Effective Leadership By Mick Ukleja

Work, Well-Being And Work-Life Balance What’s True And What’s Myth?Mick Ukleja

April 10th - Sometime ago, a USA Today Snapshot (2008) revealed the satisfaction level executives had with their jobs.

Job/Satisfaction Level:

- Finance – 68%
- Human Resources – 65%
- Marketing – 63%
- General Management – 61%
- Sales – 54%

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index confirmed those earlier findings. They have polled literally millions of adults since 2008. They discovered that Americans feel worse about their jobs than ever before. Their poll was not gender, age or ethnic specific. The participants were also from all income levels.

Employee unhappiness leads to apathy and detachment from the tasks at hand. This lack of engagement hits the bottom line to a staggering $300 billion in lost production annually (Gallup).

So what can be done? Of all the events that engage people at work – and thousands of these events were analyzed – they found that the most important was “making progress in meaningful work.” Unfortunately, when over 600 managers from a variety of companies around the world were asked to rank five employee motivators in priority of importance, 95 percent of these managers ranked “supporting progress in meaningful work” as dead last. There is an obvious disconnect between what motivates employees and what their managers think motivates them.

A common diagnosis of the problem is “a lack of work-life balance.” It’s a popular concept, but for the most part it’s a myth.

Unfortunately, life is not a set of perfectly leveled scales. This misconception leads us to picture ourselves walking through life with two trays – one in each hand. On one tray is our personal life and on the other is our work life. The “successful” person heroically keeps both trays level, and we admire this mythological creature. We strive to be like them. In reality the trays only become balanced for that fleeting moment when they pass each other on the way up or down! And ironically, in our hurried state, we miss THAT moment as well!

Here’s a question. Even if work-life balance were possible, what is balance without meaning? Our lives have several moving targets. Pursuing balance becomes meaningless if the targets don’t have value for us. And they are never perfectly balanced. They don’t neatly divide up into perfectly matched quadrants.

So what’s the REAL issue behind all this work-life balance chatter? Three things: Autonomy; sufficient resources; and learning from problems. These are the catalyst that organizations provide for their employees that enable them to make progress.

In reality, what we really want when we focus on work-life balance is a sense of control. Life ebbs and flows in its demands. But when we are leading our lives we are better equipped to handle the never ending juggling. I’ve often said that my gravestone will be inscribed with the words, “Organized At Last!”

Since working adults spend most of their waking hours at work, it shouldn’t be a place that kills the human spirit. It might not be perfectly balanced, but it will be ennobling. The older generation has failed at work-life balance. The new generation (Millennials) just does life – and their lives include work. They want their work to be meaningful. We all want meaningful work. It’s just that the younger generation demands it.

As leaders, managers and business owners, what should our focus be? One of our key roles is to help provide our people with those three things: autonomy (that sense of control), sufficient resources (the ability to get the job done), and learning from problems (increased capacity to lead). This makes progress in meaningful work a reality.

Balance is a bad analogy and does not lead to meaningful work. As the “scales” fall off our eyes, we begin to see that. We discover that a sense of personal control leads to meaningful work.

As leaders we would do well to support people in this effort. Promoting worker’s well being isn’t just ethical. It makes economic sense. Promoting positive inner lives will require leaders to continually articulate the “meaning” in the work for everyone in the organization, and then giving a sense of control in pursuing that meaning.

An attempt at balance is not a bad thing. It’s simply an illusive concept that never delivers. It’s not a bad strategy, but it’s definitely not the best. Rather than creating a culture of balance, a more important strategy is to create a culture of well being.

Well-being, not work-life balance, is a predictor of longevity and good future performance.

(Mick Ukleja is founder and president of LeadershipTraQ, a leadership consulting firm based in California.)