“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
It is a proverb which means that it is not good to work all the time and that people may get bored if they don’t get some time off from work. This saying appeared first in James Howell’s Proverbs in English, Italian, French and Spanish (1659), and was included in later collections of proverbs. Some writers have added a second part to the proverb: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”
This proverb was demonstrated in a more scientific way back in the 1950s by the Framingham Heart Study, a longitudinal study that primarily focused on heart disease, but also looked at weight loss, stress and even happiness. While it did not look specifically at work as a source of stress, it seems fairly easy to make that connection.
For the vast majority of healthcare CIOs, support of a 24/7/365 operation comes with the territory. If you add to that the ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, you will quickly create a work-life balance that is heavily skewed toward the work side of the equation.
About four years ago, Google began what they hope to be a century long study aimed at understanding work. Under the auspices of their People Innovation Lab, they have created this study and named it gDNA. They have already begun to glean some interesting information about how people deal with this balance of work and personal life. For most people, work and life are practically inseparable. Besides the aforementioned technology component, most of us develop friendships and personal connections as a part of our work life.
One interesting differentiation that they have discovered is that only about one third of employees are able to draw a line between work and the rest of their lives. They are somehow able to turn off worries about looming deadlines or urgent emails. These folks have been labeled as ‘Segmentors,’ and they often report preferences like “I don’t like to have to think about work while I’m at home”.
The other two thirds of people fall into the group now labeled ‘Integrators.’ These are the folks that are constantly checking their email — usually on their phones, and for whom work looms constantly in the background. They have stated things like, “it’s often difficult to tell where my work life ends in my non-work life begins.” Of course, people tend to fall along a continuum between these two endpoints.
In the June 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review, there is a fascinating article entitled, ‘Managing the High Intensity Workplace,’ that also delves into the concept of an ‘always available’ culture and the variety of dysfunctional behaviors that it creates. In this study, people adopt one of three different strategies:
- Accepting and informing to the demands of a high-pressure workplace (43 percent)
- Passing as ideal workers by quietly finding ways around the norm (27 percent)
- Revealing their other commitments and their unwillingness to abandon them (30 percent)
As a leader, each of these strategies has its own motivational drivers as well as risks. Accepting is usually motivated by the rewards gained by devoting yourself completely to work. But it also creates the likely risk of burnout or the ability to rebound from professional setbacks. He or she will also have difficulty finding time to mentor others and creating new leaders to follow in your footsteps. These are the folks who are always connected to their email and always reply rapidly.
The individuals who adopt the passing strategy find ways to devote time to non-work activities, but do it under the radar. They are perceived as being always available because they rarely mention their personal activities when they are in the workplace. They pretend to be attentive to requests (“working on it”) while continuing to maintain their focus on non-work priorities. They are motivated by protecting their career while still participating in other aspects of their life. Since they tend to “play their cards close to the vest,” they run the risk of not building close relationships at work, which affects the trust that is so important within the executive team, as I have spoken of in previous posts.
Those who adopt the revealing strategy are motivated by being honest and open in their relationships. They may also believe that the company culture needs to change to allow for a better balance in life. And therefore, they run the risk of potentially damaging their careers and may sacrifice the credibility needed to make real organizational change when required.
Finding your place on this continuum of professional success versus personal success is a decision that we as busy executives make on a daily basis. On the professional side, you have the desire for individual achievement, the opportunity to make a real difference in your chosen profession, financial success, and ongoing learning and development opportunities. On the personal side, you have the opportunity for incredibly rewarding relationships with friends and family and your community, as well as the happiness and enjoyment of non-work activities. You also have the chance here of ongoing learning and development opportunities that are different from those at work.
From my perspective, the importance of this balancing act is a significant one. You can work so hard and be so stressed that it affects both your mental and physical health, not to mention the lost time with friends and family and events that are important in their lives. Or you can choose to be intentional in creating a healthy balance between your work and personal lives. Who you are as a person is important, both in the workplace and the home. So taking time to find growth opportunities, caring for yourself physically and mentally, finding places of service to others outside of the workplace, zeroing in on what really matters, building downtime in your schedule, and setting limits both at work and at home will all lead to a healthier individual who will be much more focused and successful at work and at home.
Finally, evaluate those things in life that tend to sap your energy, whether they are habits and practices that are not healthy, or relationships with individuals that drag you down emotionally and spiritually. Reducing or ridding yourself of exposure to those areas will go a long way towards helping you better maintain your life balance. And a healthier balance means greater success across all the important areas of your life.