7 Philly Biz Leaders on Why We Must Rethink Our Work-Life Balance Expectations

Instead of pressuring yourself to achieve the often elusive work-life balance, why not try “work-life integration” or “life-work balance”?

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Though work –life balance may be forever elusive for many, it’s clear that in 2019 we want to avoid burnout and put more energy toward the things we value. We reached out to seven local business leaders to get their take on work-life balance — what it means to them and how they achieve their own version of it. Here’s why some of them believe in the concept and why others do not.

Mary Chan, vice president of operations, Colliers International

On having balance while raising teens

Work-life balance is an elusive concept. I am parent of teenage daughters, which makes it more difficult. But I do try to achieve balance by working from home or making sure that I am connected to them via technology at all times. After work or before work, I try my best to remain connected with them by going to the gym together to having sit-down dinners where we talk about our day.

I feel most balanced after I’ve had a good conversation with my kids while working. I feel least balanced when I have late nights in the office during year-end report and budget season.

My advice for achieving some semblance of balance would be to just stay connected to your family via technology. Also, try to give them a ride when they need it rather than allowing them to get on a school bus or catching rides. During those rides, a good conversation can come out of them.

Christopher Wink, CEO of Technical.ly

On using tools to achieve balance

Balance is about a trade. For some, work-life balance is a workday that starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. For me, work/life balance is having the flexibility to be a person that includes and also extends beyond my full-time job. I make choices and defend time to explore lots of ideas and experiences I cherish.

To maintain balance, I use my calendar to protect time for things like a date night with my wife, writing with my friends and traveling. I rely heavily on strategic roadmaps and task management tools. These allow me to outsource stress on the knowledge that we have a plan. I then let myself disappear into the work when that is most needed. I also push my staff to do the same, to protect their own time with a roadmap and a calendar, so we can be honest about deadlines. This lets us all work hard and productively, while still reserving time for the personal.

My advice to others is choose what gives you joy. Be honest with yourself about the time it takes to create that joy. Also, make a very clear line between expectations for an organizational leader (a CEO or executive director or a high-ranking EVP) and a teammate who might be somewhat more junior.

Tinesha Banks, CEO, Tabor

On being a team player and finding balance

My idea of work-life balance is the ability to be productive for work while maintaining a healthy level of flexibility to tend to the joys of my personal life.  Balance is a real thing, but only if you are committed. Like anything in life, it takes effort and requires self-reflection, so that you can identify what work-life balance means to you.

I strive for balance by being a great team member at work and at home. A good team member contributes to strong teams, and having a strong team allows the flexibility I need for both my personal and professional lives. I am mom, wife, doctoral student and a CEO, and it is foolish to think that I can accomplish all that is needed for each of those roles by myself. I have wonderful teams around me who are always willing to jump in when necessary. In addition, I have very clear boundaries that I communicate to my teams and stick to them religiously.

I am most balanced when my home life is in order. I feel like I can take on the world when my family and close friends are well. Naturally, I am least balanced when there is chaos in my home life.

My advice for those seeking balance is to take time to self-reflect and figure out what work-life balance actually means for you. For some, it may mean figuring out how to build in travel time, for others, it may mean being able to pick up your children from school every day. Work-life balance is a personal goal and so it requires personal reflection. Once you figure that out, negotiate your boundaries, communicate them and stick to them. It is achievable.

Melissa Alam, founder and creative director, Femme & Fortune

On making sacrifices for balance

At this point in my life, growing my career is my main priority. I work from my apartment, and I’m pretty addicted to what I do, so finding a work-life balance has always been somewhat of a unicorn in my life. That said, I definitely believe the concept exists, and it’s important to find what type of balance works for you so you don’t burn yourself out.

The best thing I can do to maintain balance is to step away from my black mirrors (my computer screens and phone) and turn my mind off for a little bit. I got rid of my social media notifications on my phone, so I’m not constantly distracted by likes, comments, or DMs. I also love keeping my mind and body in shape — I occasionally play soccer and I just signed up for stand up classes.

