"Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life."

- Dolly Parton
Earlier this year, the Harvard Business Review published an article that pushed back on the idea of work-life balance - suggesting instead the "research showed that achieving a better balance between professional and personal priorities boils down to a combination of reflexivity — or questioning assumptions to increase self-awareness — and intentional role redefinition... that this is not a one-time fix, but rather, a cycle that we must engage in continuously as our circumstances and priorities evolve."

This notion of reflexivity becoming part of a work-life cycle is a worthy conversation right now. Leaders in k-12, higher ed, and beyond have an enormous opportunity to redesign the work-life cycle for their teams in terms of increased options and flexibility to improve overall health and job satisfaction. And while many managers focus so squarely on performance management and deadlines, they forget - as our friend Kathi Littmann reminds us - "culture whips strategy's butt every day.”

Often, what we see are the shifting deadlines and/or struggling outcome horizons, and the temptation is to believe the employee or team member must not be a high performer. Instead, we believe leaders are seeing better results when they understand how plans really work in terms of the work-life cycle.
Truths
Most employees begin with an understanding of the plan and timeline, and then life happens. The first pitfall might be a child with an ear infection with both parents having to scramble to cover some hours to make everything work. In other cases, the emotional toll from the last 16 months impacts an employee’s mental health. And whether it’s that specific or somewhere in between, employees often really never share events that impacted their schedules. What they often do is work extra hours or weekends to meet the deadline - assuming a few things that may or may not be true about their leadership.
While we know many of these "trait" leadership bosses exist; our crucial conversations training tells us that we often just don’t have the necessary discussions around that idea of reflexivity where we question assumptions and revisit our roles, priorities, and circumstances.

In the image to the right, notice how tools like zip lines, bridges, and ladders represent crossing the chasms of the work-life cycle hill. We only have so many hours in the day, and it is vitally important that we sleep, eat, recharge, exercise, spend time with family, connect spiritually, and communicate when the chasms are difficult to cross because of our health and our energy levels.

According to Inc., the best companies to work for in 2021 are the ones that did the most to support their employees through the turbulence of last year. They found effective ways for team members to work remotely by reimagining meetings and conducting asynchronous work structured around meeting individual goals and replacing “obstacles” with “ownership” to build confidence and accountability. Companies like Levvel in Charlotte “created new virtual happy hours, learning sessions, and coffee chats with senior leaders.” They changed benefits in order to divert more money to paying healthcare costs, implemented special programs to help working parents with homeschooling, and established flexible working hours to accommodate their people. What do your people need most, and what happens if you lead or work in an industry that finds difficulty enabling new policies or establishing more meaningful perks?
Tools
Here are three things you can begin, right now:

  • Use the 15 Five method to find out more about what is true and not true in terms of employee capacity. 15 Five is a simple and powerful way to gather weekly insight into your employees’ success, challenges, ideas, and morale - both in and out of the office. Employees spend about 15 minutes each week answering a few simple questions that will take leaders five minutes to read, review, and provide feedback. The approach and the app are very useful in creating a different approach to the work-life cycle.

  • Be empathetic. Once you know the actual data and challenges your folks face, you can help shift, reallocate, and/or reassign duties to both accomplish the work and protect the spirit of your employees.

  • Look for patterns and trends in yourself as a leader and in your company. Sometimes the stress our workers face is caused by ineffective leadership and lack of awareness that culture can create opportunities that strategy would never see.

As you head out to work this week, think about crucial conversations with your staff. What would happen if you were more connected to the lives of your employees? What would happen if you had the courage to establish "family first" as an organizational norm? What would happen if you created a culture of raving fans? What would happen if you implemented 15 Five to better understand the data you need to lead with both conviction and compassion?

Triumphs
One of the companies listed in Inc.’s Best Workplaces of 2021 listed above is Curriculum Associates. Founded in 1969, they are a paragon in the education space - one that shows a meaningful focus on the work-life cycle that isn’t reserved for startups and small organizations.
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