How to Promote Work-Life Balance During a Pandemic

February 15, 2021

I was recently asked by the Human Resources organization SHRM about how employers can double down on promoting work-life balance for their people, especially now. 

The global pandemic isn’t over, and lots of workers are almost a year into a “temporary” work-from-home arrangement. It’s no wonder that stress and anxiety are still high.

And yet, there ARE ways to promote the kind of culture that embraces the entirety of your team’s lives and encourages balance … even during a pandemic … as long as you toss the idea of “balance” out the window. 

Let me explain.

FIRST THINGS FIRST—STOP TRYING FOR “BALANCE”

Work-life balance sometimes seems like a professional holy grail … elusive and holding the promise of something magical and transformative. People LOVE the pursuit of it … judging by the number of articles, scientific papers and podcasts on the subject.

And while what it promises to deliver sounds amazing—the right mix of professional effort and personal time—it’s actually impossible to achieve and a waste of time to pursue.

So if you’ve been striving for it and haven’t achieved it yet, you’re not alone ….

No one has or will.

The common way of thinking of this kind of “balance” implies that you’re in a static state, perfectly balanced on the fulcrum of a teeter-totter between two fixed things.

Can you imagine the effort it would require to stay balanced on a point like that?

Whose life is like that?

Nothing is static, and you’re always going to be on one side of the line or the other.

Either you’re paying more attention to your life, or your work. You can’t do both simultaneously, and you can’t maintain perfect balance … even if your tree pose is exquisite! 

More than that, “life” itself doesn’t fit neatly into a single bucket. You’ve got maintaining your own health, time with family, time with friends, the administration of your finances, chores and errands … you can see how this teeter-totter pursuit gets more and more impossible all the time.

So in my programs and in the work I do with clients, we quickly shift the conversation from work-life balance to work-life integration

The pursuit of harmony, where all the different elements of our lives have a place and rotate through various degrees of significance, IS something we can all achieve.

That concept is fluid and involves attention and intention.

At any given moment, certain buckets or elements will be more important than the others.

That state of harmonious living within ebb and flow, yin and yang, is far more forgiving and attainable.

So give up seeking balance and search for your right recipe of integration.

Words have power. When you refer to “work-life balance,” you’re striving for the impossible which can only make you anxious when you fail to achieve it.

Work-life integration acknowledges that life is complicated: all the separate, sometimes-messy parts matter and are vying for your attention. 

Your human job becomes solving the daily puzzle of WHERE to place your attention each day, and then inside each day, each hour and yes, even each moment.

Some days will be professional task-heavy. Deadlines or other deliverables will require more of your time and focus. 

Other days, they’ll take a backseat to your health or your family … or even rest and recharging.

Once you stop striving for balance and start seeing the impact and power of pursuing a healthy and satisfying degree of integration, you’re on the right track. 

Here’s how to make that even more rewarding for you and your team(s).

ACT IN ALIGNMENT WITH YOUR VALUES

When setting and implementing any policies around work-life integration, act mindfully, and don’t contradict yourself. 

If a core company value is putting people first … make sure your actions uphold that value.

Too many companies profess to value “quality of life” or “work-life balance,” while frowning on employees who are away from their computers too long or working flexible hours to manage their kids and their jobs.

Especially these days, when it matters most, how is keeping score building morale or even serving your bigger objectives?

Before creating any policies, here’s a valuable exercise: get clear on what is truly important.

If the work gets done on time and on budget, and your workers are happy, isn’t that the goal?

So long as your core values are being upheld, don’t make compliance more important than supporting and nurturing your team.

Ask yourself—or, better yet, ask your team—what they need to be at their best.

If rules are outdated and cumbersome, reconsider them.

Don’t make the system more important than the result: a happy, productive team that keeps your business healthy.

THINK BEYOND PEOPLE WHO LOOK LIKE YOU

Turn on the news on any channel, and you’ll see lots of division.

Or for that matter, your social media feed.

Everyone’s got an opinion—even about things they know nothing about.

So instead of joining the chorus of people opining without any knowledge OR wisdom, why not ask your team directly—find out how they’re doing, and what they need from you. And understand that they may be experiencing the pandemic differently than you are.

Empowering your team and showing your people that they matter is as simple as stepping out of your own shoes and into theirs.

This is another place where any idea of balance left long ago … there are plenty of parents who can’t separate a 40-hour work week from their new role as a stay-at-home parent and teacher, along with any other responsibilities.

In situations like that, some days just surviving until bedtime is a Herculean task.

Cultivate an attitude of inquiry. If an employee’s performance takes a dip, ask questions before jumping to conclusions: What’s going on with them? Have circumstances changed for them, individually or as a family, since the pandemic?

To keep your team happy and productive, maintain an open mind. Don’t lose sight of what’s important in favor of what is simply urgent.

Then see where you can get creative around how work is distributed to support team members who need temporary or significant help.

Even if major shifts or reassignments aren’t possible, the exercise of stepping outside your own experience to take each person on your team into account has enormous value—and clearly demonstrates your stated value of “people first.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

Work-life balance is a myth, and it’s time we put it to bed. Stop trying for balance, and try instead for integration.

Align your company values with your actions. If you say that your people are your biggest asset, and supporting their healthy integration of work AND life is important, walk your talk and make your choices accordingly.

Get some information before forming strategies, policies and procedures. Ask your people what they need from you and the structure of your company to be at their best. What reduces stress, increases happiness AND fosters productivity?

Don’t guess—ask.

Finally, never prioritize the system over the result.

If the work gets done on time, on budget, and meets your quality requirements—during a pandemic, no less—how important are any other details?
All businesses need outside help from time to time, especially when it comes to workforce management. If you need a consult on work-life fit, schedule a quick, free strategy call with our COO, Kevin Smith.

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!