5 Strategies to Redefine Career Success and the Role of Life Balance for Fulfillment and Happiness
What does career success mean to you? How does work-life balance fit into your own definition of success?
If you don't have prompt answers for these questions, you should probably continue reading this post.
We recently discussed what is life balance and how to prioritize it as a means to improve job satisfaction and overall happiness. When writing this post, I came across a very interesting article on Harvard Business Review: Work-life balance is a cycle, not an achievement.
Aiming to explore further the relationship between work-life balance and job satisfaction, I invited the co-author of the HBR article, Ioana Lupu, for an Ideas for Divas videocast.
Ioana Lupu is an Associate Professor at ESSEC Business School France. She is specialized in overwork, work-compulsion & performance measurement in knowledge-intensive settings, such as audit, consulting, and law firms.
I am excited to share her insights based on research about how individuals, managers and organizations should be understanding the value of work-life balance for long-term career development and prioritizing it to improve well being and job satisfaction.
Key insights from the videocast:
1. Be authentic when defining success and prioritizing work-life balance
As a diva, Ioana mentioned that she made an authentic choice when choosing the field of study for her PhD. She was interested in studying women's career in accounting firms. Having received advice to focus on mainstream topic, to avoid being labeled as a feminist researcher, she decided to stick with her passion and is happy with her choice, despite the challenges she has faced on her career journey.
In the interview she emphasized that individuals should reflect on what success and job satisfaction mean to them. Comparing oneself with others and chasing an external view of career success leads to frustration. In her words:
There are always going to be other people out there who are going to be faster than you, able to work longer hours, smarter and so on and so forth. It's not really about looking at your accomplishments by comparing yourself to all the people out there.
In Silicon Valley we are surrounded by over achievers who have successful careers while starting a business on the side and running ultra-marathons on the weekends.
Ioana has also interviewed people with similar profiles for her research and mentioned that very often they don't have time to stop and think what is the priority for their lives.
For some people this busy life can bring life satisfaction. Others need better work-life balance.
Reflecting on what your values are, and what makes you feel accomplished is the key for success.
2. Career is a marathon, not a race. Good work-life balance can help on long term job satisfaction
Ioana shared an example of someone who worked on a big four accounting firm for over two decades. She was working a four-day workweek way before this was considered a good business practice. Through this arrangement, she had time to review her career priorities and think creatively. Over 40 years later, she is still excited about her career.
With unsustainable working hours, individuals may deliver results and shine for 10, 15 years but they end up quitting their job or field entirely at some point.
To build sustainable careers with long term job satisfaction, Ioana stated the importance of emotional awareness. She mentioned a part of her HBR article that talks about emotional reflexivity, or the capacity to recognize how a situation is making you feel:
Awareness of that emotional state is essential in order to determine the changes you want to make in your work and also in your life.
She mentioned that quite often in her research interviews, the career turning points are animated with high emotional energy. Reconnecting with your emotions, including the traumatic moments can help you to learn more about yourself.
This self-awareness will help you to establish a healthy work life-balance and to pursue your version of career success and job satisfaction.
3. De-normalizing the busyness culture is key to improve work-life balance
Ioana shared a recent piece of research about busyness. She found out that, in the Western culture, there is a belief that people should continuously look for excitement, buzz and flow in their work. Otherwise work is frustrating, or worse, work is boring.
So employees work long hours, thinking that they need to be available anytime to be eligible to work on interesting and exciting projects.
She believes this is a false ideology that we have to fight against. She points out that sacrificing personal life in order to over focus on work doesn't lead to happiness.
Long hours also need to be de-normalized and employees should fight against the current, setting healthy boundaries and prioritizing work-life balance.
If you are surrounded by people who brag about busyness in your work environment, it may be time for you to pause and reflect on how that is affecting your behavior, work schedule and personal life. Understanding your priorities outside of your professional life will help you to make the changes you need to improve life balance and overall happiness.
4. Work with people who prioritize work-life balance for healthy career development
I asked Ioana about the feasibility of having work-life balance and career growth. In her research she learned that, in large organizations, the culture varies based on the team and departments. There are two main factors that impact work-life balance and job satisfaction:
1. Manager's soft skills
Managers who prioritize work-life balance provide flexibility and autonomy to the team. These teams thrive and people have opportunities to grow while enjoying life balance.
On the other hand, managers who are workaholics create a toxic work environment that can lead to burnout.
2. Perceived control on schedule
When employees have flexible schedules they feel empowered, which improves perceived job satisfaction and work-life balance, even if they have extended working hours.
In general, more senior employees feel more in control of their schedule, they have more flexibility to choose when, where and how many hours they work. Junior employees usually don't feel empowered to control their schedules.
Managers who want to improve work-life balance in the team should work with junior employees to help them create boundaries and have more control on their schedules.
If you want to improve work-life balance and have more opportunities for growth, look for managers who value life balance and work with them to have flexible schedules.
5. Organizations should review incentives to improve work-life balance and employee engagement
How can we have more managers that prioritize work-life balance for better job satisfaction?
Ioana mentioned that organizations can invest in training and development programs to improve soft skills. Although she pointed out that changing people's personality and priorities is not very easy.
In large knowledge-intensive organizations managers are rewarded based on commercial results. Reviewing the incentives to prioritize employee engagement, well being and retention would be a desirable step to improve work-life balance.
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