As we begin this new year, new decade, tradition has instilled upon us the need to reflect on our past, think about what lies ahead and what we may choose to do differently as a result. If I may, I am going to make this slightly more personal than previous and future articles, mostly because I can (😊), but I promise to relate it back to the work environment along the way!
This week I will host an annual family brunch that we do every year. This tradition started many years ago by one of my cousins who sadly passed away far too early at the age of 49. At times we’ve had up to 65 family members attend (my father was one of nine children and I am the youngest of their 22 offspring) and it is filled with stories, traditions, laughter, memories, pictures, piano and singing. It is a great reminder to me and my now 20-year-old daughter of the importance of making time for family and reflecting on memories and building new ones.
A few days after that I’m flying to England to take my daughter for her semester abroad exchange program at Oxford University. Watching her build her path to success and excellence over the years fills me with pride and warmth. She has shared with me how I and her father have acted as significant role models for her in achieving success, setting and going after her goals, treating others with respect and kindness, and enjoying the fruits of her labour. This often causes me to look back over the years and wonder how did we do this? Here’s my attempt at an answer for that.
The field of HR found me when I began my MBA back in the early 90’s. Upon graduating with an HR concentration, it was clear to me then that HR was what I wanted to do. After my first few HR jobs, I was determined to someday be the head of HR for a large Canadian business, and I set the course to get there. Throughout the years I had to make some tough choices, as while my career was extremely important to me, so was being a present and supportive mother to my daughter. Often times those desires clash and if I had a dollar for every time I coached both leaders and employees on the importance of work life balance I’d have retired and moved to Hawaii years ago.
For most of my daughter’s life I was a single mom. Work life balance was quite a challenge for me, especially in some of the organizations I worked – fast paced, demanding, strong work ethic, etc… Add to that my work ethic – hands on, in the field, accessible to business partners and my team, etc… I was determined to do the best job I could at both – my career and being a mother. So, here’s what I have learned and shared as perspective over the years on work life balance:
- First and foremost, work life balance is what you make it. Most companies will take whatever you will give. I’ve rarely had a manager say “No, don’t be silly, I don’t need you to put in that extra effort right now when things are so crazy around here”. It was up to me to determine how much I give to my work, when to say “sure” and when to say “no”. Don’t leave it up to your organization to define that for you. You own your work life balance.
- Find ways to incorporate the two (work and family). I had the great fortune of hosting our key talent from Workopolis at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as winners of our top recognition award that year. Seven employees, along with a guest, spent 3 days attending Olympic events. Everyone brought their significant other. I brought my 10-year-old daughter.
- In every role, every business, my colleagues all knew not to schedule meetings with me after 5:00pm if they needed me physically present. I made a deliberate attempt to be home for dinner every night, especially since I often travelled for work. When I was in my home town, dinnertime was very sacred to me. That didn’t mean I had the luxury of only working 8-5, it simply meant I packed up every day in time to be home for dinner, and after my daughter went to sleep, I’d often open up my laptop.
- As I evolved in my career, I learned to be very deliberate in the organizations I joined to ensure the values were akin to mine. As I took on more senior roles, where I was responsible for molding the clay of the culture of the organization, naturally the values were aligned. As employees saw me balancing demands for myself, and supporting their demands wherever possible, the culture evolved to one of trust and respect. If work life balance (beyond stating it in a job posting) wasn’t a “thing” in a company, then I wasn’t willing to join. Simple as that.
- Finally, finding a manager or business leader to act as your mentor, friend, and sometimes moral compass that you can count on to support you in your endeavor for balance is key to success. This is a two-way street though – you have to build the trust and prove you can be counted on to get the job done and meet/exceed your goals and expectations in order for your manager to support you. I have been SO fortunate in my career to have had worked for great leaders. At times of personal need, whether it be a sick parent, a child who sprained her ankle at a volleyball game mid afternoon, a school assembly when your child is being recognized for outstanding student of the year, or a dog’s surgery, when I’m needed as a mom, without fail, I will be present. But I never let my organization or my boss down – I always found ways to be there for both.
As we ring in a new year, a new decade, and we think about things we want to do differently, I encourage my HR colleagues to think about how to achieve balance both personally and in your organization, and also business leaders to consider the tone you set for your organization so your teams know while jobs can be replaced, family cannot. Creating a culture of trust, respect and accountability equates with a culture that supports career and personal life.
I’d like to wish all of my colleagues, clients, friends and family a very happy and healthy new year. I hope this new decade brings you success, laughter, gratitude and optimism. A special wish to my remarkable daughter as she embarks on another one of her many experiences of a lifetime. I am so proud of you and can’t wait to see what lies ahead for you!