A little over a month ago, during Steve Boese‘s HR Happy Hour “Work/Life” episode, a great debate was underway. Steve and his co-host, Shauna, managed discussion around work/life balance and whether that was truly possible. The idea of work/life “blend” was brought up. Guests and callers weighed in on whether flexibility was possible in today’s work environments, if the need for flexibility was generationally driven, and what can be done to make it work. This discussion spilled over on Twitter and kept going long after the show ended.
The take away for me was that it would be interesting to do a series of posts from people in different geographies, from different generations, on what work/life flexibility means to them and whether or not they think it works. I’m thrilled to say that Eric Winegardner (from Monster), Bill Boorman (UK based Bill Boorman Consultancy), and Beth Carvin (CEO of Nobscot Corporation) all signed on to participate in the series. I don’t know if this will turn into a generational divide, a men vs. women debate, or a geographical smack-down between the US and the UK. What I do know is that I have three of the brightest in the HR industry weighing in on a great topic. We welcome your comments and ideas on what work/life flexibility means to you.
First up, Eric Winegardner.
As a white-collar American, I work more than I do anything else. I work more than I sleep. I work more than I spend time with my family. It is a fact of life, and I love it. That’s right, I just said I love it. Why? Because I stopped worrying about balance years ago and started focusing on Integration of the two seemingly separate worlds. You see, I have no home-life without work, and I have no work-life without home. There is only one Eric. Take him or leave him.
To be fair and to properly set the stage for my argument, I feel obliged to disclose that I am a self-proclaimed workaholic. I prefer to refer to myself as a lifeaholic. It just sounds better. I happen to be incredibly passionate about what I do, enjoy the people I work with, and believe that if I execute flawlessly magic things happen for the masses. Okay, so maybe I’ve had one too many sips of the Kool-Aid! The reason I tell you this, is I fear I am in the minority of people who look at Work/Life Integration as a means to be able to work MORE- without it adversely affecting those I love so dearly. If I didn’t completely lose you on that one, we will most likely grow to be close friends.
I am on the quest to have it all, and flexibility is a critical component to my success. Flexibility is about being able to do what I need to do, where and when I need to do it without feeling GUILTY about doing it. Guilt is a complex emotion that erodes productivity not to mention overall happiness.
I have found that the secret to my work/life integration has been to eliminate guilt. I refuse to feel guilty to my employer for picking my daughter up at preschool in the “middle of the workday”, scheduling a dentist appointment in the middle of the week, or pinging my friends on Facebook or Twitter with a moment of genius “on company time.” Conversely, I do not allow myself to feel guilty for missing my daughter’s field trip, taking just one more phone call in the middle of dinner, or not being home at night for bath time, stories, and goodnight kisses. Do I miss those things, of course! But can I carry the burden of guilt, no way. Instead, I concentrate on being aware of the fact that I am ALL roles in my life at once. I choose to be fully present for the things I GET to experience, and do my best to thoroughly enjoy the moment, whether that be a work or home setting. I think that approach makes me a better husband, father, friend AND employee!
I work from my home office in Cincinnati, my real office in Boston, and from Monster offices across the globe. I work from airports and airplanes, from hotel lobbies and rooms, from back seats of cars and from restaurants and coffee shops. I can work from anywhere, anytime, and usually do. It is what inspires me, what motivates me, and what makes me the happy person my family totally digs. Therefore, it works.
So, what do you think? Weigh in with your comments.
Great post Trish! Work/Life Integration is going to have very unique meaning for everyone. I think this could become a great series on examples of “what works for me,may not work for you”, Great profile on Eric. He is a tireless, giving, and very passionate worker.
Please profile more folks, Would love to read the backstories.
Eric, I met you for the first time at HRevolution and now, after reading this, I get who you are. I am your fan for life!
Kudos to Eric for finding a great fit personally and professionally. Work/life balance/integration has always been an issue with me, as a former workaholic, because I love to work AND love being a mom. I don’t think that the guilt will ever go away. I am looking forward to the series, Trish!
Good stuff, Eric and a great idea Trish for a series of posts. And thanks for the shout-out to the HR Happy Hour show. That show was very lively and we are planning a follow-up sometime in January.
My feelings on this subject are pretty strong… when one side of the scale holds LIFE, that’s game over right there. I don’t want to balance/integrate/choose anything else.
I like Eric’s approach, but let’s be clear: he offers a holistic philosophy, not a way to integrate “work” and “life.” He seems to recognize that there is only the stuff he does—whether it earns him money or not—and only one of him to apply to all of it. So he surrounds himself with passions instead of obligations, so that wherever he is, he can apply himself.
For most people, if they are going to achieve his guiltless approach, they’ll need to be more intellectually honest in their approach to the topic (sorry, EW), and forget the question of work/life anything—including w/l integration. Instead, they’ll need to remember to continually ask themselves one question: “Is this the most important place for me to be right now?”
