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Work-life Balance: Can “Warming the Bench” Get You Back on Track?

February 12, 2013

We recently held a Think IT Leadership meeting discussing the parallels between athletic coaches and business leaders and one of the biggest points of discussion was about managing your talent. It’s a common issue nearly everyone who’s been involved in athletics faces whether it’s in Basketball, Baseball, Hockey or any other team sport: when is it time to scale it back a bit and take a break? Is it on the manager to make sure their talent is in the best shape to perform? Is it the team members who must understand when they need to slow down and relax? The answer is probably a mix of the two, but perhaps the better question is how can you balance your work and life obligations?

No, We’re Not Talking about Vacations 

Before we go any further, we need to talk about the difference between “I must balance my work and life responsibilities” and “I need a vacation”. Taking a regularly-scheduled vacation does not necessarily mean you’ve been able to complete the work-life balance high wire act. Ask yourself this: when you were on your last vacation, did you ignore any and all work-related phone calls and emails? CNN’s own Travel Editor Katia Hetter admitted even she had trouble with this. “I have no doubt that a real vacation free of work is good for me. I’m looking forward to time off with my daughter and my friends. And if I let the farmland that is my brain go fallow for a time and enjoy my vacation with friends and family, I might come back rested with more story ideas for So why is it so hard to put down work and enjoy time off?” Here’s a scary statistic: only 2% of respondents to a global survey from the Harvard Business School did not check in with work while on vacation.

Can You Balance it All? 

Professor Howard Stevenson of the Harvard Business School argues that the term “work-life balance ” is over-simplistic. He likens one’s life to “juggling an egg, a tennis ball and a knife while walking on a balance beam — at the Olympics…we all struggle to live at least seven lives: the family self, the social self, the spiritual self, the physical self, the material self, the avocational self, and the career self.” So is it even possible to balance it all yourself? According to Stevenson, it depends on what you mean by “balance”. The trick is that you need to constantly assess which “self” takes priority at different points, and then shift the emphasis as your situation changes.

How Do the Best Managers Handle their Talent?

It’s difficult enough to handle your own work-life balance, let alone consider your entire team’s. To bring the work-life debate back to athletic coaches and managing talent, let’s take a look at one of the best coaches in the NBA: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Earlier this NBA season, Popovich decided to bench his three biggest stars for the entire game against the Miami Heat. In fact, they didn’t even travel to South Beach with the team. The decision, while not popular with NBA and TV execs, is a strategy he’s used to keep his top performers fresh throughout the season. Most importantly, it’s worked. The Spurs have the best record in the NBA at the moment (40-12) and look poised to make another playoff run.

So will giving employees time off automatically make them more productive and efficient workers (or have the ability to flop like Manu Ginobili)? Not necessarily. Steve Kurutz, a Director of Information Services at McElvain Energy, says offering greater work-life flexibility to employees makes sense if it gets results. “[Employers] have a right to expect their employees to be exceptional when it comes to their performance. The easiest way to counter any objection by coworkers or management to periods of absence and shorthours is to have a performance/results record that blows away the records of those people who measure their work in hours, not outcomes.” Whether it’s you or a team you’re working with, the ultimate mission is not to clock in and out at the right time, but to achieve organizational goals.

How do you handle your obligations at home and at work? Share your tips with us in the comments section below!

Posted By: James Sweeney


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