Working Smarter

How to Negotiate for Better Work-Life Balance

Posted by Joe Robinson

Work-life balance act.jpg

IT TAKES about 10,000 hours of practice for violinists to enter the ranks of top performers by their early twenties. If you want to get good at anything, you need to do it a few times, and that goes for work-life balance too.

You need to devote regular attention to it, because it’s something that doesn’t happen by itself. Work happens. That’s the default. Sitting in a park at lunch with your shoes off or attending a child's school play is not.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE INITIATIVE

As we learn in my work-life balance employee training, a more gratifying work-life requires proaction—concerted effort and design, consistent use, and frequent assessment to stay on the path. Balance means that important things in life—family, friends, health, me-time—aren’t being neglected because of a single-minded attention to the task side of the work-life hyphen.

It’s a regular check-in with your values and priorities, examining how you’re working and why. In an always-on world, performance will override all unless checks and balance become a daily ritual, like brushing your teeth.

Some throw up their hands and say, No, work-life balance isn’t possible. You are never going to get to an exact 50-50 work-life arrangement. That’s not the goal. The objective is managing demands and obtaining the flexibility to feel like you have time for life and family needs.

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Managing stress is about perceived control over events. It’s the same for work-life balance. It’s felt control over life, not a specific percentage; that is the mission. What parts of life do you need to feel are more under control? Health and exercise? Time with kids? An evening each week for a hobby? What amount of time per week for each of those would help give you a sense that the life side isn’t shunted aside and that you are present for your life and those around you?

Which of the following work adjustments or combination of adjustments, in use in thousands of companies across the country, would best fit your goals:

• Remote working. Being able to work from home one day or a couple days per week reduces commuting time and has been shown in studies to result in higher productivity than a day at the office.

• Flexible schedules. Changing start and stop times can be a big help for parents, people caught in commuter hell, non-early risers, and everyone who likes to feel they have more control over their schedules

First Tennessee Bank found that its most productive branches were the happiest. What was making them happy? Flexible hours, the ability to change schedules. The company spread the flex program throughout the company. Earnings increased from $.70 to $1.10 in three years, and customer retention soared from 88% to 95%.

• Compressed workweek. Completing your work in a shorter workweek, say, four days, can open up more space for life.

GOING OFF THE MENU

Improving work-life balance comes from adjustments we make to how we work, the kind of things I talk about in this blog regularly, from stress management to time management, and it also requires something else: communication. We have to ask for a work-life adjustment

Salespeople the world over smile when they hear terms like “no” or “company policy.” They know the reality—that policies are pliable, and, with the right evidence and persistence, beliefs cast in concrete can change to meet the reassessed needs of the policy-setter. A little perseverance can go a long way to forging a better balance.

The key to a work-life status more to your liking is you have to propose an adjustment of some kind. Unless your employer knows what you want, you can’t get it. Negotiating for your balance goal is simply the process of advancing a better way to get something accomplished.

Don’t let fear keep you going down the unbalanced track. Fear holds your current life hostage to a future projection. It’s interesting to note that the people least likely to take risks are those who place a high value on future time. In other words, the more you’re run by what doesn’t exist, the less you can create opportunities that do.

NEGOTIATING TO YES

Schedule a meeting or send a written proposal and put your idea out there. First, you’ll need to do your homework, analyzing the boss’s needs and bringing along solutions, including backup plans if you don’t get your first choice. Conduct the pitch in a way that demonstrates you’ve done some thinking about the issue and its impact on the company. Remind yourself that you’ve done your job well and that you can do it better and take care of your personal responsibilities with an adjustment to work practices.

Before you introduce your proposal, see if anyone else has done what you’re thinking. Precedents work. If you can’t find one at your company, then look outside to another firm that may have done what you propose. Cite companies such as SAS Institute and Deloitte. The latter company saved $100 million and 700 jobs through a work-life initiative focused on flexible schedules. Describe how the companies on Fortune’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For list have double the annual profits of the S&P 500.

