Sunday evening, I was at the laptop drafting a blog post when I took a break and checked my client e-mail account. To remind you, this is a client of a job that I’m leaving because I want better work/life balance. My wife looked over and recognized the silhouette of the Outlook Web Client and that I was responding to some enterprise e-mail. She asked that uncomfortable question, “what email account is that?” I went into the whole spiel about how this was part of my job, and the expectation is always to be responsive and available. “That’s the job.”
Is it the job or me?
My wife called me out. She asked the basic question, “What would happen if you waited to get into the office to answer that email and just spent this time watching House Hunters with me?” I have to be honest and say there wasn’t any urgency in responding to an e-mail at 11:00 on a Sunday night. The client wouldn’t even see the response until the start of business on a Monday.
This episode had me asking the question, how much is the lack of work-life balance just me not prioritizing life over work. The culture of management consulting is to do whatever it takes to make our clients successful. “Whatever” means sacrificing family time to get the job done. Companies call in management consultants when they have very difficult challenges. These challenges by nature mean that you will work extended hours and endure intrusion on your personal life.
There’s always a deadline
However, we can take this to extremes. I’ve often coached less experienced associates to not be driven by deadlines. There will always be deadlines. Some report will always need to be ready for an executive client to consume in some ridiculously short time frame. There will always be some last minute deck that requires hours of after hours work. The key to proper work-life balance is to know when to push back and level set expectations.
I could not tell you how many last minute decks I’ve prepared just for the client not to get past the agenda slide during the presentation. I’ve often found myself pushing back to understand why something is needed within the next 2 hours. Or, why I need to ask a team of people to stay overnight to put together a PowerPoint deck for review the next day.
Sometimes there’s a legitimate reason and other times it’s just a mismatch of expectations with the level of effort needed to meet the short deadline. In the case of this e-mail response, I was creating a faux deadline. I sacrificed my work-life balance with no appreciable difference in value to the client.
When combining the current desire to be as productive as possible with the least number of employees and our connected culture you set a collision course for work-life balance. The truth is both my client and my employer have my cell phone. I should feel free to turn off my work email and keep my phone close. If a critical issue come along, both the client and my employer know to call me right away to give the right amount of attention to the situation.
We need to learn to be OK with unplugging once and a while. Not only does it not seem healthy to be constantly checking for the next fire at work, you never get to know what house the Smiths choose at the end of House Hunters.