Human Capital Management: Our Role, Our Emerging Responsibilities

This is the fifth article in a series of six focused on the Evolution of Human Capital Management.

Whose Life is It? Work life Balance – Tipping the Scale

In a recent discussion with other human capital leaders on current issues, one posed the topic of work life balance. “What is our role as human capital leaders?” she asked. I suspect this had everyone’s internal head spinning about how busy we are and in fact, probably tugged at some that we really needed to get back to our “primary” responsibilities as we had so much to do (yes, it pulled at me). Then another colleague asked a question long burning in my mind: Is work life balance really “our” problem? 

READ:  Twelve Small Ways to Maintain Your Health and Sanity

When was the last time you heard anyone extol about all the free time they have? Being busy has unfortunately become almost a badge of “relevance” for Americans. The Center for American Progress reports that in 1960 only 20% of mothers worked outside the home. Today those numbers have increased to 70%. Is it just that more women are working? Unfortunately, that is not the entire picture. Nearly 86% of males work more than 40 hours per week and the same is true of nearly 67% of women. More of us are working and we are working more. So how is it that we still feel so pressed with tasks yet to be done, undone or simply plaguing us to do? 

Has work magnified so greatly? Is there really so much more to do? We have technology to get and keep us connected – with an ease that should simplify communication. Look around you at an airport. What do you see – people walking and talking (sometimes you have to look closely to see that they actually have earbuds in their ears, to confirm they are conducting a conversation with someone other than themselves). Do we really need to conduct these calls – either personal or business? I fear that the smart phone has become a symbol of relevance more than a productivity tool. My phone rings (buzzes or vibrates) and that is proof that I matter. This is a slippery slope. 

“My phone rings, therefore I am.” 

Cyril Northcate Parkinson’s theory on work filling available time sheds important light on this topic. He stated that “works expands to fill the time available for its completion.” At one time, clocks dictated when the work day began and when it was done. Laptops, tablets, WI FI everywhere – technology tools afford us virtual offices wherever and whenever we go. If it feels like we can’t escape it, well if it’s in our pocket, we really can’t avoid it (without specific boundary setting attitudes). 

We’re working at our jobs more. Our work readily comes home with most of us. And yet, the increased demands don’t stop with just our work. Pressures mount from family, community, and those personal pleasures (working out, reading, walking the dog) the moment we get walk in our front doors. Pick one – any home or family ritual or activity and I guarantee you that it is a ton more complicated, time consuming and expected than a few years before. We have opportunity to be creative, social and dedicated to family and friends and we invest lots of time proving what is meaningful to us. The problem is simple: where do we get all that time that life and work seem to demand (and giving up sleeping doesn’t count)? 

So, when we examine the topic at work: how do we achieve work life balance? My question is this: is a work issue? Don’t get me wrong – I too feel pressed, stressed and inevitably pulled to take that call even on a Sunday morning from the office. They wouldn’t be calling me if it weren’t important, would they?   

I have never been a manager who watches when someone comes in and when they leave – assuming they are getting the work gets done. Do I believe in making accommodations so work and one’s personal life can co-exist? YES. So how can we manage to respect that there are many facets to one’s life? 

Here are examples of rules of the road I see many leaders obliging: 

  • Clarity. Map out the work to be done with particular care invested in setting deadlines with clarity about what actually constitutes completion. If we are clear about what the organization needs, I have little doubt our colleagues will fulfill their end of the bargain.
  • Flexibility. Remember that flexibility is key. Life happens and there are typically no do overs. Soccer games, dance recitals, visits from far flung relatives can and should be accommodated. Our presence at family events matters.
  • Contribution value, not time invested. If you applaud those who work after hours, nights and weekends, you run the risk of setting an example where staying around the office is what gets noticed. It’s not about how much time one invests. It should be about the contribution one delivers.
  • If you see something, say something. Have you seen an employee walk in bleary eyed, or with swollen red eyes (after a crying jag)? Did you look the other way, or did you ask if everything was okay? Care. Extend yourself. Engage. You can’t fix anyone’s problems, yet you can be a resource. Don’t just look the other way.
  • All night-ers. We’re not in graduate school – leave the all-nighters behind. This is not okay – no matter how important the business project. Send employees home. Don’t reward excessive behavior. It doesn’t pay for either the organization or for the individual. Martyrs just don’t make great performing employees.
  • Know your resources. Many companies have access to employee assistance programs (EAP). Usually the services are available anonymously, so no one has to know they’ve even been called. If you don’t have an EAP, check with local community organizations. Stress reduction, financial counseling, relationship assistance are pretty routinely available.
  • Know your employees. Do you know if someone has family? Are there activities or hobbies that are important to them? Perhaps someone has a pet? Know what gets your people up in the morning. If you don’t, you can’t possible manage or lead with the unique relationships that make all the difference.

Should we as leaders, particularly those of us in human resources care about balance? Yes. And, no. We can’t create more time in anyone’s life and we can’t manage unreasonable expectations at home. We can and should be articulate about the boundaries around work. Emphasize flexibility and agility. Create an environment where different needs can at least be discussed (if not fully embraced). And urge people to manage their lives – work and home combined.

One final comment: no one can have balance unless they know what is important to them. Employees “own” their sense of personal priorities, values and what constitutes their personal lives. Work cannot compensate when workers haven’t shifted through their own lives to figure out what is important to them. Offer training, or a call to the Employee Assistance Hotline if making sense of one’s life is the immediate issue. As leaders, we can offer resources, we cannot however offer answers.

Author, Eric Allenbaugh, offers a great quote: “Shovel while the piles are small.” Small piles take less time are easier to manage and the job doesn’t seem nearly as onerous. Don’t let work life balance become more of an issue than it needs to be. We do work too much. We probably take on too many things in our personal lives. However, the balance is for each of us to define and manage. As human capital leaders, we should role model and we should reach out when struggle is obvious in those among us.

This is the fifth article in a series of six focused on the Evolution of Human Capital Management.  Other entries are below:

Part 1.  Transformational Readiness Model: Improving the Likeliness of Change Success

Part 2.  Corporate Latency and the Evolution of Human Capital Management

Part 3.  Transparency: When is information “enough”?

Part 4.  Dealing with the Crisis of Reputation