Pick a good time of the week, usually Friday or when the supervisor is in a good mood. Tell him or her that you have a proposal on how you can do your job more productively. Detail what happens to your productivity and efficiency when you are overwhelmed. In return, the company gets a healthy employee, firing on all cylinders. Here are some tips on the negotiating process:

• Update how much you’re doing and accomplishing. Chances are good your manager doesn’t know how much you are really doing. Detail the work you’ve done, the commitment you’ve shown and enthusiasm for the job.

• Introduce your issue as a challenge impacting performance. You want to do the best, but there’s an obstacle to working effectively.

• Provide an energetic illustration of the challenge. If you don’t have time to see your kids, say so. If you are caught up in chronic stress and have been in and out of doctor’s offices, mention it. Describe the effects of the situation on your responsibilities at home and being able to work in an effective way.

• Put yourself in the manager’s shoes. Try to understand the other viewpoint and acknowledge it—“I see your point,” “What I hear you saying is…”

• Don’t blame people, blame the issue. How can the work be retooled so you don’t burn out and can take care of your personal responsibilities?

• Don’t get locked into a position. The Harvard Negotiation Project, which developed the style of “principled negotiation,” recommends that you “reconcile interests, not positions. Behind opposed positions lie shared and compatible interests.”

• Avoid emotional reactions. Don’t let your emotions trip you up. Never react emotionally. Continue making your points in a firm but professional way.

• Have multiple options. Don’t go in with one answer that would easily be shot down. Put together several possible solutions. Be creative.

• Invite participation in the solution. Take one of your solutions that would seem to have the best chance, and ask, “What if we tried this?”

• Be persistent. Most people aren’t persistent enough when negotiating. If the other side doesn’t agree, they move on. Moods and people change. Come back with an adjustment to your proposal.

If there is reluctance to go along with your idea, suggest a test case. You can show that it works, and that as a result, your productivity will increase. Empirical evidence is a great springboard to make your idea happen. Set up a trial of your plan. Let's give it a try! Be excited about the potential benefits. Enthusiasm and positive affect are contagious. Use them to build the momentum for an approach that could pave the way, not just for better balance for you, but for colleagues too.

For more work-life details, click the button below to learn about our work-life balance employee training or check out our free consultations on our work-life balance coaching page.

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Tags: negotiating for work-life balance, flex time, remote working, work-life balance definition

6 Ways Remote Workers Can Get on Top of Boundaries and Work-Life Balance

Posted by Joe Robinson

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REMOTE WORKING is one of the most popular employee perks. Employers should be fans of it, too, since it does wonders for performance. One study (Pitt-Catsouphes, Marchetta) found that productivity increased 10% to 30% for those working from home offices.

That’s a big payoff and a compelling reason to do more of it. More companies are doing just that. Some 37% of Americans (Gallup) are now working at least some of the workweek at home. Contrary to the image, though, of teleworkers slacking around the house, they actually work more than their colleagues at the corporate office. It’s adding up to a growing downside for virtual workers, whose work-life balance dreams are not always paying off the way they thought.

Remote staff have been shown to work 50-75 hours per week (Doherty et al, Pratt), averaging consistently longer days than their coworkers at headquarters.

THE PROXIMITY FACTOR

And therein lies the irony of telecommuting. As much as remote workers like the increased freedom, lack of commute, and fewer interruptions, a practice chosen for better work-life balance can make it worse. A Center for Work and Family study found that only 24% of telecommuters rated their work-life balance as very good, compared to 38% of those who worked at the office but used daily flex time.

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It’s not the remote option itself that’s driving long hours and a trip down the burnout track. The culprits are the lack of boundaries and self-management skills and the proximity factor. You can’t drive away from the office at the end of the day when it’s in your house. The three priorities you didn’t get to today are feet away from handling. Why not go back to the desk and polish off one more task?

Remote workers have a problem knowing when to say when in an unstructured environment in which there is added pressure to make it known you are getting the job done even though no one can physically see you. An affliction known as guilt enters into the equation, a need to prove worth from afar by going the next several miles beyond to compensate for the lack of face time.

