Work Life Balance; Possible? Do Organizations Have a Role to Play?
By: Mary L Bennett, CIA, CEC, MBA
The art of integrating life and career is commonly called work-life balance and often equated with part time work schedules. Successful integration of career and life is much broader then adjusting work schedules. Forward-facing organizations understand they have a role in assisting top talent with successful blending of career and life priorities, especially given the generational differences regarding the role of work in broader life satisfaction. Career life integration is not only about choices, it is also about skill building. There are a number of skills, tools, and strategies that individuals can use to enhance their career and life integration including:
- building support systems
- clarifying and aligning goals
- managing capacity limitations
- communicating and developing relationship skills
- improving soft skills and technical skills.
Balance is a problematic term implying a specific point where work is equally balanced with the rest of your life. In practice, there is no magical path where career and life stay in perfect balance. Career life integration is about weaving your life priorities to create a tapestry that represents all values appropriately over the longer term. Integration is accomplished by understanding personal values and using these to create clarity as one passes through various cycles of life.
In the future, flexibility programs will not be limited to structured flextime. Progressive firms will adopt a flexibility philosophy that is embedded in the culture. Traditional career paths have been designed for individuals with non-working spouses and a linear career trajectory in mind. Today, there is misalignment between the traditional workplace and the non-traditional work force. Current models no longer address the needs of today’s employees, and therefore no longer serve forward looking organizations.
Managers and partners indicate they have built quality work life integration by developing support systems. Building a strong team at work with talented team members who can function independently and act appropriately in the absence of a manager or partner is an essential skill. A strong team is a support system that can ensure coverage so that one individual need not be on the job twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
Consider also the strength of the support team in managing your personal life. Teaching and coaching top talent to build an ever-evolving focus on life priorities is a role organizations can play. Each individual has a different viewpoint on how they feel time should be allotted to personal priorities, based on personal values. Self awareness, discipline and organization are key attributes in living consciously. Building a plan that involves family, friends or contractors as part of your personal support team is how successful leaders manage an integrated career and life according to their values.
Organizations need to adjust culture and offer programs that educate and coach developing leaders regarding back up support at home and work. Role modeling by leaders in firms frequently does not demonstrate a reasonable career-life integration model. Rather, current role modeling supports the heroic senior manager and partner that take all onto their shoulders and cover every urgent priority with super human levels of hours devoted to work.
In reality, one of the reasons firms suffer from turnover of top talent and a lack of interest in the partner track by emerging leaders is, in part, because of the role modeling of current leaders in our firms. Organizations must teach, coach and role model more functional practice management, team development and work-life integration patterns. As an individual progresses to higher levels of management, they must delegate or let go of various responsibilities to spend their time effectively. The same concept is true in building support systems in your personal life.
Sponsors assist in increasing understanding regarding the priorities at any given point in a career journey. These elements of the advocacy or sponsorship relationship directly impact how one spends valuable hours and how satisfying or frustrating the journey is. In addition, advocates often can help build credibility should career life integration involve some type of flexibility arrangement that is non-traditional in its approach. Organizations have a role to play in ensuring a strong sponsor connection for each high potential individual.
Organizations also have a role in setting culture that supports health and self care. As human beings, we are all bound by capacity limitations. Despite the myths and outward appearances of the super human beings that roam our hallways, everyone must manage their time. Time is a finite resource, particularly for those with fully packed lives. It is critical to reflect often on current direction to maintain clarity regarding upcoming choices. Many organizations have developed cultures of competition and self-sacrifice that do not support long-term sustainability of its leaders or the firm. While demanding clients and long hours are likely part of the journey, many organizations have created cultures that support inefficient hours and face time because that is the way it has always been done. When we examine these patterns closely we find many patterns have no real connection to the business or client service. Burnout is common in this profession which impacts firm results and affect the aspirations of emerging leaders who are well aware of these patterns.
Organizations should strengthen communication and relationship building skills. These skills improve the ability to integrate career and life successfully. Building strong relationships with people who understand the individual’s business contributions is an excellent foundation for building credibility when career and life collide. Teaching emerging leaders to broaden and deepen skills, both technical and soft skills, is also important in preparing them to maximize their contribution to the firm.
There are many times in an accounting career where life cycle events, such as the new responsibilities at work, the birth of a child, family illness, or elder care cause an individual to consider whether they are on the right path. It is also important to train those who coach and mentor that integration is not measured daily. The key is to look longer term at trends. Assisting our employees to match the choices they are making to their overall life plan improves decision making, reduces stress and increases the likelihood that they will stay with us for the long term.
What are you doing to help your employees balance their lives? Where do you struggle personally in doing so? Please share your thoughts!
Mary Bennett, CIA, CEC, MBA is the owner of ML Bennett Consulting (http://www.mlbennettconsulting.com/), is the Chair of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee and is a former national CPA firm partner. She provides a range of organizational development services to accounting and other professional services firms. Mary is a member of the CPA Consultants Association (http://www.cpaconsultantsalliance.com/), serving with Jennifer and Tamera of the ConvergenceCoaching team.
 Mass Career Customization, Benko & Weisberg, 2007