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The Wrong Time For Work/Life “Balance,” The Right Time For Work+Life “Fit”

John Challenger, the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm, was recently quoted as saying, “Holding on to your job right now is more important for many than getting more work/life balance…This is not the right time to be negotiating those sorts of things.” 

John Challenger, the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm, was recently quoted as saying, “Holding on to your job right now is more important for many than getting more work/life balance…This is not the right time to be negotiating those sorts of things.” 

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With regard to “balance,” I agree with Challenger.  This is not the time to being talking to your employer about balance.  Why?  Because all your employer will hear is “I want to work less,” even if all you want is to work differently by telecommuting or shifting your hours. In today’s economic climate, any discussion of balance could be misinterpreted as not being willing to go the extra mile.  And we all need to go the extra mile. 

Here’s where Mr. Challenger and I disagree:  I believe that, now more than ever, we all need to actively and consciously manage our work+life “fit” so that we bring the best of ourselves to a difficult situation. 

When times get tough, many of us work harder, longer or faster thinking it will save our job.  This may work in the short-term, but ultimately we’ll burnout and start the downward spiral of working harder, getting burned out, having less energy, becoming unproductive, so we work even harder and on and on. 

Strategically managing your work+life fit, means you work and manage your personal responsibilities smarter and better.  Here are three tips for managing your work+life fit in a way that meets your needs as well as the needs of your employer during the economic downturn:

  1. Focus on small changes in how, when and where you work—they make a big difference!  You don’t have to propose a big, formal flexible work arrangement to manage your fit.  Make small adjustments and choices.  For example, pick two days a week where you commit to leave work in time to get to the gym.  Come in a little bit earlier to get extra work done if you need to, but going to the gym gives you more energy for work and your life.  Commit to taking at least 30 minutes for lunch away from your desk twice a week. Meet a friend, call your spouse, text your daughter.
  2. Identify ways work+life flexibility can help service clients better while also helping you manage your work+life fit.  For example, offer to cover clients in Asia one evening a week from home, and then telecommute the next day so you don’t have commute.  The result is that overseas clients get better service during their business hours, and you work from home one day a week.
  3. How can work+life flexibility help reduce costs while also giving you the work+life fit you want?  For example, you have a sense that your company may need to lay people off.  You are interested in reducing your schedule or becoming a contractor, so take the initiative and present a proposal.  This alternative to layoffs saves your employer money but allows you to continue contributing to the business. 

John Challenger is right–this economic environment is no time for one-sided “balance.” But it’s the perfect time for strategic work+life flexibility that benefits the business and helps you manage your work+life fit.  The answer is not working harder, faster, longer.  It’s about rethinking work, life and the way businesses are run. Do you agree?  Or are all bets off? 

Call for Nominations-the Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) and World@Work to seeking nomiations for the 2009 Work-Life Rising Star Award.  Nominations will be sought for innovative, high potential career starters or individual mid-career contributors who exhibit a combination of professional and personal attributes that demonstrate emerging leadership and growing contributions to the work-life community. Deadline for submissions is November 14th.     

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