Friday, October 28, 2020

Right Balance

Despite all the books and articles about work and life balance, the problem seems to be getting worse. We have technology our grandparents — perhaps even our parents — would not have believed possible when they were young. In the developed world, we have the basis for universal education, advanced healthcare and enough wealth to pay for ordinary folk to take vacations to exotic places. Yet people still work dreadful hours and ruin their health, their relationships and their lives in the name of desirable employment. What on earth are we doing?

Humans aren't built to compete with computers in speed and data storage. Nor do they prosper through long hours and stressful occupations. Time is so mortgaged to work demands nothing is left for being human. Conversation seems as antique as gas lamps. Some families rarely, if ever, sit down to eat together at the same time. Instead of talking face-to-face, people send emails and text messages and chatter endlessly on cellphones, usually while doing something else "to save time."

Before machines, work was necessarily laborious and slow. Technology should have freed us from drudgery. Yet our technology doesn't take the strain, we do. Instead of using machines to lessen working hours and help us enjoy more of life, we work harder and longer to keep up with the machines. We produce greater wealth, only to spend it on consumer goods we have no time to enjoy, because we must produce or sell more consumer goods to create yet more wealth. We have more clothes than we can ever wear, more CDs than we can ever listen to, and less time than we had a decade ago. No one, it seems, spends wealth on greater leisure. Why are we running so fast, when the reward appears to be the opportunity to run even faster?

I can recall a time, no more than two or three decades ago, when it was firmly stated soon no one would need to work more than four hours a day. Governments fretted over how people might spend their extra leisure time. What happened? People work longer hours than ever. What's even more strange is that the people at the top of organizations usually work the longest hours of all. How did work become so valuable the rich and powerful want to keep more of it for themselves?

What's happening is that we're losing a sense of balance. Because we've become so accustomed to frantic haste and continual action, it's turned into a nasty habit — something you do without conscious thought. An action you take even when it's not needed, simply because … you always do that. At its worst, a habit becomes an addiction you can no longer leave alone. Without a sense of balance, such habits will take over your life.

Every plus needs a balancing minus. Each positive needs a negative. Yin and yang, left and right, forwards and backwards. Our bodies are miracles of balance between acidity and alkalinity, intake and exhaust, waking and sleeping, activity and rest. Sickness upsets the balance. Sometimes an upset balance causes sickness. If you lose the correct balance permanently, you die. Today, we overate work and underrate the rest of life. That's probably the reason for the increase in diseases related to stress, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

Leadership is a delicate balance. You must walk the fine line between control and acceptance. Direction has to be balanced with encouragement and persuasion. Getting the work done and the targets met must be kept in balance with staff development and employee satisfaction. Go too far either way and results suffer. Hard driving leaders get short-term results at the cost of losing talented people. Strong people developers sometimes seem to be less interested in making the numbers than they should.

There is no simple answer to fit every situation. Getting it right takes time and reflection. Can you find the right balance on the run? Can you handle delicate choices when you're tired, stressed out, distracted and already shifting your attention to the next task?

Imagine riding a bicycle. If you go too slowly, you can't balance and you fall off. If you rush headlong downhill, going faster than you can handle, you'll likely crash and hurt yourself. There's always a right speed for keeping a safe balance, depending on the conditions, the bicycle and, above all, your skill, experience and level of attention.

Leadership is a lot tougher than riding a bicycle and takes a finer sense of balance. Don't ride it faster than is safe for you, unless you're ready for a nasty, possibly even fatal, fall.

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Anonymous said...

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6:55 AM  

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