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Trevor E.S. Smith | Work-life Balance?

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2016 | 12:00 AMTrevor E.S. Smith

A lot of effort has been put into encouraging us to focus on creating a work-life balance. The implication is that we should 'get a life' and find things to do outside of work that are engaging and empowering. This is useful advice, of course.

As usual, I am struck by another angle with respect to the work-life balance. It is the implied assumption that our 'life' can be separated from our work. Team members are expected to leave whatever issues they are having at home at the gate.

Trainers and supervisors will emphasise the message of not having personal challenges negatively impact interaction and performance at work. At the same time, how does someone who has invested the prime years of their life in a marriage and see it falling apart be energised and engaged at work?

It is a huge challenge and does not happen by wishful thinking. It also does not happen by repeating the mantra of leaving your troubles at the gate. For me, organisations need to accept that people are experiencing serious crises in their relationships and family life. They need guidance and support in coping with those challenges.


What am I suggesting?


I think that organisations need to find creative ways of intervening in the personal lives of their staff. Whoa! Easy!

I hear screams: 'I don't want my organisation poking around in my business. I will never share my personal life with my organisation for them to come and use it against me.'

I am not going there. But some organisations have achieved a workaround for direct intervention by contracting external counsellors to be on call for confidential consultations. These Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) are a step in the right direction. However, more work needs to be done to broaden the scope of their usage. There is still the perception that the service is for those who have major psychological issues or have just experienced trauma.

Staff members may be having problems with their relationships that they might not think are appropriate for an EAP intervention. Yet, those issues are bothersome and distracting. The impact on productivity and team relations is considerable.


My objective


One goal, for me, would be to expand the training and coaching agenda to include coping with the challenges that staff members are experiencing in their relationships and family life.

What is the point of taking me through customer-facing drills when I am doing my best to fight back the tears because of the state of my relationship? Help me with that. I am tired of running to the men's room to cry.


The plan


As a first step, organisations would have to work to create an environment in which it is accepted that staff members are whole beings and the non-workplace aspects of their lives cannot be simply ignored. It will take some work to overcome fears of the 'Big Brother' syndrome and other trust issues.

That process of sensitisation and barrier removal must be driven by a representative cadre of staff members and must proceed at the pace at which they are comfortable. This cannot be a directive from the CEO with milestones and deadlines.

If this shifting of the goalposts is to take place, there is going to have to be a major change in the mindset of the staff. This issue is about addressing challenges that they are experiencing and are not well equipped to handle. Putting in place training and counselling to prepare them to deal with such problems is in their best interest.

One answer to the training component is to set up open after-work sessions - free from registrations and monitoring. These could best be in the form of webinars facilitated by external professionals. Getting someone to manage a blog on the organisation's Intranet is another option.

The thinking should be focused on providing needed guidance and support while protecting the privacy of the staff member.

• Trevor E. S. Smith is a behaviour-modification coach with the Success with People Academy, which is recognised by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for the SHRM-CPS or SHRM-SCPS Certifications. Email: info@swpacademy.com