Professional development and personal life seem to have always been destined to collide, especially if we insist on separating both worlds with a wall, which is something destined to failure.  Let’s reflect upon the concept of Work-Life Balance.

Professional development and personal life seem to have always been destined to collide. Achieving the necessary balance in order to manage both gets increasingly complicated when climbing the career ladder and more responsibilities are acquired.

According to Stewart D. Friedman, psychologist at Wharton School and co-author of Parents Who Lead, this difficulty appears because we insist on separating both worlds with a wall that prevents what’s personal to merge with work and vice versa. That’s an attitude destined to failure. Personal needs are there regardless of office hours, and new technologies keep us constantly connected to work.

But rather than an obstacle, Friedman presents this situation as an opportunity: what if, instead of making the wall between life and work stronger, we make an effort and try to understand how both parties can benefit mutually?

The way to look after personal life in order to favour professional development

Devoting ourselves completely to work is not good, not even for our own labour productivity. Joanna Koretz, psychologist and founder of Azimuth, a consultancy firm focused on challenges related to high-pressure professional careers, claims that her clients end up being unsatisfied, overwhelmed or at a standstill because they’re neglecting other important aspects in their life.

There are sectors with an extremely demanding corporate culture where professional development -getting a promotion, a raise or increased prestige- is linked to working more hours. Koretz claims that when the greater part of everyday life is limited to intense professional activity, work tends to become an essential part of a person’s identity, if nothing else because said person left aside other activities and relationships which he could identify with at a more intimate level. In other words, he abandons his hobbies, acquaintances, or even himself in order to spend more time at the office, interacting exclusively with his colleagues, and talking and thinking constantly about topics related to his job responsibilities.

How can we achieve that professional development does not become an obstacle for personal development? According to the aforementioned psychologist, a few changes in daily work routines would help turn this situation around. The main one, as expected, is related to time management. It’s essential to know how and when to delegate in order to have some time for yourself. That means learning to depend more on colleagues or asking for help whenever it’s necessary.

The professional life of an employee, however, does not depend on himself only. The company and, more directly, his superiors are responsible for the number of working hours a staffer devotes to get his job done, just as the usage he makes of it. It’s essential that the organization plays an active role when promoting a more accomplished and balanced lifestyle for their workers.

Work-Life Balance policies are an example of solutions promoted by organizations in order to support employees with time management concerns. The aim of these measures is to provide enough autonomy so that everyone can manage their work, family and personal issues better, by relying on each individual’s sound judgement.

Becoming a leader in all aspects of life

But so as to make professional and personal life go hand in hand, diversifying time and activities does not suffice. If we want them to be complementary, to make us feel more motivated and be more efficient, we must make decisions that help us seek both professional and personal development.    

In order to find balance, it’s necessary to take the reins of one’s life, and getting to know ourselves: what do we want, where and with whom do we want to be. That’s what Friedman suggests with his method Total Leadership, which is based on the premise of providing a stable and long-lasting solution to personal issues, thus improving corporate benefits.

An actual example of the Friedman method is Kenneth Chen, a manager whose professional objective was to become a CEO while getting more involved with his family and neighbourhood after recently moving from another city. To achieve those goals, he decided to join the local council along with his fiancée, which would allow him to enhance his leadership skills (and his professional development), while providing benefits for his family and himself, since he would be participating in something that really motivated him.

Friedman helped several professionals apply his Total Leadership method, and the results were promising. Satisfaction and performance of participants improved in all areas, particularly in those work-related, where productivity increased by 20%. Paradoxically, these improvements were achieved even if subjects devoted less time to work and more to other aspects in their life. Friedman explains that this is due to the fact that they performed their duties in a cleverer way, while being more focused, passionate and committed to what they do.

Professional and personal development always seemed to be destined to clash. Both worlds, however, can offer us much more providing that, instead of worrying about building up walls to put them apart, we make an effort to build bridges between them.

FUENTES:  Harvard Business Review, HBR, Time