Sunday, April 10, 2011

work/life balance

In my corporate Human Resources career, this phrase is commonly used to attract talent and foster a positive work environment. Over time, I have developed the skills to put this into action in the workplace and have really committed to practicing what I preach. Work/life balance is important to me personally, but also important to me that others try to strike a balance in order to bring their best "selves" to work.

I wasn't always good at this though. Years ago, working for a little known coffee company (ahem) I lived and breathed my job. It was easy to be married to my job- I loved my job, the people I worked with, the work I did, and the life it gave me. I was a champion of multi-tasking, 70 hour work weeks, and having nothing left at the end of the day to give to friends and family. I definitely don't blame the company for this but it was highly encouraged to appear to be making sacrifices. But at the time, I enjoyed it and felt that it was helping propel me to bigger and better things. And as luck would have it, I met my husband while working countless unpaid hours of overtime. My priorities quickly changed.

I didn't know how to have work/life balance and struggled with it for a few years. It wasn't until I was so overworked and burnt out, looking for a change, that I did something that changed how I work. I am a list-maker. I had a Life list, a Career list, a to-do list. One day, I don't know why, I just merged my Life and Career lists together. This small change in perspective dramatically changed my life. I was offered two jobs- one very lucrative, high profile, exciting, dare I say "sexy" HR role with a large Canadian restaurant company. The other, not so lucrative job was with a local, family-owned, highly respected tourism company. Not as sexy. The two couldn't have been more different. The "sexy" job would have given me a gorgeous glass corner office and travel. And the other, well, not so much (and for those of you who know what my office looked like can giggle right now). But this not-so-sexy job had something else. Something from my Life list. It was in nature. I had "spend more time in nature" (while living in Yaletown!) on my Life list. But now it was on the Big list. This job was in nature. That was the first selling point.

The second selling point was the people. I have often told the story of my first impression when going for the interview at the not-so-sexy job. I parked in the parking lot, and a maintenance team member greeted me. I was floored. I though, "I want to work somewhere where the person picking up litter in the parking lot is so happy that they chat with guests." The third selling point was the "life" of the company. As I entered a boardroom for my interview, the HR Manager politely asked me to excuse the party decorations (that were overcrowding the room) because they had just had a big Caribbean party to celebrate the team. Who doesn't want to work somewhere that has a Caribbean party?

So, I took the not-so-sexy job. And from that point on, I worked very hard at developing the skills to have work/life balance. My personal life was full and my work life was fun and engaging. I didn't have to kill myself to prove my talent and value and I think I had the respect of my co-workers for being able to prioritize and plan well enough that I did more than my job but in a reasonable amount of time.

Skip ahead a few years and throw two kids in the mix. I am once again trying to strike the balance. It is especially challenging when I work from my home. I just try to remind myself, don't be a multi-tasker all the time, spend more time in nature, and the not-so-sexy jobs are usually the best.