recent Price Waterhouse Coopers survey reports that more than
half of all workers have felt “overworked” during the last three
months, and almost two-thirds claimed they were unable to step
back and assess the effectiveness of what they were doing on
the job. Almost a fifth said they were making more mistakes
in what they do, and about half were currently looking for positions
an organization care, or is this simply the ongoing complaint
of workers wanting a “better quality of life”? It may be that—but
it’s also, more importantly, a productivity and performance
issue. That’s the challenge, and opportunity facing leadership,
and it has some significant implications for leadership and
for organizational learning.
is a critical element in an organization’s vitality and performance.
Pervasive “anywhere, anytime” technology (cell phones, laptops,
pagers) and characteristics of a competitive new economy (need
for speed, speed to market, transformational technologies and
startups’ drive to go public) have converged. The result: people
doing more with less in a 24/7/365 mode. We are witnessing a
shift from being comfortably busy to being part of a nonstop
workshop. Employees feel they are working in a perpetual churn,
never getting caught up, and never have the time to slow down
to check in with the other parts of their lives. The days of
leaving work at the office are gone. The days of turning off
the switch to rest the brain and nurture the soul are over.
the pain worth the gain? Do the limitless hours and energy dedicated
to the company have a positive impact on organizational effectiveness
and profitably? Does working longer equate with working smarter
and increasing the levels of efficiency? Common sense, careful
observation, and widespread research suggest not.
organization has done some research on the relationship between
life-balance and organizational performance. We have observed
that as organizations speed up, creativity slows down, and poor
decisions and dysfunctional meetings increase. Absenteeism also
increases as stressed out employees either don’t show up for
work or suffer stress-related medical problems. Stressed employees
who do show up often function below optimal levels. Job satisfaction
lessens directly, compromising employee performance and loyalty
to the company. Diminishing loyalty results in unionization
efforts and/or large-scale defections. The relationship between
life-balance, performance, productivity, and the organization’s
bottom line are clear.
that effectively create conditions for optimal performance act
in three spheres:
The organizational system.
Leadership modeling (Whole Life Leadership).
organizations implement policies and resources that create cultures
with a different perspective on work life and personal life.
Leaders model life-balance. Individuals turn off without tuning
Whole Life Balance
and the Organizational System
implement policies and resources that promote life-balance,
organizations have had to let go of the belief that employees’
work and personal lives are competing priorities—a zero-sum
game that sacrifices one for the other. Innovative organizations
realize that work life and personal life aren’t competing priorities
but integrated and complementary. Rather than viewing concessions
to employees’ personal interests as a cost to the organization’s
bottom-line, they recognize them as driving high value performance
and loyalty. They recognize the whole person, respect that employees
come to their company with important life roles, respect those
roles, and allow time for employees to articulate and take action
on those as well.
organizations offer employees a wide range of resources and
Whole life development instead of traditional
career development - incorporating a process that identifies
and takes action on work and personal goals
Alternative work arrangements in terms of schedule,
location, and the organization of work
A variety of family leave arrangements.
Flexible time off
Information and counseling on issues and events specific
to life outside work.
On-site fitness and child-care facilities.
Rotation of individuals into different roles
to avoid burnout.
seek to avoid human capital burnout by finding creative ways
to leverage job satisfaction and enhance the organization's
performance goals while allowing the individual to pursue personal
goals. Organizations operating with this psychologically healthy
environment make better decisions, inspire creativity and mindful
decisions, and have a more engaged workforce. By slowing down
to a realistic pace and remaining focused on key strategic drivers,
these organizations thrive in this post-hypergrowth economy.
Whole Life Leadership
is a crying need for a new leadership—what we call whole life
leadership—that understands the value of living and leading
a balanced life. Leadership excellence starts with living your
whole life with integrity before you can effectively lead and
set healthy examples for others. Organizational success and
profitability are not driven through compartmentalizing your
life, but rather blending and integrating all the important
dimensions of your whole life. When whole life leadership is
not practiced, the parts of the organization hit the hardest
are the middle and bottom of the organization. They tend to
be caught in everyday minutiae and lose sight of the bigger
picture and sense of prioritization.
behavior turns a company’s expressed policies and values around
life-balance into the actual norms that drive behavior. It's
important that leaders realize the impact they have on others.
