It has been more than a year since the pandemic forced us to stay home and nothing’s better than Working From Home; or is it? I should clarify that statement, not everyone is Working From Home, a majority of the working population that can work solely using a computer system are Working From Home; that’s definitely not everyone. But those who are, whether they like or dislike the idea of it, their lines between work and life have definitely blurred. Earlier where we had lunch breaks have now been replaced with cooking and feeding the family; where we had sorting our morning ToDo’s have now been replaced with doubling up on home schooling; where we had date nights have now been replaced with binge watching episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. on loop. It is difficult to determine sometimes if we are Working From Home or Living At Work; and experts call out that it is more than important today to achieve Work-Life Harmony over Work-Life Balance as our new normal.
I hate that term, Work-Life Harmony, it sends shivers down my spine. I was introduced to this term via a leadership email back in 2009 and I disliked the idea then too. I think it’s something to do with the way these words work in synergy, Work-Life Harmony in my head emphasizes more on Work with the idea of harmonizing Life around it, ergo compromising Life in some ways. Call me old-school, I still prefer Work-Life Balance over Harmony any given day because in my head, the emphasis is more on living a Balanced Life with Work as one of it’s elements. Having said that, yes, Work-Life Balance did take a hit during the pandemic; with no where else to go, we drowned ourselves in Work more than usual; of course we churned out some excellent results, our utilization went off the charts, our profits hit the roof, and we invited an admired behavior with open arms — Workaholism.
It’s a shame that it’s an admired behavior but who are we kidding, these are parameters on which many of us gauge performance & productivity, isn’t it?
Sure, organization leaders don’t enforce these behaviors (mostly) but they do set an example for the larger workforce. An organization may be proud of its casual dress-code policy, however it’s the three piece suit wearing leaders of that organization who set its tone and culture. If an appreciation email is what our workforce desires, I have read many for going that extra mile by working overtime or over weekends to fix a production issue; never have I read a kudos card for leaving office on time and enjoying the sunset. If satisfying our stakeholders is what we desire I’ve seen managers fight tooth and nail to ensure our customers are happy; rarely have I seen one push back extreme timelines so our team stays stress-free, after-all our team members are stakeholders too, and the most important ones.
And Workaholism can lead to some serious health concerns as stated here. It is still astounding that most of us aren’t even aware of the fact that slack is one of the most important things that makes us more efficient (no, not the software). And when it comes to Work-Life Balance, that’s all there is that’s needed, cut me some slack.
Now the question is, where do we find this slack that we claim exists? These are usually available as terminologies of annual leaves and / or casual leaves which can be found under the hood of a so called Leave Planner. It is pretty easy to find these once we have overcome our regular (bad) habits and behaviors. In the beginning one may feel ashamed of consuming these but I assure you these are as addictive & stress relieving as smoking, you’ll get hooked onto it in no time (pun intended). There may exist an ape in the corner office who owns approvals to these though; for those who despise organizational politics I’m afraid you may find it difficult to navigate this gatekeeper’s fascinations. In case you (the reader) are this gatekeeper, my only request to you is, grow up, there are adults in your team who are capable of taking this decision for themselves, they don’t need you for it.
We still need to begin with ourselves though and the irony is that although as kids we used to look forward to holidays, growing up many of us have started taking pride in not taking holidays anymore, why? In fact in the Indian context, many will merely fall “sick due to endlessly working” and yet won’t take a holiday unless they are completely incapacitated due to their illness. And since most Indian organizations don’t provide additional sick leaves, these individuals end up consuming their vacation time lying in bed, bravo! And the pandemic didn’t do any justice either, this time didn’t just see a rise in accumulated leaves, it also saw a rise in mental and physical illnesses.
Yeah, so that’s a lot of banter for a one sided argument, what if you’re one of those who doesn’t fall in the above categories? May be you love your work and it’s your sole purpose in life, may be you never fall sick, may be you’re in line to be the next AM Naik, may be you prefer leave encashment. Is Work-Life Balance even relevant in your context then? I’ve had this discussion a few times in the past and I’ve arrived at an opinion that Growth happens when we are not busy working. This statement might seem counter-intuitive but it’s based on the hypothesis that when on holiday, I’ll visit a new place, read a book, write a blog, listen to a podcast, play / listen to some music, contribute to open source, write a book, spend time with family, setup my house, meet some people, go for a walk, be creative; and that’ll account for much better growth than continuous delivery (pun intended). This may not be a hierarchical growth rather a more intellectual growth which may be more beneficial to you and others around you.
I know what you’re thinking, Bollywood references just to make a point, really Vishal? But here’s the important part, one can always blame their project pressure as the reason for not taking leaves. Fortunately I’ve not been able to do that, not because the projects I’ve worked on have been easy with no fires to fight but because I wished to stay in control of my Work-Life Balance than someone else controlling it. Staying true to this, a goal that I have set for myself and consistently achieved it (not boasting) since 2011 is Zero Leave Balance on 31st December. The bottomline is, we decide our standard of life and
when it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate - Jocko Willink (author, Extreme Ownership)
This quote applies to both Work & Life.
So go ahead, take leaves, leaves are good for health & growth. Add it to your OKRs if needed but there’s a catch; if you’ve accumulated leaves over a period of time and now sitting on a huge pile of unclaimed leaves (which unfortunately is a majority of folks in India), not everyone can go on long leaves and definitely not at the same time. Don’t worry, you have seen this before, it’s called getting rid of debt (leave debt instead of tech debt). Reduce these at a sustainable pace in collaboration with your team mates. It’s time to reclaim your Work-Life Balance. Here’s an image for motivation: