Recently I co-presented a ‘Lunch & Learn’ session on ‘Work/Life Integration and Signs of Burnout.’ It was surprisingly well attended and the presentation I put together on short notice was pretty great, if I do say so myself. Which I do. Thankfully others concurred. I feared; however, that the folks most in danger of burning out probably weren’t in attendance. When you’re on the fast track to burnout you don’t give yourself much time for lunching or learning. Still it was a good sized group and a good conversation.
We talked about work/life integration vs. work/life balance i.e. having a more holistic approach to the different facets of life, including work, instead of trying to figure out a way to “balance” life with work i.e. giving equal attention to each which rarely works. You CAN have it all, it just won’t be in equal proportions. We talked about the physical, mental and emotional signs of burnout, what you can do to avoid it and what you can do to get out of it. Then we had an open discussion portion. This is where things really got good.
Folks went around the table and shared their thoughts and experiences and I was glad for the openness. As we talked about how some people had been successful (or not) at work/life integration, the topic of flexibility came up – not being tethered to your desk and bound by the clock. #ProductivityOverEverything. At this point one of the attendees mentioned that they thought of flexibility as a generational desire. Tell me more. They indicated that based on their generation (Boomer) and work experiences, they actually had a negative view of people who they saw come into the office after 9am or leave before 5pm. I was grateful for this comment. Grateful because the person felt comfortable enough to share. Grateful because it gave me insight into a different POV which is most likely also held by others. Grateful because it actually related to both of the topics of discussion. Fear of the perceptions of others can be a big part of what leads to employee burnout. Employees often come in early, stay late, take extra work home, etc. because they want to (or don’t want to) be perceived a certain way by their colleagues. Even if it’s not in their own best interest.
So maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it’s a personal thing. I honestly am not a fan of the whole “this generation is like this at work and that generation is like that at work” idea that’s the topic of so. many. articles. But back to the topic at hand — Someone may have had a doctor’s appointment. Or have to pick up their children. Or have worked extra late on a project the night before. Or not be feeling well. Or have arranged with their manager to have a more flexible schedule. Reasons abound. No one is obligated to share the details of their work schedule with their colleagues unless it directly impacts the other person’s work.
I was also grateful for this comment because it gave me the opportunity to not only hear but to respectfully challenge this person’s thoughts on the issue and show them a different point of view. It gave me the opportunity to encourage everyone in the room to not make assumptions about the work ethic and/or productivity level of their colleagues based on partial facts. We all know what happens when folks make assumptions.
So if you hold outdated, unfounded and/or uninformed beliefs about a colleague based on random criteria and partial information such as the hours you happen to see them in the office, I encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself why. Why do you have this belief? Why does it even matter to you? Then think about how you may have allowed those thoughts to color your interactions with that individual. If the effect has been negative (ex. bias, gossip, mistrust, snooping,) it’s your responsibility to fix it. Fix it = stop it. Understand that everyone is different and has different needs and works differently. Your colleague may be working differently (different schedule, location, etc.) to achieve greater work/life integration and avoid burnout. Which is a good thing. Of course, if all else fails, minding your business works too.