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Work-Life Balance is more about one's own Ego than real work

Flickr photo by mohit_k
For the past few days, I have been trying to analyze office situations - how people in authority (including myself at times) react, how subordinates react and how simple work situations often get complicated impacting personal lives of individuals.

Of most interest is the matter of working on weekend. In the 24x7 corporate culture of today - weekends occupy a safe haven status. Infringement of time over weekends hence has most impact on the perception of work-life balance of people.*
In my reading, work-life balance - especially that which requires people to work over weekends is more often a matter of personal egos than real importunity of work. Think of the many times you were forced to work on a weekend because you were tasked so much work on a Monday, with a targeted closure on a Friday, which you could not finish in 5 days time. And so, you had only two options (a) accept the blot of being 'incompetent' in front of your Boss (b) work over the weekend.

For most of us faced with this eventuality - the choice is simple - who wants an impact on this year's bonus or the next year's increment! But more often than not we are never given a choice between (a) and (b). Mostly, you will be told by your Boss that the deadline is Monday morning - make sure you finish it - even if it requires you working over the weekend. ("And by the way, I am anyway working over the weekend, so feel free to call me if you need guidance" - will come the rejoinder :-D)

In such a scenario, even though you don't make the decision - the final decision still is taken based on ego - your Boss's ego! Some cases are even closer home - the manager assigns some work to be finished by Friday end of day but something else pressing gets assigned to the subordinate which delays the completion of the first task. Perturbed at his 'orders' not being 'followed' - the manager will decree that the task be completed over the weekend.

It often doesn't even take the weekend for such managerial arrogance to surface. Sometimes if a small task could not be completed during the day, it means that the assignee will sit late in office to complete it even if the output is not required until the day after.

Of course, there are genuine moments - client presentations, M&A deals, Top management presentations - which necessitate us to work late, outside office hours and over weekends (yours truly is faced with such a situation right now). But more often than not, work-life imbalance is avoidable - especially the sort which stems from ego.

As individuals, we need to evaluate the importance and urgency of tasks on ourselves. If they are not earth shattering million dollar deals - keep your ego aside and give yourself a lease of life. As bosses, we have for more impact - not just on ourselves but our subordinates. We need to be cautious not to make our reportees work outside office hours just because its our ego at stake!

[Aside*: I was about to type 'inmates' in place of people here. That, in my opinion is another facet of corporate lives. Employees are many times seen by management as 'prisoners'. This is often reflected by the draconian policies from freedom of internet access to usage of company provided Blackberry and sometimes even office stationery :-)]. 


  1. I firmly believe that it is also about "setting the right expectation" with your management. I recollect a time, when I was at the bank, and the results of the day went out in a SMS at 8.30pm to the boss, the calls about a bad day would start!!
    I very clearly told him that I reach home by that time and am usually at the dinner table with family and won't pick up his call. It came that evening as usual, and I ignored it.
    Next morning he was more amused than angry about me really not picking up his call and I said I only told him I stuck to my guns. Poor fellow used to be tormented by his country manager at midnight but he knew there-on, he couldn't pass it on to me.
    Probably a few % points lesser is what I might have got at the end of the annual cycle, but it surely bought me a peace of mind - guaranteed!! :D

  2. Precisely my point Milind - here you let go of your Ego and your boss also let go of his Ego. I do this myself; but I have seen people struggling to do this; some examples:
    - a reportee of mine is frantically calling me from 8:30pm in the night to 9:30AM in the morning (when I finally picked up his call), only to inform me that some report which was supposed to go out by 6:30pm was sent by him at 8:30pm!

    - one of my colleagues blasting his reportee for not picking up his call last night due to which he had to face "embarrassing" situation with the client (I was wondering which client it was :-D)

  3. Looks like am not alone here.. :)
    Am curious to understand where this over-working weekend culture comes in the first place. If it were to me, I would reduce the bonus for the person who says he has been working all through the weekend.
    Why do we even work? Do we have the office to support the family or the family to support the office?

  4. Well said. I also think we allow weekend time to be 'worked over' in this manner, due to a lack of imagination on what else to do with it, if we always had it all to ourselves!;)


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