A lot of corporations talk about work life balance; but I find most of the time it’s all talk and no action. While working for a large corporation for over 5 years, I recall them talking to us on an annual basis about work life balance. It always seemed to be on the agenda simply because managers were told by their bosses to talk about it. It was always the same old routine and it always lacked sincerity.
Instead of looking at the root cause of why the employees are giving up their entire personal lives for the corporation, they simply told their employees to take their vacations and spend more time with their families, but telling people to do something that in reality they can’t do is pointless. I remember an Executive VP once telling everyone to make sure to make time for their families, but it was completely opposite of the reality where people were told they can’t take vacations because there were too many issues to deal with.
Project resources were so poorly allocated and people were required to “fight the fire” on many different projects at the same time. This was the root cause of people working 70+ hours a week. It wasn’t that the specific projects were poorly managed; it was the fact that resources were shared across many different projects, sometimes you’d be working on 6 or more projects at the same time. So every time a project starts to slip, people have to work insane hours to try to keep the project on time. Nobody could focus because they were pulled in too many different directions and everyone was working at night just to try to accomplish something for the day. It was frustrating to never have any closure; and rarely feeling like anything was accomplished without having to work 12+ hours in a day.
I think one of the major problems was the segregation of duties and the implementation of controls as a result of the Enron and related scandals. Corporations had new procedures to follow, but nobody realized the impact these procedures have to productivity. VPs had a certain amount of work they expected to get done by their business unit; and even after the implementation of new controls, they were still expecting the same productivity from their employees. The end result is that the employees are less productive because they are spending most of their time on procedural tasks, but since they were still expected to produce the same results, they were working crazy hours in order to maintain their “expected” output. This was only part of the whole problem of work life balance, but I went through the changes that were implemented in the years after Enron collapsed and I do think this was a major contributing factor to the productivity and work life balance issues.
Another problem I see with my former employer was the fact that working crazy hours is actually encouraged. Almost every person who received an award had received it on the pretext that they had worked “very hard on the project”, they worked “many nights and weekends”, they were “always available”, etc. This led to the implicit understanding that giving up your personal life leads to corporate success.
My current employer has a different mentality than my former employer. When it comes down to it, we work very hard at certain times on the project. We work hard because we want to do a good job and deliver quality work. If a project goes over its predicted budget, we do an analysis to explain why we went over. Did we underestimate? Did we not understand the requirements properly? We determine what we did wrong so that we can do a better job next time. People are promoted because of their quality of work, not because of how hard they work. This is a much better model than what I was used to; I came out of a company where people were constantly running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It was a never-ending ordeal and you just feel like you’re constantly walking up an escalator that’s heading down.
Stress can greatly affects productivity; in a negative or positive way, depending on the level of stress. But unnecessary stress and lack of the feeling of accomplishment cannot help establish a good work life balance.