Achieving Life Balance
It has become the norm for people to refer to “work/life balance” rather than life balance. For most of us, work is part of life. The term work/life balance indicates certain beliefs about work itself. These beliefs can negatively influence our views now work and therefore our stress levels. This is an important topic and for those in leadership positions the ability to recognise stress in others as well as self, is essential.
In order to maintain our life balance we need to check our beliefs about time and work. We also need to develop an awareness of our feelings as well as our thoughts so that we can take the appropriate actions. This is our affect. In addition, we have to take into account our social needs, how much imagination we have, for without this life can be dull and we have difficulty in amusing ourselves. Also, we also need to be able to keep a check on reality as well as what action we do need to take in any given context.
“Emotions, whether conscious of unconscious are at the bottom of our experience of meeting the world” - Fitz, Bowlby, Harlow.
Resilience is a key factor in stress prevention.
Resilience is the ability to recover despite, periodical setbacks and problems. Highly resilient people know how to bounce back and find a way to have things turn out well.
However, this does not mean developing a “Be Strong” working style, or setting yourself up by taking on too much. Siebert offers five levels of resilience:
- Maintaining your emotional stability, health and well-being
- Focus outward: good problem solving skills
- Focus inward: strong inner sense – self-esteem, self-confidence, and positive self-concept
- Well-developed attributes and skills
- The talent to convert misfortune into good fortune
Stress can be eased by the individual having attachment and bonding. This offers a secure base from which to operate.
There is an optimum pace for every activity and there is an optimum pace for each individual. For example, carpentry is an exact science. If a mistake in measurement is made then it is often difficult and expensive to rectify. More technical and cognitive, less practical skills tend to mean that we can become more jumpy and more reactive. Our energy can therefore be more speedy and jerky. If a carpenter worked in this way there would soon be difficulties and they would probably not be in employment very long!
In addition, the western world tends to see multi-tasking as good, hence the comments about women being able to do it, whereas men can’t. Whether or not this is a fallacy it does point out how multi-tasking is valued. However, getting our lives into balance probably means becoming more focused. The East knows more about this than the West.
Often when stressed we don’t make times for breaks, for lunch and so on. If we did this we would be refreshed and more able to get on with the task. Perhaps having such a tight deadline might even mean we have taken on too much and perhaps should not have agreed to go with the deadline. All of this relates to our beliefs and racket system about work.
Often people talk about “time management”, however, time cannot be “managed”. Rather, we need to manage ourselves and ensure we get and maintain balance in our lives. This may mean making a re-decision about the way we view time, and then the way we act and utilise our time. One of the key factors of traditional time management is selling “time management” equipment as a follow up to time management courses.
This is big business. This way of considering time management does not fundamentally change what people do, it just gives people the opportunity to put more into the long hours they are at work.
Fundamental questions to ask:
- What would I be doing if I weren’t working such long hours, with such intensity?
- What am I avoiding by working such long hours?
Saying no to work opportunities is an important factor in utilising our time. We often say yes to work opportunities even when we are too busy to take any more on. The reasons for this are numerous:
- “I can’t afford not to.”
- “I’m flattered to be asked.”
- “They won’t call me again if I say no.”
- “I like doing this kind of work so much.”
- “I don’t like saying no it might offend them.”
Perhaps considering how to use our time to the best possible advantage might offer some solutions. Research (de Woet, quoted in Godefroy and Clark 1989) shows that we often waste 97% of our energy undertaking tasks that are not appropriate for our performance level. Therefore, this only leaves 3% which is at our skill level. Instead, we need to delegate tasks to others – secretaries, assistants, colleagues, staff etc.
When we view the world in the same way as others, i.e. our frames of reference are compatible stress is minimised. When others have personality characteristics that are very different from ours, and we are unable to find the same pathway to walk along, stress is likely to be experienced. We need to be able to shift our way of communicating in order to walk along the same pathway so that the relationship is eased. If either of us are unable to do this one or both are likely to go into Driver behaviour and shift to one of the not OK life positions. The further someone moves into distress, the more miscommunication and mismanagement will occur.
Our beliefs about time, our drivers and our injunctions effect how we use time. It is no use coaching someone about their Driver, Be Perfect without enabling them to deal with the injunctions and their psychological needs. We all have psychological needs and when we meet these needs we are less likely to get into distress and instead be resilient and mindful i.e. in the Mindful Process on the OK Modes model in terms of behaviour and in Integrating Adult ego state in the Structural ego state model.
