A typical workday for me is non-stop from the moment I get up! It begins with my first appointment, with back-to-back meetings through the day. (Sounds familiar?) It became a greater challenge after I had my son. Finding work-life excellence was a personal mission as well as an organisational one.
Though the days are packed, my colleagues and I still get to enjoy much quality time with our families. This is made possible through the work-life policies we have established, such as flexible working hours, a kids-are-welcome office policy, and project work arrangements. These have served us well particularly when colleagues transit into new life stages, such as having a baby or having elderly parents to care for.
Focus on the Family Singapore has recently been awarded the Work-Life Excellence Award – marking our 4th time receiving this award! Having embarked on this work-life journey since 2006, I thought it is a good time to reflect on some of the lessons we’ve learnt.
Why work-life culture?
Like many others, I have a natural inclination towards being a workaholic, especially when engaged in something I’m really passionate about. But I soon found it was impossible to do this when you have a little person who depends on you for his survival.
This made me re-think the boundaries of work and home, and to set in place practices and policies that take into consideration the whole person – the mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual needs of employees.
The benefits of a vibrant work-life culture are plenty.
Personally, it has made me more focused and forced me to make the best use of time, effort and circumstances. I find myself becoming more disciplined in maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
A good starting point is to ask ourselves, what really matters in life? Then allow our work-life decisions to flow from there.
From an organisational perspective, establishing a work-life culture helps staff take ownership of their work. One might think that having flexible arrangements will allow people to slack but what we have seen in the past few years is that because no one’s watching you and you are entrusted to get the job done in the best way possible, people actually produce their best work.
Ask ourselves what really matters in life. Then allow our work-life decisions to flow from there.
The journey toward work-life excellence
What is integral to building a work-life culture is work-life training and education – across all levels of the organisation.
Employees need to appreciate that flexibility or any other work-life programme is not an entitlement. At the same time, leaders need to understand the business case for flexibility and assume their role in establishing a work-life culture that goes beyond a standalone policy or practice.
Managers may also need help to implement flexibility for themselves and/or their teams to experience the win-win effects of work-life.
Work-life culture goes beyond mere policies and lip service; it involves leadership, walking the talk, open conversations with staff, and establishing habits that support work-life effectiveness.
At the heart of it is caring for people and for their families.
Companies need to be clear on why they wish to build a work-life culture, and proactively create a culture of trust and empowerment. It has to trickle down into our consciousness through our day-to-day conversations and interactions. For example, reminding employees of the organisation’s work-life culture and encouraging them to take the lead in ensuring their own personal work-life effectiveness.
There isn’t one plan that works for the entire team as it depends on the life stage that the individual is in. This journey towards work-life excellence reminds me of the time I was trying to lose my post-pregnancy weight. I thought exercise would help me lose the weight, I struggled to even find the time, much less the energy. Going vegetarian made me hungrier. A light lunch made me gorge on a heavy dinner. The stress from it all induced snacking.
I realised I needed to be realistic with my schedule and understand my body. As I didn’t like wasting food, I needed to start with less food on the table.
The same goes for work-life: Different experts will expound the right way to achieve balance and “have it all”. Ultimately, we need to know ourselves, and take personal responsibility for it.
For me, the biggest challenge is walking the talk and leading by example. The reality of work is that there are always more tasks than there is time to complete them. There are always fires to be put out or exciting opportunities that come with pressing deadlines. Walking the talk involves a delicate balance, and it requires both personal discipline as well as organisation-wide support.
The choice is ours
As individuals, we are constantly making choices and decisions about our time.
There are people who work 12-hour jobs that spill over into weekends because “they can’t help it”.
Well, chances are they probably can help it, as long as they’re willing to make some changes. A pay cut or leaving their “stable” job of 20 years, or working only during their peak productivity period will give them time to nurture relationships and look after their health.
At the end of the day, it is a choice. To achieve work-life excellence, we need to make the right choices. Making the right decisions for our families isn’t just about schools or living arrangements; it’s also about making time to build bonds and forge meaningful relationships.
Making the right decisions for our families is about building bonds and forging meaningful relationships.
If the organisation you work for has policies that allow you to free up time for things other than work, why not? There are a finite number of hours in a day and only so much we can do.
Work-life excellence is the complementary pursuit of work and personal goals, so that we can be and do our best – both at work and at home. The journey may be bumpy but if we keep our goals in mind and not give up, both the organisations and the people who work for them will reap the full benefits – a fruitful, long-lasting business and enriched lives.
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