Love hearing Eric’s thoughts on this subject. As this is something any employed individual with family obligations struggles with, it is refreshing to see guilt free folks working with companies that truly get it.
I am closer to that guilt free moment than any other point in my life. Because this is my life, I only get one, and I refuse to wait until I die to enjoy it! (and like Eric, I love doing what I do, and having the ability to be where I need to be, and blend my obligations in as necessary)
great post. Can’t wait to see more perspectives.
Great post. I truly believe that if you have a passion for what you do and for your family and self, you can intigrate them all togther. I need that, so I have built our employement environment to include it.
I agree that intigration is a better term then balance. I think it is good that kids can see us doing our jobs, as well as benefit from us coming to their school in the middle of the day to help with a school project. Find the purpose in what you do and you can strike a chord with what the best way to spend your time.
Lois…Ms. Melbourne for EW
Great first post for what promises to be a good series – and I see the smack-down potential for sure. I like Jason’s barometer – “Is this the most important place for me to be right now.” But how the hell do you answer that question? Isn’t that the problem? Important to whom? If this were as easy as what’s most important TO ME, I’d be sitting on a Caribbean beach right now with one Red Stripe in my hand and three in my belly. I think balance (or integration) will always include some element of sacrifice…you can not have it all.
C’mon, Charlie—you know that “most important” doesn’t necessarily equal “most relaxing.” Every time someone studies happiness, it turns out that the rewards born from hard work and achievement are far more powerful than the temporal joys of a vacation.
Hey, I know—someone should write a post about combining work and leisure, and how the whole concept is a bunch of malarkey!
This is going to be a great series Trish and Eric did a great job kicking it off! Thanks for the HR Happy Hour shout out as well. 🙂
Eric-I love your energy. Work life balance is a wonderful thing. I wave to as I swing from one extreme to the next. All kidding aside, I too am a lifeaholic. Hi everyone. My name is Margo. You are such a wonderful person. Thanks for sharing your joy. Thanks to Trish for having one of the best blogs in HR.
Eric, I think the key takeaway from your message is being in the present. There is no better way to enjoy life whether family or work than being completely present. This is a way of being that very few are able to achieve. What is interesting about your comments is that you are complete at all times rather than separating your work from your personal life. This is how I work because I’m also very passionate about my profession. Everyone is different and expresses themselves differently. I totally get what you are talking about. Thanks for sharing your approach to work/life and for Trish for tackling this subject. Marguerite (@MGRecruiter on Twitter)
If there is someone out there integrating their life with gusto – it’s certainly you Eric! You do it, and do it well – AND have the wife/family/friends/employer who are supportive of your work/lifestyle. I know you recognize that, but I do think it’s important to point that out as well.
As a single parent who was working in a turnaround situation and raising a small child a few years ago, I found it difficult to not feel guilty – because it was a challenge to please everyone all of the time. Sometimes I had to leave work when it really wasn’t a good time to get home in time to feed my son, help with homework and spend time with him. Other times, I found myself bargaining with the school nurse to keep him in the Infirmary a couple more hours when he was throwing up because I had to deliver an important presentation to the Owner’s of our company. I loved my work and was having a blast in a delightfuly stressful situation. I also had a very supportive boss who never questioned me or my decisions. But I also love being a Mom and didn’t want to miss time with my son that I will never get back. In those circumstances, sometimes the right thing to do or the right place to be was not necessarily the place I wanted to be at the time – I just did what I could. So while I like the concept of work-life integration, I don’t think it’s something that everyone can consistently apply – and it takes a strong support system to make it possible.
I like Seiden’s framing of it as “Life”, but I’d take it a step further to Life – in which we make choices based upon our circumstances. During that stressful time in my life I had to make choices everyday – weighing all of the factors as best I could. That means I did feel guilty about some things and not about others. My goal in my life is to make sure that the good far outweighs the bad for those that count on me and support me. So I can live with the fact that my now 17 year old still talks about how I sat in the car going through resumes and doing phone interviews instead of sitting on the sidelines watching with other parents at soccer practices – because I did the best I could in managing my work/life/family. I’m also proud of the fact I’ve had some strong successes in my career and my son has far more good memories of our time together and regularly expresses appreciation for some of the sacrifices I’ve made for him as well.
Thanks for sharing your perspective in this series!
To all who have commented- you never cease to amaze me at all the thought put into your comments. I thank you for going beyond the “great post” or “this sucks” approach. You take a single post and turn it into a way to collaborate and share ideas. What a learning experience for all of us involved and for future readers. Thank you.
@Shennee- There is definitely interest in posting more beyond my original four I mentioned in this post. So far the response is amazing and I can think of numerous people who should weigh in on their thoughts on flexibility and managing it all. Thanks for commenting.