I feel the most balanced when I’m working from a new city or country because it forces me to go experience a new place. Here in Philly, I’ll find any excuse to stay at home and continue working. I feel the least balanced when I don’t give my body the nourishment or attention it needs by ordering junk food on GrubHub or not taking a break to go for a walk or workout.

When you’re running your own business or working a high-stress job, the reality is that we do have to make some serious sacrifices when it comes to a work-life balance. Otherwise, deadlines and deliverables pile up and we feel even more stressed. But we can’t be the best leader our team or clients need us to be if we don’t find time to stay healthy and balanced. You’re allowed to define what balance means to you, but it should be consistent so you feel like you’re actually improving the quality of your life.

Tiffany Spraggins-Payne, project director, The Enterprise Center

On saying no and finding integration 

A work-life strategy can never be a one-size-fits-all approach. I believe work-life balance is an important aspect of a healthy work environment, which can then be integrated into home and personal lifestyle. As the future of work becomes less traditional and more virtual, I believe work-life integration is better than balance.

I practice integration by saying “no” without apologizing for, or qualifying the answer. Saying no to some things allows me to say yes to the better things. But make sure to say no to the request, not the person. More importantly, I pray and meditate about everything. I pray for daily wisdom to make the right choices, ones that require integrity, fairness, and serving others.

In today’s marketplace, creativity is linked to innovation — a sought-after and valuable skill. I feel the most balanced when I am freed up to be creative and hone my natural abilities and skill-sets. A realistic work-life balance comes from a grateful heart and one’s ability to be consistent.

Tracy Levesque, co-president, Yikes Inc.

On helping employees help you

Life-work balance, in that order, is real and achievable. It happens when you’re given clear goals and deadlines, and meeting them does not involve sacrificing your personal time with friends, family, and activities you enjoy.

I believe the thing that undermines life-work balance is when an employer says they value it, but they have greater expectations of how much time and energy employees should devote to the company. Well-rested people are more productive and more willing to do their best when they are at work.

I feel the most balanced when I can go away on vacation and feel confident that everything is being taken care of back at the office. We do everything we can to allow our employees to 100 percent unplug when they have time off, and in return, they do the same for us.

When we started the business, we wanted to create a place where we ourselves would want to work. Thus, we made life-work balance a priority and that’s what all employers need to do. You need to be clear and let people know taking time off is a good thing, when people make their goals thank them. Let them know their work is valued.

Dominique Goss, charitable relationship manager, TD Bank

On not forcing it

My experience and opinion may not be popular, but a work-life balance is an elusive concept! Let’s call it a “goal” we should all strive to achieve.

To be quite candid, I did a terrible job of focusing on my own wellbeing in 2018 and felt almost exhausted by the time November rolled around. But we adapt and do better, so for 2019 I’ve implemented “self-care weekends” with my best friend to make sure we’re both pouring into ourselves as much as we give to others. We’ve chosen to travel to different cities and focus on activities that are fun, relaxing, and allow for some mental peace. I’ve also made a commitment to get massages regularly and try Reiki to make sure my energy is balanced.

I feel most balanced on vacation. Not a crazy vacation, but short weekends where you can dedicate time to reading, meditating, and sleeping. I’m generally least balanced when various aspects of my life are crazy. Major assignment at work, lots of activities for the kids, romantic complications, or general life craziness are the moments that I find myself needing to breathe more or create really fun music playlists so that I have a bit of a mental escape.

A lesson I’m still working through is not being so hard on myself, and giving myself the space to grow. There are periods in life that our attention will need to be focused in one thing, and that’s ok. Create a support network of close friends and family who can listen to you vent or just give you a hug. We carry so much on our backs, particularly women of color, so it’s vital for us to be more forgiving of ourselves. I’ve now started chanting, “Rome wasn’t built in one day, Dom. Slow down!”