Do you go home every work night feeling drained, with no energy left for your family, friends and other personal activities? While this is normal on occasion, it should not be the norm. Too many people believe the solution is work/life balance. Yet have you ever met someone that has found the perfect balance where work never comes up at home and home life never comes up at work? In contrast, many people have found the perfect work/life alignment. Work/life alignment occurs when one is equally comfortable at work and outside the office, handling both personal and professional activities in either environment. It’s amazing how much more energy and enjoyment one finds when they stop trying to balance their work and personal life and focus instead on aligning the two.
Below are 5 tips that help me achieve greater alignment:
- Be Yourself at Work
- Work for a Mission You Believe In
- Prioritize Your Work
- Find a Boss You Trust
- Establish Friendships at Work
1. Be Yourself at Work
Are you putting on a different face when you go to work? The business term is a lack of diversity or individual acceptance. We’re not talking just about skin color, religious beliefs or personal lifestyle. Instead, we’re talking about who you are at the core. You could be in a room full of people that look like you, have similar philosophies and even follow the same interests outside of work. However, you could be miles apart in your personalities. You may be a boisterous, outgoing individual, who likes to tell it like it is. Meanwhile, your coworkers may discourage this in preference of a calm demeanor, a quiet office or a more formalized interaction. Neither approach is right or wrong, just different. One may be more appropriate than another for certain companies. Regardless, you need to find the environment where you can be yourself to be happiest. Personality tests, like the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator can help you better identify and align your personality with others.
Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee International wrote about a similar challenge early in his career. After a big promotion, the CEO of the furniture company where he worked pulled him aside and told him how, now that he was an executive, he needed to stop wearing his heart on the sleeve so much. Behar was crushed as he tried to contain his attitude, bottling up his personality and forcing himself to act like someone he was not. He was uncomfortable and unhappy every day. In the end, Behar left that company and joined Starbucks, where he helped the company become an amazing success – all while being himself and wearing his heart on the sleeve. Two for-profit companies, one allowed him to be himself, resulting in remarkable success for both Behar and the company. The other company you’ve likely never heard of before.
2. Work for a Mission You Believe In
Where you work does not have to be an altruistic non-profit, but it needs to have a mission in which you believe. Do you work for a company that makes clothes, or a company that improves people’s lives, by providing the fashions that make them look good, feel more confident and be more comfortable? Does your company have moral and ethical standards that align with your own? Even if the company does not produce products you use or fully comprehend, it may have a mission to support non-profits, benefit the community in which it is located or otherwise provide some greater good to the world through a mission you can believe in. If it does not, how can you justify the effort you put into that company? And if you can’t reasonably justify your work for some greater good than your financial income, you’ll always feel like you’re spending too much time at the office.
Now, if you can’t find a mission at your company you believe in, must you leave that company? Perhaps, but not necessarily. First, try creating that mission. Perhaps organize the next community support event or non-profit fund raising campaign. Whatever your passion, chances are there is some way you can create a mission within or closely aligned to your company. If not, then yes, maybe it is time to find another employer with a mission that moves you.
3. Prioritize Your Work
All too often we believe that to be successful, one must do everything that is asked of them, as quickly as possible. We believe working 60 hours a week, month after month after month assures recognition and success. However, that is often not the case. How many people do you know that work ridiculous hours and ultimately achieved more senior levels? The reality is that the work horse in the room is often appreciated, but rarely promoted. The greatest leaders tend to be those that know how to prioritize. They do not say “no”, but simply, “not now”. Successful alignment means recognizing that many ideas have great merit and value, but only those with the greatest value should be prioritized against finite resources.
Look at your favorite leaders and mentors, for example. Most successful leaders are not running around in a hectic pace or seemingly under a great deal of stress to address everything possible. Instead, the leaders most people would like to emulate seem calm, cool and collected. These leaders have enough time to do what is right – what they prioritize as most important, now. These are the leaders that have their work and personal life aligned, in part, because they know how to prioritize at the office.
4. Find a Boss You Trust
When you work for someone you respect, both parties benefit. When you are encouraged by a superior and believe they want to help your career, you want to do the same for them. In such a scenario, you will find a way to achieve what your supervisor needs you to get done and often, more. The inverse is also true. When you do not trust your boss or believe they only seek their own success over the team’s, you will have little motivation. People with bad bosses find the quickest way, to the easiest solution, to provide just barely what their boss needs. Nobody’s going above and beyond for a boss they do not trust.
The book Five Dysfunctions of a Team (on the recommended reading list) explains how trust is at the heart of every team. Without trust, there will be an inattention to results, a fear of conflict, lack of commitment and an avoidance of accountability. Therefore, without trust, there will be little professional success, without success, limited professional fulfillment and your personal life suffers.
5. Establish Friendships at Work
In the last post, I mentioned the Gallup Poll that highlighted the importance of employees having friends at work. This study shows the benefits to the business, such as greater morale, higher levels of quality and strong alignment to the company’s mission (for more, see the links above). In addition to the benefits to the employer, there are strong benefits to the employees. Friends at work also provide a support network when one needs to blow off a little steam or has a personal emergency. The friend network improves an employee’s ability to feel comfortable at the office and strengthens their feeling of belonging. When a team member has friends around them, the office can shift from just work to a place where they see friends while accomplishing tasks.
Try this for yourself. If you already have friends at work, great – imagine what it would be like without them. Where would you turn to relax and how comfortable would you feel? If you do not have friends at work, try harder. You’ll be amazed how anxious some people may be to get to know you on a more personal basis. If you are really not comfortable making friends at work directly, try to at least find some manner of friendship aligned with your work, such as in a professional network.
Too many people today still try to balance separate lives. “Try” is the key word here. Like a teeter-totter, you can not stay perfectly balanced all the time. However, if you seek alignment rather than balance, you find greater, more sustainable results. When you are aligned, you are equally happy addressing personal life at the office and professional matters at home, as necessary. While there will always be a primary focus on one or the other, both will offer equal comfort, confidence and success in any environment. When this occurs, you know you have work-life alignment and not just a balancing act.