Managing the Business Owner: Of Machines & Work-Life Balance
Recent #kaizenblog chats got me thinking about how easy it is to go along with the fast pace of business. This fast pace seems to evoke a sense that we are machines placed in our workplaces to keep things functional. There are more and more words in our vocabulary that speak to machines and technology. We get amped up about new initiatives and ideas. How do you unplug? People tell me they just don’t have the bandwidth to take on new projects. We can dial-in people for meetings and be undertooled when we lack skills or resources. But what happens to work-life balance if we allow ourselves to be seen as machines?
In a recent post on Small Business Trends, Susan Payton reported that the number of small business owners planning to take a vacation was a little under 50%. These are the ones who are planning to go on vacation. These leaves about 54% who are not taking time away from their business. While it isn’t clear that these business owners are truly going to work every day from now until the beginning of September, it is clear that a great many feel apprehensive about leaving their businesses.
Does this 54% expect that they can act like machines and sustain their performance with no ill effects? Machines are designed to work nonstop. They don’t lose problem-solving skills to fatigue and anxiety. They also don’t feel resentful when other machines are shut off until needed again. People do suffer consequences when fatigued and do feel resentful when they perceive they are stuck. But we still expect ourselves to perform like robots in a perfect, predictable and uninterrupted way.
Do robots have a work-life balance?
There is always talk about work-life balance. Is it supposed to be 50/50, 60/ 40 or some other split? Is it supposed to favor the off time or the work time? One of my favorite ways to explaining work-life balance is a simple exercise.
Try this for a moment…Stand on one foot for 1 minute and notice the adjustments your body makes as you stand there. Now, if you were a robot, you would have been programmed to stand perfectly balanced throughout the exercise. And how often is preventive maintenance performed on a robot or machine? Yes, even machines get downtime.
So what gives?
Well, you do for starters. Research has demonstrated that chronic stress is a great trigger for serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease and depression as well as links to cancer. Sounds pretty nasty, right? You may have good reasons for eliminating your vacation this summer. There may be good economic reasons why you can’t get away for an extended period of time. Just this week, one of my clients was expressing worry that taking even a week off could cause a major project deadline to be missed. Sure, these are real issues but…
The challenge is identifying how you are getting sucked into trying to be a machine and not a person.
Rather than getting all worked up that your work-life balance is out of whack, ask yourself about the words you use. Do they include references to machines? Are you feeling pressured to stay on the job because something might happen? Some people find out to their dismay that no one missed them while they took a long weekend. Sounds backwards, right? However, when you start believing that you must be present continuously for your business, you are allowing yourself to become robotic. The work gets done but that’s all. Innovation is hard to create with a tired mind. It’s easier to get aggravated or despondent. How does this serve your business or you?
Do you need to be always on?
Even in the darkest moments, it is important to give yourself some human time. What would happen if you decided to end every Friday at 3pm, no matter what? Imagine the experience of shutting your smartphone off for your lunchtime. Work-life balance isn’t easy and, frankly, it can change depending on where you are in your business cycle. It’s certainly tempting to give you suggestions on how to adapt your work-life balance so it is healthier. But that would be wrong. it’ s more important for you to take the time and ask yourself some questions. Such as, if you, the business owner, work like a machine, what message are you sending to your peers and your staff? Is this really what you want to say?
What is your definition of work-life balance?
How does using words that evoke machinery or technology affect how we think about ourselves at work?