Think of the messages conveyed about life-balance when a leader
sends email at 1:00 am. (“I have no life and I expect you to
have none also”). As a leader, setting clear expectations and
boundaries for individuals and teams is important. Creating
and sustaining a culture where it’s okay to check out at 5:00
p.m and be with the family, have dinner with friends, or just
to take a bike ride and breathe is an important part of the
equation for cultivating a workforce that works smarter, leverages
the best of itself, and exhibits a sense of loyalty and commitment
to the organization. The new leader needs to be mindful of setting
realistic expectations and a healthy pace.
who recognize the bottom line impact of life-balance not only
encourage employees to do the following, but they also model
these behaviors themselves:
Clarify what’s important. Keep the organization
focused on the strategic direction and the most important business
priorities. Minimize reactive firefighting responses.
Take vacation time rather than hoard it.
Shut the door, turn off the phone, and ignore
email in order to contemplate innovative approaches to work
or envision new strategic opportunities.
Align expectations with the realities of human
Don't let technology take control of life; encourage
others to turn off the technology gadgets. Being totally wired
will eventually burn out the individual and the organization.
Don’t expect employees to be available 24/7.
Avoid activity for the sake of activity. Activity
does not always equal progress. Avoid the proverbial hamster
spinning on its wheel in its cage—this creates a lot of activity
but gets the hamster nowhere in the end.
life leaders operate with the assumption that work and personal
life can be integrated. They exhibit a passion for work and
a strong work ethic while also keeping people focused on what’s
important in times of unpredictability and great change. They
leverage diverse human capital and ensure a sense of wholeness
and compassion for one’s whole life. They recognize that, as
when driving a car, once the systems or engine begins to break
down, it doesn't matter where you are headed; you’ll never get
there unless all the individual parts of the system work to
full capacity. This type of leadership gives employees a stronger
commitment to the organization and the overall organizational
Living the Balanced
Life: The Individual’s Impact
much of the reason for an off-balance scorecard is due to the
organization’s operating model and direction, ultimately, the
one in control is the individual. The pattern of today’s worker
is one of being caught up in the perpetual motion of the organization—unwilling
to give oneself the space or permission to slow down, to realize
when we are in the churn and/or basically out of balance in
our whole lives.
my coaching practice, I see many leaders facing extraordinary
demands from the organization while also making high demands
on themselves. Many are dealing with whole life-balance symptoms
such as fatigue, self-doubt, and ineffective communications.
For some, the imbalance brings with it the risk of career derailment.
More times than not, they indicate that they wish they could
set more boundaries around all the important dimensions of their
life. As a recent executive shared with me, “If I had a chance
to set the clocks back again, I would not have made so many
compromises on the personal side of my life.” In other words,
you just can’t buy some things back.
important that executives make critical assessments before jumping
into new roles. Leaders must ensure that they can cope with
the new demands and changes the company may ask of them and
be sure that ambitions do not get them into a job where they
can’t excel. Today, several breakthrough tools, assessments,
and learning methods can be applied to enable leaders to identify
life imbalance, assess its consequences and develop practical
and actionable steps for achieving whole life-balance and leadership
excellence. The goal for today’s leader is to think of life-balance
not as a balancing scale, but as something more fluid. At the
same time, they need to realize that taking time out for family,
friends, and personal things is not only an issue of self-preservation,
but also something that carries over to the morale and productivity
of the whole organization which they lead.
in this new economy requires increased levels of creativity,
breakthrough decision making, healthy relationships, and leaders
who cultivate the right culture that nourishes the concept of
whole life performance—one that connects healthy neurons across
the organization and then gets out of the way to enable extraordinary
things to happen. This not only suggests that we need healthy
functioning organizations, but also human capital operating
with a whole life mindset—knowing when and where to disconnect.
Those organizations and leaders that embrace and commit to balancing
individual and organizational interests will achieve extraordinary
Shambaugh is Founding Principal of Women
in Leadership and Learning and President/CEO of Shambaugh
Leadership Group. Prior to founding her company, Shambaugh served
in key operations and staff leadership roles for General Motors,
Fairchild Industries, and Amax, Inc. She never tires of preaching
the importance of work life balance for people and organizations.
Contact her directly at email@example.com.