Travel for work, family life clashing

April 27, 2015

Q:  The travel my job requires is creating conflict with my wife, who has a demanding leadership position in addition to all the responsibility for our five- and eight-year olds when I’m away. How can I make peace at home and still be a top performer?

A:  You’re not alone. Roughly 70 per cent of Canadian households have two income earners trying to balance career and family. With time pressures, competing priorities and conflicting obligations, more than half of all employees report that the demands of their job interfere with their personal responsibilities. Here are some ways the other half succeeds:

Create a compelling family vision together. Check in regularly to ensure you are both on the same page, on track, or need to revise. Openly weigh the potential implications of new assignments, travel or roles.

Isolate the items where you compete and complain. Have an honest conversation about collaborating on them for a win/win/win. Keep in perspective that you are both on the same team for the sake of the entire family unit not just your careers.

Borrowing from work, intentionally define roles and responsibilities. When couples slip unconsciously into traditional gender roles these unspoken expectations can create misunderstanding, disappointment and resentment.

The division of work does not need to be equal, only feel equitable. Delegate anything below your position at work. At home, hire out household tasks so you are free to spend quality time with your family.

A great leader regularly checks in with an employee to avoid disengagement. A great spouse sets private one-on-ones with their partner or risks relationship burn out. Feeling taken for granted when giving your best is demotivating.

Reprinted from The Province, April 19, 2015.

Motivate your staff by reviving effective work habits

January 6, 2013

Q: Last week my team returned from the holidays rested but unmotivated and unfocused. What can I do to re-engage them in work?

A: When depleted employees recharge their batteries during an extended time off, inertia can set in, making re-entry challenging. Cut through the holiday hangover by reviving their effective work habits.

Ride the holiday mood by hosting a new year’s social meeting highlighting last year’s wins, crediting the key players and having them share their key learn-ings. Present lighthearted awards for the accomplishments and comical prizes for meeting participation.

Jump-start their creativity by brainstorming a list of what they want to build on from the previous year’s successes. Stimulate a positive environment by inviting them to dream BIG. What do they really want to create as a team this year? If there were no limitations, what would it look like? How will they define success? What new skills and responsibilities do they want to gain?

As the team begins to imagine what could be possible, compile a list of simple ideas and short-term goals on a large whiteboard.

When your team starts to see the magnitude of accomplishments compared to modest effort required, you’ll create momentum without overwhelming them. As the list grows before their eyes they will feel productive, committed and inspired to move to action.

Finally, paint a compelling vision for them to invest in for the year. What does the team want to be known for at the end of the year? What attributes do they want to be recognized for? Innovative, visionary, bold or customer focused? What is each member’s personal stake in the vision?

When members create and take ownership of a vision, it’s easier to keep them on track, hold them accountable and re-spark them throughout the year.

Originally printed in The Province, January 6, 2013.

Get set up -then unplug

July 19, 2011

Q: Vacations just aren’t worth it. I work like a dog beforehand to get ahead of my workload and race to catch up when I get back. While I’m away my BlackBerry buzzes continuously. I’m thinking of cancelling this year’s holiday altogether. Can you help?

A: Others won’t respect your time off until you do. You’ve trained people that you are available even when absent.

This time give people two week’s notice of your upcoming vacation. At the same time block time to wrap up, tidy up or delegate your current responsibilities to others you trust. Introduce your replacements to the key issues and provide clear written instructions on how to handle specific situations so you can relax knowing business is taken care of.

Turn on your “out of office” e-mail manager informing people you are unavailable and who to contact regarding urgent issues. Create an outgoing voice message with the same information. Then unplug. Don’t answer your phone! Seriously, once you respond from your BlackBerry it is game over.

Doing even a little bit of work while away will continue a slow drain on your mental and emotional batteries. You will end up coming back just as tired. Ride the relaxed holiday momentum by easing back into work. Block the first day or two to get organized and reoriented.

Rather than answer each email, sort by subject, scan, prioritize and act on the most pressing issues. Delegate what you can immediately, then file or dump messages you were cc’d on for reference. This reduces the sense of overwhelming.

Remember. Vacations have enormous health benefits.

Originally published in The Province, July 18, 2011.

You’re still the boss of you

July 29, 2007

Q:  People keep dumping extra tasks on to my plate, even though they’re not my responsibility — and if I don’t do the work, it won’t get done. I can’t say no, yet I’m sick of all the overtime I do to keep up with the additional demands. Help!

A:  You are a highly responsible individual, but unfortunately your continual “over-functioning” has trained others to believe they can get away with doing less by convincing you to take on their work.

The first step toward change is to understand the payoff motivating you to accept this treatment. Do you feel more valued when others ask you for help? What stops you from saying no? Are you worried about looking bad? Do you fear repercussions?

Requests may feel like demands, but you do have a choice. Take a minute to ask yourself, “What’s in it for me? Am I truly willing — not just able — to accept the task?” If the answer is no, say so up front instead of resenting the commitment or complaining later.

You are committed to a job well done, but how did this become your responsibility? What about the other workers’ roles? Ask what part they’re taking on before you agree to anything.

The next step is to practise saying no to low-risk or easy things. Be prepared for some resistance from those accustomed to taking you for granted, but stick to your guns.

Find other ways to say no. For example, “I’d like to, but that doesn’t work for me,” or, “I won’t be able to consider that until [some future date convenient for you].”  You may work for an organization, but you are still the boss of you.

Originally printed in The Province, July 29, 2007.

Leave your work at the office

January 14, 2007

Q: By Sunday evening I start dreading going back to work. I don’t sleep well worrying about all I have to do Monday morning. Then I begin my week tired and unproductive. What can I do?

A: Imagine an airplane on the tarmac with its jets revving at full throttle all weekend in anticipation of a Monday morning takeoff. It needlessly stresses its delicate instruments, drains its precious fuel and prematurely wears out its high-performance engines. 

That’s exactly what goes on in type-A, driven personalities who cannot turn off their work motor.

De-clutter your mind before the weekend begins. Take the last 30 to 60 minutes Friday afternoon to map out the following week. Write yourself a to-do list and block out time in the upcoming week to deal with it. Committing tasks to a calendar will free your mind to relax, now that details won’t be forgotten.

Start your week with wins. Spend the first 30 to 60 minutes on Monday mornings tying up loose ends, answering e-mails and completing any tasks you can from your Friday list. These small victories will create a momentum of accomplishment right out of the gate.

During the weekend, leave work behind and have a life — truly. Balance is critical in order to be fully engaged at work, rather than being resentful of it and burning out.

Originally printed in The Province on January 14, 2007.