This leads on to the development of a coherent set of actions for life. These actions will be coherent and congruent if they are part of a greater plan. If we have dreams which we translate into goals and then transform these into tasks this will enable us to make decisions about whether a particular action will get us closer to our dream or further away. We can then only take work that gets us closer to our dream. Of course, eliminating all work which does not get us closer may not be possible straight away, if at all. However, we can minimise it. We just need to take one small step each day toward our dream.
It may be helpful as well to question the script issues in the way you wish to spend your life. For some, the drive is for acquisitions and material wealth, whereas for others it is about having enough to relax and enjoy themselves, meeting friends, spending time with the family. What do each of your modes say about the way they think you are to spend your life?
Celebration also needs to take place at every level (see Concepts for Thriving, Mountain, 2004), otherwise we get depleted. Time management is also about taking time out to get exercise; take care of ourselves with a massage; meet friends; meeting colleagues for mutual support time. All of which often get squeezed out, but which are necessary to obtain balance.
If we trust our bodies as well as our psyche we are more likely to be in tune with ourselves.
One day, when doing Qigong I was interrupted. On returning to my exercise I could not remember how to start the move I had left. I did remember the previous move and started there, the next one then just flowed. If our minds don’t remember, our bodies will.
We need to get in touch with our physical side, listen to what it tells us and then we are more likely to know when we are becoming stressed, or if the next piece of work would push us over the top. Our bodies as well as our minds have the answers, we just need to tune in. Very often we discount our physical signs and rationalise our way into situations rather than listen and consider what our feelings – emotional and physical are telling us.
Worrying tends to effect life-balance. We worry about where we might find the money to meet our financial commitments or what we will do if we get ill and cannot work etc. To worry is to be consumed and obsessed by the question. Whereas, if we are worried about something and consider it attentively, rather than obsessively, we are likely to obtain options and perspective.
A questioning mind, rather than a worrying mind, enables life balance. Further, most of the things we every worry about never happen. If they do happen and we have worried obsessively rather than attentively we are likely to be too tired to deal with it!
Meditation is one of the practices that enables us to take time and space for ourselves and get to know ourselves. As we get to know ourselves then we get to know others too. Meditation can also give us the quiet space to listen to our inner core and learn what we want.
“When we believe that the world makes us, that it determines what we can and cannot do, then we see ourselves as small and weak. But when we understand that we make the world – individually and together – then we become formidable and strong” - Richmond L, (1999).
We therefore need to trust ourselves, and ensure we expect the best of ourselves and of our workplace.
We have some basic needs or hungers which need to be met in order for us the thrive. There are six of these:
When we are children we need stimulus. The other basic aspect required by children is structure. Structure offers some predictability and safety and enables the child to do this for themselves as they get older. Good parenting also offers leadership and role modelling. Then we all need new experiences in our lives from which to learn and grow and hence the incident hunger.
If any one of these needs or hungers are not met then we are likely to overload on another one in an attempt to compensate and discount the need for that which is not being met. For example, where there is insufficient structure the workforce may get into game playing as a way of getting incident.
Thus it could be said that we never get enough of what we don’t need.
The way in which we structure time is likely to reflect the different hungers. Obtaining balance means ensuring that we have sufficient time for play and intimacy and if this does not occur then it would be beneficial to explore what we might be avoiding.
Clarkson (1992) discusses the typical burnout racket systems of professional helpers. The definition of which is: to fail, to wear out, or become exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength or resources” (Oxford Dictionary). Burnout has serious outcomes including depression and other forms of incapacitation, either temporary or permanent. Clarkson suggests that the three not-OK life positions on the OK Corral resemble the three personality types Freudenberger (1975) identified as being sensitive to burnout:
- The dedicated and committed worker
- The over-committed worker whose outside life is unsatisfactory
- The authoritarian personality
The racket systems for each personality type correlate with the not-OK positions on the OK Corral. Clarkson then outlines the different racket systems for each position.
Below is Clarkson’s OK Corral illustrating “burn-out personality types” (colour addition by Mountain Associates):
Dedicated and committed workers tend to push themselves to work harder in an attempt to meet increasing demands and are not assertive in response. The beliefs are likely to be about others being worthwhile and that OKness is earned by looking after others in some way. Somehow, even when what this person does meets with less success, they are likely to work harder with increased dedication but actually become more tired due to being less effective in what they do.
