That Vacation Won’t Take Itself
Work-life balance is a something that many professionals claim to think about or try to achieve. But how many of us really define clearly what we believe is the proper balance, and how many fewer of us actually live our lives according to such a balance? Do you?
The annual vacation, which used to be a rite of summer for families in the 1960s and 1970s, has been shrinking ever since, with nearly two-thirds of Americans telling a Harris poll that they won’t be taking a vacation longer than a week.
Numerous surveys show Americans giving back vacation days, 169 million days a year, according to a study conducted by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association.
So what gives?
If you love your job, perhaps it rarely ever feels like work. If that’s you, maybe yours is a vocation in the truest sense of the word. A calling. If that describes how you feel, then you are in a very fortunate minority.
What about the rest of us? Is your job taking over your life, or is it empowering and enabling your life?
Perhaps working one’s self to death (hopefully only figuratively) is a particularly American work ethos. According to Fortune magazine, US workers put in 25 percent more hours at their occupations than do our counterparts in 18 European countries – some 258 more hours annually.
Exhaustion is the opposite of what every manager wants: employee engagement. When employees are engaged, they are 28% more productive, according to Gallup data. Engaged employees willingly put out extra “discretionary effort.”
The point of our article is not to dissect the origins of the Calvinist work ethic that has been a pervasive trait of American life for centuries now. Rather, our aim is to offer our readers some calculus to define a suitable work-life balance and to stimulate some reflection on how to get the kind of equilibrium you want and deserve.
The insanely long and intense hours that are almost baked into the DNA of much of the U.S. workforce by habit and custom are reinforced by managerial prerogatives and expectations AND by peer pressure. The reality is that we sacrifice the kind of well-calibrated balance most of us seek without much thought.
We also allow – even sometimes actively pursue – an out-of-whack balance willingly and knowingly in an effort to get ahead. We worry that if we don’t work our fingers to the quick, someone else will get the promotion instead of us. Worst of all, in some organizations this imbalanced attitude is woven into the corporate culture.
So what can you do?
For starters, Figure out what is important to you. Let’s face it, what is well-balanced for one of us might not seem so to another. With that in mind, here are some questions you ought to consider.
(Answer YES or NO. Give yourself 5 points for each YES and zero points for each NO; then tally up your total score.)
- Do you expect to/are you expected to be available and/or working during your time off?
- Is time off so discouraged by behaviors and culture that you don’t use the time off allotted to you?
- Are you sacrificing more of your personal time and/or time with family in order to be a top performer, to earn a promotion, or even just to keep your job?
- Is the amount you’re sacrificing in excess of what you think is fair or realistic?
- Have you deferred or declined to embark on life changing choices outside of work because of the demands of your job? (e.g. delaying getting married, having kids, going back to school, etc.)
- Is your job making you emotionally depressed or harming your health?
- If you are working Herculean hours, are you doing it because you believe you have to do so?
- Have you explored changes you could make at your current company that might recalibrate the balance in way that would suit you better?
- Are you putting up with an imbalance because you feel you have no choice?
- Do you see yourself as a martyr for your organization?
- Have you been dreaming of a new job because of a skewed work-life balance?
- Has your job had a negative impact on your personal relationships?
- Do you feel like you are nuts to stay at this job?
Part 1 Total:_________
(Answer YES or NO. Give yourself 5 points for each NO and zero points for each YES, then tally up your score for this section.)
- Are you happy with your job?
- Do you have the ideal balance of working hours versus your time away from work?
- Do you have sufficient time off from work (vacation days, holidays, sick days, PTO, etc.)?
- Is your daily commute reasonable?
- Does your current employer encourage and/or allow you take advantage of the time off provided?
- Is what the company gives you in return for your labors a fair exchange?
- Does your company provide family support (on-site day care, paid maternity/paternity/elder care leave, for example)?
- Are you allowed a work-from-home environment or mixed virtual sometimes-at-home/sometimes-at-the-office model?
- Does your company offer a flex time work model?
- Is your significant other/family comfortable with the work-life balance you have?
- If you are working more than 40 hours/week, are you doing so willingly?
- Does the balance you have now match up with what you expected when you accepted the role?
- Are you comfortable enough with the balance you have now to continue for another year or two or five?
- Do you get enough sleep?
- Do you have time for activities outside of work such as travel, family, hobbies, volunteering, etc?
Part 2 Total:_____________
Total of Part 1+2:_________
Assessing Your Score:
0 – 10 points: CLOSE TO PERFECT!
Your job must be close to perfect in terms of your satisfaction with the work-life balance it allows you to achieve. Congratulations!
11 – 30 points: EXCELLENT
Your work-life balance isn’t perfect, but it falls within the range of being excellent. Ask yourself if there are any adjustments you can make personally or in concert with the organization that would iron out of any of the wrinkles.
31 – 60 points: CONSIDERING A CHANGE?
Chances are that you’ve been doing some soul searching about looking for a new situation. At this point, you should ask yourself if the issue is one of temperament (your own) or if the problems are inherent with the role you have or the company. If you think it’s a great company, perhaps you need to make some adjustments. Are you driving yourself harder than the company expects? If not, it might be time for a considering a company and/or career change. Now is the time to be doing some planning.
61 – 90 points: MISERY LEVELS ARE HIGH!
You are high on the work-life balance misery scale. Chances are strong you have been looking for an exit plan for a while now. If your misery index is this high, you have to ask yourself how much more of the current situation you can take before it takes a physical and mental toll on you and your loved ones. What are you waiting for? Now’s the time!
91 points or above: LIFE IS TOO SHORT, TIME TO MOVE ON!
We can probably answer question number 13 for you. If you have been in your current situation for a year or more, you need to make a change before the job causes you real and possibly irreparable harm. You can’t afford to allow this to continue. You need to act.
Let ECP Help
The experienced team at Executive Career Partners provides a wide range of services for career searchers. From navigating the job market to negotiating the offer letter, we provide a solid foundation for professionals like you who know it’s time for a change. Schedule a time to speak with one of our Regional Directors here.