NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Tesla Founder Elon Musk was none too pleased that one of his employees missed a work event in order to witness his child's birth, according to Ashlee Vance's soon-to-be released biography of the innovator.
"I am extremely disappointed," Musk allegedly told the employee, who is not named. "You need to figure out where your priorities are. We're changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don't."
Despite an increase in more flexible work schedules and the advent of telecommuting and ease of rapid communication, most professionals still feel squeezed on personal time, even for particularly momentous occasions.
That's according to data collected for the “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study” conducted by Career Arc, a research service for HR professionals and outplacement firm. The research also showed a good proportion of people have a lot of trouble leaving work at the office, with one in five employees surveyed saying they spent more than 20 hours working outside of the office on their personal time per week. Three out of four employees said offering the flexibility to find the right balance was the most important benefit a company could give.
A Delicate Balance
"Companies need to remember that organizations, ultimately, are made up of people,” said Robin Richards, CEO of CareerArc. “HR leaders do a great job of putting the ‘human’ in human capital, but it is clear that more can be done to create a dialogue with employees to understand their needs and wants from a flexibility and work-life balance perspective."
Experts agree the onus is also on the employee to understand his own needs.
When Cali Williams Yost, a flexible workplace strategist in the New York metro area, sees a rift in her work-life balance — anything from mounting family commitments to a jam-packed calendar of business meetings — she makes a change. However, she does not try to seek balance.
“If you are trying to seek balance, you are trying to find something that you can’t get,” said Williams Yost, CEO and founder of Flex+Strategy Group | Work+Life Fit.
Instead, it's about finding the wiggle room to take advantage of leniency -- whether at home or in the office. She said a recent survey by her group showed 97% of full-time U.S. workers have some degree of work life flexibility, but only 40% received any training or guidance on how to use it well. She suggests sitting down and figuring out what you want to accomplish every week and keeping a combined calendar to help streamline your life.
Maybe it's working from home one Friday a month. Maybe it's delegating some tasks to a co-worker or a nanny. Work within the constraints of the system.
While a true equilibrium is impossible, she said, a good work-life fit is not.
Dream the Impossible Dream: Check Your Stress Level
Jon Wortmann, author of Mastering Communication at Work (McGraw-Hill, 2009), agrees that work-life balance is a myth.
“Professionals either prioritize what is most important to them in life or fall into the trap of satisfying their employers, clients and business goals,” said Wortmann, also an instructor at business training firm thoughtLEADERS, LLC. “You only compromise family, personal health and outside interests when your priorities are out of balance. If satisfying a boss is more important than satisfying the people you love most, that’s the problem. In an ideal life, work is a gift. You do the work you love. You choose to work more, but not more than loving the people who will always love you.”
Wortmann said the issue is choice — you feel a sense of balance if you choose to work late as long as it doesn’t interfere with family and self-care. He added people who want an ideal experience at work — and in the rest of their life — have to measure stress.
“Where is stress a good thing and where does it make you miserable?” he said. “A mom or dad who spends too much time with her children needs adult time at work. A parent who spends too much time at work needs more time with their kids."
Setting a balance is not the solution. It's detecting and managing your stress level.
“The question is not, 'What provides work/life balance?'," Wortmann said. "Rather, what allows me to enjoy my work and my family, friends, and community? The metric is stress: what schedule allows me to handle the stress in my life and feel like I have meaning and hope each day?”
--Written by Chris Metinko for MainStreet