I recently led a work-life balance training for a remote team at a medical laboratory firm. The company was happy to retain top talent by giving them the option to work from their homes across the U. S. As much as they liked the autonomy that virtual work provided, the group was finding it difficult to shut off the workday, get the mental detachment necessary at the end of office hours, and were too accessible to technology that followed some of them straight into bed at night.

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VOTE OF CONFIDENCE

We zeroed in on the importance of time management, boundaries, and setting the terms of engagement with technology. Companies that allow employees to work remotely are providing a vote of confidence in the ability of their virtual staff to self-manage their day. The responsibility is on the individual to structure the day in an effective way and utilize technology so that it enhances, not overwhelms, the chief productivity tool—attention.

Let’s take a look at six habits that can turn remote work into what it was designed for, an aid to a more flexible life and a better work-life fit:

1. Keep Office Hours. It's the same work, just in a different space. To rein in a default to excessivley long workdays, set office hours for yourself and stick to them. You have the advantage of being able to slot in a child's play or yoga session—just keep them within a set schedule. Don't go off on impulsive distractions—such as social media tangents—that destroy focus and make you fall behind. Simulate the schedule of headquarters at home as much as possible.

2. Set Stop Times. The work is not all going to get done by the end of the day, but you can finish yourself off by chronically going on too long. Long hours have been shown to dramatically increase strain and the stress that results from it. Choose a time at which you can remove fingers from keyboards, put down the phone, and stop for the day. What is a reasonable stop time for you? You are not always going to be able to stop on a dime, but aim for consistencly regular closing hours. Kick out the last person in the office, you, at the approinted time. Set an alarm as a reminder. Turn your coffee mug over to symbolize that the day is done. You're going home. Wait a second, you're already there.

3. Set Boundaries on Technology. The remote employee has to have greater reserves of self-regulation, i.e. discipline, to avoid the temptation of having all communcation with the outside world bombarding and notifying incessantly. That means having a strategy to deal with unbounded technology is essential. Check devices manually at set times. Three or four times daily are the most productive schedules, researchers at the University of California Irvine and Oklahoma State report. Try starting at hourly checks and wean down from there. Turn off visual notifcations on your screens. 

4. Organize Your Desk and Prioritize. It's a lot easier for clutter and distractions to pile up at home. Organize your workspace and remove all distractions from view. Get set up for maximum concentration. Turn off browsers. Prioritize and plan the day's events.  Take 10 minutes at the start of the day to prioritize. Qualify tasks by the urgency of doing them now, and create a next physical action for items on the to-do list.

5. Create Focus Zones. When are you the most alert? If you are a morning person, that's going to be anywhere from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and if you are a night own, it's going to be in the late afternoon, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Set aside 30 minutes, an hour, whatever you can spare, and block it off to do your high concentration work. Put a message on your auto-responder that you're on a deadline and will be back at a designated time.

6. Take Breaks and Get Exercise. This is an area that is tailor-made for remote workers—so it's important to utilize it. You have been left to make your own schedule. That means you can create one that allows your brain and body to get the daily recharging they need. It's easy to put the head down and barrel ahead for 10 straight hours, but the work and your health will suffer as a result. Researchers say we need to give the brain a break every 90 minutes to two hours. Set times you can step back for a 10- or 15-minute reboot. Use your breaks to build in exercise, to take a walk, do some stretching, or make your lunch break an exercise break. Studies show that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at lunch time increases productivity.

Going from the corporate office to the remote office can be a tough adjustment, one that we aren’t really prepared for. Yet the autonomy can pay powerful dividends for those who get organized and prioritized—more opportunity to take care of personal and family issues, easier access to refueling breaks, more concentration, and best of all, gratification of one of our core psychological needs. We all have a need to feel autonomous and to chart our course.

Remote working offers a choice to take on more responsibility, and when we do, our brain neurons like it, and pay it off in the form of job and life satisfaction. As long as we can resist the digital, self-interruptive, and caloric temptations.

Tags: remote working, work life balance, telecommuting, time management skills, home office tips

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