For our final presentation in Managerial Leadership, my favorite class this quarter, my team decided to research work/life balance (or as Prof. Kraemer prefers, life balance), a topic that was of interest to many people in the class, and arguably, many MBA students thinking about life post-grad school. In particular, we wanted to present some of the benefits of life balance, though the presentation is geared towards people that already believe life balance is worth striving for, while primarily focusing on how to implement it throughout our lives after grad school.
As a result of how interested the team was in the topic, we were really able to throw ourselves into the research. The team conducted research via secondary sources, such as the books CEO Road Rules and Just Enough, and the NY Times Corner Office articles, and primary sources (interviews and a survey of Kellogg alums).
Through the survey, which was administered via the Kellogg LinkedIn group, I was able to witness once again the power of the Kellogg alumni network. In the two weeks that the survey was posted in the group’s discussion board, we received 230+ responses (included in the appendix of the presentation above) from alums in various industries/careers and life stages (<5 years out of Kellogg, 5-10yrs….through 21+ years). Anyone that has taken Marketing Research and administered a survey can probably attest to how amazing this is. Better yet, 187 of the respondents took the time to answer the free-form question on how they were actually managing their life balance.
Furthermore, I had a couple of alums, Lydia Fisher and V.J. Singal, volunteer to do in-depth interviews with me. I ended up chatting with both of them for over an hour on life balance, their careers, and even my own career plans. I’m hoping that I can keep in touch with them going forward.
We saw 4 mutually reinforcing themes emerge through our research on managing life balance: Prioritizing, Flexibility, Planning, and Boundaries.
<ol><li>Prioritizing - This one is crucial. We are all going to have more opportunities in the future than we can possibly handle, so it is important to take the time to figure out your priorities so that you can make decisions appropriately. In the book Just Enough, the authors found that highly-satisfied and successful professionals asked themselves “What’s enough for me” when setting their goals and focused on the things they were most passionate about. Ultimately, I think the point is that you can’t do everything, and the best way to make a meaningful impact is to limit yourself to the things that matter.</li><li>Flexibility - Need to take advantage of flexibility at work and at home throughout your life. Sometimes you are going to have to spend more time at work or at home, but that should be understood in both environments and supported. Companies nowadays are better about allowing you to choose how, where, and when you work, but don’t forget that even if you don’t have a lot of flexibility in your job, you can always change the industry and role that you work in!</li><li>Planning - Easily the most popular tactic used, it involves both short-term planning (via your calendar) and long-term, life planning. The long-term life planning dovetails into the idea of priorities because it entails taking the time to figure out your values, priorities, and goals, and then creating a plan for how you intend to pursue and implement those items throughout your life. Really powerful stuff, and something that I’m hoping on doing before I leave Kellogg.</li><li>Boundaries - This comes down to just setting up rules and boundaries based on your priorities to help you adhere to life balance. This could be as easy as saying “on Saturdays I’m turning off my Blackberry and laptop and spending time with my family and friends.” The hard part is disciplining yourself to follow them once they are set.</li></ol>The other neat thing that we found is that life balance is a win-win for employees and companies. There are a lot of positives benefits that accrue to employers that are able to support their employees’ life balance, not the least of which is more productive employees and higher retention.
If you haven’t put much thought into Life Balance, it’s worth taking the time sooner than later to figure out what it means to you, and if you want to implement it, how you are going to do it. One of the best comments I heard on the topic from my classmate was that “it’s better to figure out how to do it now, while you are driving a bicycle, than to wait until you have a family and other priorities, because then it will be like driving a sports car.”