a day of time off, compared to the combined OECD average of 15.46 hours.
Here are the Top-10 countries with the best work-life balance.
  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Netherlands
  4. Finland
  5. Belgium
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. Germany
  9. Portugal
  10. France

"The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it." - Author Unknown

Warm regards & success,

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