The person who develops an over-committed and work-enmeshed personality tends to see work as their main provider of strokes. There is a lack of boundary between work and personal life. Those who become over-involved in a cause, or project use this as a defence against the recognition that meaningful outside activities and relationships are failing. Clarkson states that the task of individuation and separation can be avoided by this over-involvement.
Other people cannot be relied upon to help and this also reinforces the powerlessness of both colleagues and management. The beliefs here would be around: I’m not OK. I am lonely, unlovable, needy and powerless. Others are not OK and life is all about giving of yourself.
The person with an authoritarian and/or patronising personality believes that no one else can do the job as well as they can. For them this means that other people are not OK. They use a lot of Criticising Mode as an attempt to maintain a precarious sense of OKness.
Organisational Aspects of Stress
Stress is not just about the individual, it is also about what an organisation may be doing that is causing or at least contributing to the stress. For example:
- The culture of an organisation may be a “workaholic” one where people are expected to work long hours and take work home with them.
- Deadlines may always be tight with demands for immediate delivery.
- People may be moved into roles that they are not sufficiently experienced to undertake and no training or mentoring is provided.
- Subordinates are not expected to challenge those above them in the hierarchy, and so the workforce start to feel undervalued and discounted.
- When off sick people are called at home and informed about the mounting workload.
- Bullying or harassing behaviour is discounted.
- Discriminatory behaviour is discounted.
- There is a lack of positive strokes at all levels of the hierarchy,
This is not an exhaustive list but does highlight the need for an organisation to give itself a “360-degree” feedback process, taking comments from the workforce on a regular basis. In this way, there is more likely to be opportunities for change in the culture so that people feel valued and supported, with clear boundaries and contracting processes in place.
Our past experience will also influence our decision making. If we have had good results from taking a certain type of action then we are likely to make similar decisions to that time and therefore undertake similar actions.
Similarly, if we have had bad results from making a certain type of decision we will act accordingly. This is likely to be the case even if we have changed jobs and are in a new organisation. Should the new organisation respond differently to the decision we make we will accommodate this new response and change our decision-making accordingly.
Our life position also affects our decision-making. If we believe we are not okay and others are okay, then decision-making is likely to be based on making others more important than ourselves.
Organisations also have life positions. Krausz diagrammed the organisational OK Corral:
Where power is used well by management there is flexibility and conflict will be used in constructive ways. Decisions will be made on information and alternatives for action. Co-operative and integrative processes will be established using both the positive and negative feedback as information from which to learn. Problem-solving, rather than blame, will be the focus.
Where power is used inflexibly, conflict is repressed, and blame, rather than problem solving will be the culture. When this occurs there are likely to be competitiveness and difficulties with communication. Motivation is likely to be medium to low and individual competence is seldom recognised or respected.
Krausz highlights positions for both the consumer and the organisation. For example, it may be that the organisation sees the consumers, or others external to itself, as not OK, and this may be mirrored internally in their systems and processes.
On the other hand, they may experience themselves as not OK and consumers etc. as OK. Internal to the organisation they may experience themselves as OK with others in the organisation as as OK. All of these aspects will affect decision making processes as well as the nature of the interventions to be made.
Where organisations are healthy there is open communication, employees are encouraged to make decisions appropriate for their context, and there is a free flow of information. Employees recognise that there are consequences to their behaviour and are considerate and balanced in their actions.
Ways to Avoid Stress
- Be aware of our own driver behaviour and notice when moving into it and change this.
- Be aware of our existential life position and the associated beliefs and change these and learn when we are moving into this place and change this.
- Keep an eye on our hungers and keep a balance.
- Keep our stroke bank stocked up.
- Consider whose responsibility an action is and ensure that the person responsible does it rather than rescue them by taking on tasks that are not our responsibility.
- Learn to meditate.
- Learn mindfulness – being in the present, aware of what is going on for us and what we need and whether this is appropriate at this time and if not, what we will do to ensure when we will get our needs met.
- Go for walks.
- Be aware of the organisational cultural invitations into script.
- Be prepared to say “No” and feel okay about this i.e. be assertive.
- Being sure to leave work at work and not let it “hitch a ride home” at the end of the day.
- Be aware of our body and our responses including when we begin to get hyper-aroused and become better at judging when we need to lower our arousal and when it is better to stay with it and contain it.
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