Work Life Balance

Work Life Balance for IT Professionals

Woman doing Pilates exerciseAchieving a work life balance has growing popularity for several years now. It is widely viewed as being one of the critical strategies for organizations looking to attract and retain top talent. That strategy includes flexible working hours and a commitment to supporting employee participation in activities that improve their quality of life and overall balance in life. The ultimate goal of course is to increase the work life balance as part of increasing job satisfaction for men and for women.

IT managers know this all too well but often struggle with achieving the intent of company policies on supporting work life balance let alone the desired results. What is reasonable or desired varies from one employee to another and often pits peer against peer. IT enjoys the added issues when demands do not subside because users want what they want when they want it regardless of parent teacher conferences, kids sports, or your Pilates class.

IT departments have to be open for business when our customers and users need us. That means we are expected to work nights and weekends for changes and upgrades. Yes we are often able to take some comp time but it never nets out to a 40 hour week. In fact Gartner reports IT workers work on average 50 hours per week – noticeably more than most counterparts.

Unfortunately that just how it is in IT and perhaps partly why the compensation is a little better. Yet, for those working in higher education and particular the public sector, most IT departments are still logging long days even in summer unable to enjoy the benefits of working in higher education like their non-IT colleagues.

So from all of the expectations to work nights, and to stay until the problem is solved, or to not get upset when we are disturbed on a weekend to help a VP with her personal smartphone so she can Facebook her son at college leads to burnout and talented people leaving our profession for a better work life balance. Worse yet is when they choose to stay after loosing their drive and willingness to sacrifice causing their portion of the burden to shift onto peers – thus begins the snowball.

Work Life Balance Statistics

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a study of American work-life balance which revealed some interesting statistics and trends:

  • Among the 89 percent of Americans who say work/life balance is a problem, 54 percent called it a “significant” problem.
  • 57 percent of workers think that their employer is doing enough to address work/life balance issues; 43 percent do not.
  • 51 percent of workers say their work/life balance has not changed because of the recession.
  • 38 percent of workers say their work/life balance has worsened because of the recession.
  • 37 percent of those who do not have adequate balance say time with family is the first thing that suffers; personal time spent reading or relaxing followed, at 22 percent.
  • 44 percent of men ages 34-54 say they do not have adequate work/life balance.

Work Life Balance Court Ruling

In its ruling on the discrimination case by the EEOC against Bloomberg the US District Court in Manhattan Judge Preska wrote, ““the law does not mandate ‘work-life balance,’ ”. The Judge also decided to include in her ruling this quote from Jack Welch, former GE CEO:

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Judge Preska’s ruling has sparked a whole new debate on work life balance and workers rights in this country. Much of this debate centers on working mothers and the assertion working mothers are more satisfied when they have flexible working arrangements which in turn makes them more productive as reported this ABC News story.

Work Life Balance Tips

IT managers will continue to be challenged by meeting the time sensitive demands of their customers from scarce resources while attending to the expectations of those resources who are people with families and lives outside of work. This is a difficult challenge which often leaves IT managers in a lonely place. But there are some things you can do to help the situation.

Workload Management: The old saying goes you cannot manage what you cannot measure. Mangers must have visibility into their team workload and priorities so they can help team members avoid overloads and undue pressures while carving out time for personal priorities.

Establish Priorities: It must be clear what matters most at any given time in order to be assured that is what is being worked. Managers must manage to those priorities and help staff avoid working the list from the bottom and customers jumping the queue. By attending to priorities it becomes easier to support flexible arrangement’s.

Be Equitable: Not everyone has children. And, what matters to one person may not matter to another. So time off or away is just time. The goal is not to have things be equal just equitable. Equity includes ensuring everybody gets their turn for time off, working from home (the good) and doing upgrades or being on-call over holidays (the bad).

Set Boundaries: Managers must set clear boundaries with customers and users in order to deliver on the promise of a work life balance for their teams. Customers need to understand IT people deserve to enjoy weekends, holidays and summer just like everyone else. Managers have a responsibility to defend that with passion. Boundaries also includes setting limits for staff so they can make good choices on their own without crossing the line of excess or inequity.

Communicate: Regardless of your stance or goals on setting a work life balance you must communicate your intent frequently. Since communication is a two-way street this includes making yourself available and being open to feedback and input.

Time and Task Management: Be prepared to coach staff on how to improve their time and task management skills and behaviors. Seek out tools and gadgets that will make it easier for them to succeed and for you to manage. This applies equally to your own requirements.

Stay Grounded: Tackling work life issues requires patience and an objective perspective. Everyone has their own prism for looking at was is reasonable and fairness often creeps into the picture.

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3 Responses to Work Life Balance

  1. Do you think that work-life-balance is a generational issue? In other words, are the millennial workers concerned about this? Or, do you think the millennial might consider work part of life? I ask because I read a book recently that indicates that millennial workers think very differently about the subject.

    • It is certainly a demographic issue which includes some generational factors. Sort of like the idea there are draft horses and and race horses and each one hopefully finds the right organization and work for them. But the draft horse and the race horse eventually have to slow down a bit and retire.

      I am sure that isn’t clear so let me try it this way. Every generation has its share of ambitious people and slackers. What you want on the way up the ladder is not always the same as what you need to stay there and you may decide dialing it back after a while is not a bad thing either. But I do find a large number of workers from every generation expect more from their employer without a commensurate increase in their own contribution.

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