A lot has changed in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for the fortunate who can work from home.
This post explores a first-world problem that’s a matter of “counting one’s blessings” rather than whining about work.
Zoom meetings made possible by widely available high-speed internet access have put a big dent in the collaborative workspace culture. Gone (for now) are visions of high-performing teams huddled around whiteboards creating the next big product or service to bring to market.
Working from home is proving to be a good thing for a lot of folks. We actually can get work done and communicate effectively enough with colleagues, thanks to those cute little webcams. Between meetings, we can switch out the laundry, go for a quick walk, or hit the Peloton.
So what’s the catch? There’s a new tendency to stay plugged into work, when we’d otherwise (pre-pandemic) be stuck in traffic, heading off to happy hour, or enjoying other distractions. Maintaining work life balance during a pandemic is no small fete. Time to put a plan of action into effect…
My “Work Life Balance or Bust” Tick List:
- Get sleep! It’s got to be 8 hours every night. That means being in bed by 9:30 PM and up by 6 AM.
- No work at all on weekends. Period. Unless it’s a really good book that’s about leadership and better work cultures – I get into that stuff
- Cap my work week to a 45-hour maximum. No tricks – Vacations do not factor into the numerator.
- Reduce status meetings with staff and implement office hours instead.
- Create a list of top five objectives for the week on my home whiteboard (rather than just reacting to emails flooding my days)
- Delegate (appropriately) work to others, including my boss!
- Get out for walks – 10,000 steps a day keeps the doctor away.
- Block off time on my calendar for concentration-oriented tasks, and disallow others from viewing my meeting subjects.
- Turn some of my 1:1 meetings into walk-and-talks using my handy Apple Airpods. That’ll help ensure I get those 10,000 steps in.
- No work in the evenings. Mrs. Cubert and I already have our hands full raising young twins. Brains turn to mush after the kiddos’ bedtime.
- Taking all my allotted vacations. Even if we’re not going anywhere. I’ve got to set a good example for my team. It’s a sustainability thing.
For this work life balance experiment to be successful, I need to sustain (or at least, fake) high performance at my job. I can’t just go off and do those 11 things above and hope for the best, come review time. I need to be effective.
If I’m still able to pull the highest possible review score once again this year, then I’ll know that all that extra time spent chasing nonsense isn’t worth the energy spent. This is NOT a post about how to be a slacker with your work.
After my promotion, I quickly fell into the trap of believing I had to be “ON” a lot more than I had been. I had forgotten the approach to work that got me promoted in the first place.
Repeat after me: Sustainability. Sustainability. Sustainability… Okay, Dorothy, let’s go back to Kansas and start to work smarter, not harder. We need to turn our cubicle hell into something slightly less awful.
8/8/22 Sidebar: I’m now a borderline slacker at work. I didn’t see it coming, but the events of 2020-2021 have taken a bigger toll on me than I could have imagined. The pandemic lockdowns, changing bosses and losing my dad slowly and awfully to pancreatic cancer all factored in. They all factored into my BURN OUT.
The Great Resignation is a new phenomenon that’s seeing millions leave the workforce in droves this year. Most are finding new landings at other companies, but a good chunk is simply opting to hang it up. I’m curious how much burnout plays into these decisions, but I know it has to be a huge factor.
Vacation Time Plus Experience = Less Stress
It’s not a reach to argue that the longer you work and the more you mature, the easier this work nonsense gets. But “Playing the Game” well comes with a hefty price: Years upon years in a cubicle or office.
(I’ve split time between both a cubicle and an office. The only advantage of an office is the ability to pass gas without anyone noticing. Until a colleague pops in unexpectedly…)
At any rate, if you’ve figured out how to work with difficult people, and you’ve figured out how to avoid really difficult people, most jobs can be tolerable. Sometimes, you might even enjoy the chase. Maybe you get to design and create? Maybe you get to lead teams, and support them to the finish line of a big project? Sometimes that sh*t is tolerable, and even marginally satisfying.
So that’s the top-left box: Medium Stress. You know the game and can play it well. You even get promoted from time to time and land a few good bosses along the way. Work friends are cool cats, and happy hours here and there build camaraderie.
But you still feel penned-in by it all. There’s never enough time to enjoy your family, the outdoors, and the Call of Duty 13. What’s a corporate stiff to do??
The Indisputable Importance of Work Life Balance
I’m fortunate. The company I work for gives employees almost a month of PTO per year. If you don’t need to use those days for sick days or emergencies, that’s a LOT of vacation. Out of college, I spent the first nine years of my career stuck at a measly TWO weeks of vacation.
More than anything else, such a limited amount of time away from work was a soul crusher. It was the pits of the pits. The armpits of the pits of the pits.
I suppose one hidden benefit of having just two weeks of paid time off was less time to blow money on travel. I took a total of three trips overseas in those nine years. You sure appreciated those trips too. With nearly a month of time off these days, I find it hard to complain.
Still, I wonder if a little bit more PTO would hit a “sweet spot”, encouraging longevity in my career. This year (2022) was the first time I took advantage of a company policy that allows employees to purchase an additional week of PTO during open enrollment for benefits.
I bit. This summer has been a good one, with two weeks of vacation in Europe, and a week coming up at our Airbnb condo in Northern Michigan. We also took our annual week off at Spring Break earlier this April. I’m at 33 days of PTO when I buy that added week. Who needs to retire?
Then there’s technology. While technology has in many instances kept us plugged into work after we leave the office, it’s also been a bit of a liberator. How many of you fine readers have worked from home while sick?
There are two, maybe three days a year I’ll put in a half-a$$ day of “work” while at home suffering from a nasty cold. I’ll join a few key conference calls and respond to important emails while feeling sorry for myself on the sofa with a bowl of chicken noodle soup.
But those are PTO days I get to reserve for vacation. All because of the glory of VPN and high-speed internet. Ask me if I check into work while on vacation…
(See this post for an excellent read on a company that’s forward-thinking on work life balance. Cheers!)
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I got promoted over time from summer intern to head Fred at a billion dollar company. And I never worked particularly long hours except when we had some kind of crisis, which was not often. I didn’t find a big increase in the stress level as I moved up, but there certainly was a huge difference in compensation, I ended up making more than I ever thought possible, especially since my job was one of my favorite hobbies. I actually felt a little guilty about getting paid to do something I would have done for almost free. I rarely got all my vacation in, I had like six weeks and since I travelled quite a bit to fun places as part of my job, sometimes taking my spouse with me, I took as much vacation as I wanted. But usually had some left over. I don’t think work life balance means some kind of hour for hour balance. It means being able to enjoy both work and family and giving both your best self. I only had an eight minute commute so all that time most people spend in transit I got to spend with my family, that helped a lot.
Wonderful wisdom here, Steve. I agree with you that it’s a personal equation based on all one’s commitments and thresholds, plus meshing those with partners/spouses, etc. Definitely an Art and a Science.