@Lisa- I’m in your camp. After meeting Eric in person, I’m volunteering to be co-president of his fan club with you! Eric rocks.
@Bonita- I hear you loud and clear. While I agree with some of Eric’s approach, I don’t have the luxury of integration like him. Let’s see what you think of my approach tomorrow.
@Steve- Thanks for having thought provoking, inspiring shows. I’d say from the response to this one post that would tell you that a show in January is definitely needed on this topic. So glad you commented.
@Jason- You know I agree with you on many things, but this may not be one of them. While I do agree that “life” is THE most important, we still have to eat. And have a roof. Thus, we have to work in some fashion. Anytime you bring work into the equation, it makes answering the question “Is this the most important place for me to be right now” very challenging. I have had many times where I wanted to be with my kids and that was the most important place, but the job duties called and so I had to make a choice to do that in order to keep being a good provider. Point in all of this- No Easy Answers. My hope for this series is that since it means different things to different people, between what the posts say and what readers suggest in the comments, we’ll be able to come up with a few good suggestions that each reader can take away and apply to their own situation. Thank you for always keeping us on our toes.
@Tammy- I love that you say you’re closer to being guilt free now than ever before. I’d be curious to know how you made it work when ‘buglet’ was growing up and you were working. thanks for the comment.
@lois- The one thing that inspires me most about CEO’s like you is that you saw a need and created a company culture around it. If we had more leaders like you, there would be far more alternative workstyles and far less guilt. Thank you for weighing in. would love to hear more on how Aquire, Inc. supports flexibility. Let me know if you’d want to join in the posting fun in the leader’s series.
@charlie- Of all the commenters, you’ve come the closest to hitting on my approach (which I’ll unveil tomorrow). Sacrifice is a big part of my philosophy on the topic of work/life flexibility. In the meantime, pass me one of those beers….
@Jason- back again?? ha ha
@Shauna- Love to shout out to you and Steve. You both inspire us all to write about good topics. thanks!
@Margo- You are definitely a lifeaholic. What a great way to live. And, thank you for the wonderful compliment. I’m honored.
@Marguerite- So glad you commented. I think you did a nice job of summarizing Eric’s stance. Be completely in the present, and be passionate about all parts of your life.
I’m digging the “integration” take, Eric. But it’s also assimilation and acceptance – from you and your family – of the work-style you’ve selected.
I also agree with Jason about the balance fallacy. Fact is, you’re in a unique position to make your own time, and as long as you’re owning your moment to moment immediate context, then I celebrate your “no guilt”. And it’s also the cultural context you’re in.
You’re position and company culture fosters this kind of integration (and wants to to work all the time!). Mine does too, but not all “white-collar” cultures embrace this. A previous firm I worked at over a decade ago was white-collar but did not by any means embrace this kind of integration. It practically killed me.
But almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And client calls at anytime, anywhere.
@Jen- I’m really glad you weighed in and gave great detail of the challenges of trying to make all parts of your life “work” as a single parent. Your comment could serve as it’s own post. I think it’s important to note that you say “it’s a challenge to please everyone all of the time”. I agree. It is actually impossible. It sounds like you worked very hard to do two things 1) use the resources available to you to help you along with dealing with issues as they popped up and 2) you made choices. Sometimes they were not what your child or job wanted, but they were choices you thought were best at the time. Like you, I’ve recently had to deal with the school nurse calling me at work and just not being able to leave right then. When I finally reached my little girl, I felt like the worst mom in the world. It was not a great day for me. These are the tough choices we face.
@Kevin- You bring up the point that not all employers embrace this. That is true. In some cultures it just isn’t offered, even if the technology or clients support it. You say it practically killed you. I’d be interested to know if that was from the standpoint that it was so hard to please the company yet still be present at home, or is it more the frustration that you knew flexibility was possible theoretically but that the company would not allow it.
Great series, Trish and great post Eric – especially the letting go of guilt.
One thing I would like to know and am struggling with personally is if Eric’s spouse has the same kind of travel/work schedule, he does? I’m wondering if both parents can work at that pace?
Because while I advocate work-life balance/happiness. For me, currently it means taking a giant step back at work…as my husband is mostly on the road and working many hours and we have a little one. So for the first time in our lives together we are not both able to run full speed ahead with our careers. Which is hard for both of us to adjust to.
So can both parents “work more than I do anything else?”
@Leanne- I think we need to pose this question to Eric, so I’ll do that in case he didn’t see it. Personally, I do not think both parents can work like that. Well, they can if they have a nanny or other arrangement, but then they are not raising their children. That just cannot be the right answer for the sake of money. I know that from what Eric has said, he has a great wife who is good at keeping things at home in line with the children. I also love that Eric focuses all his attention on his family when he is home.
I think what this series is teaching us is that there is no “right” way to do it all. You have to juggle, integrate, live, work, parent, etc. Thanks for the comment.