Wednesday, July 17, 2024

NC Chamber keynoter explains how women can achieve balance

(This story previously appeared in the BNC Daily Digest.)

The national conversation about work-life balance during the pandemic that is not entirely new. Smart companies have understood the importance of flexibility and not burning out their employees. Many folks examined their career choices during the pandemic, and we had what has been called the Great Resignation. One of the reasons the U.S. labor market is very tight, with a 3.7% unemployment rate, is that a lot of folks dropped out of it. The overall labor force participation rate is 1.2 percentage points below where it was in February 2020. The rate for men in October was 68.1%; for women it was 56.7%.

Last week Colleen Hauk, a workplace expert, spoke to hundreds of women in Raleigh while she was standing on a balance board. We were at the Raleigh Convention Center at the NC Chamber’s annual women’s business conference.

Colleen Hauk

Her message was that women do not have to choose between successful careers and successful personal lives.

When you stand on a balance board, you constantly have to shift your weight and use different muscles to keep from falling off. The point Hauk was making is that this is true in life.

“Your goal is to stay on the board,” said Hauk.

She is CEO and founder of The Corporate Refinery of Anaheim, California. Before that, she spent 15 years as a corporate executive, which is a good way to learn how to deal with bad leadership and burnout. She has taken the lessons she has learned and has gone around the country to share them, as a consultant and as a speaker at events like last week’s.

The metaphorical board she balances on is divided into six areas: Professional, personal, health, financial, relationships and fun. “There are different phases of life when you need to focus on one particular balance point of life,” she said.  But you can’t keep focusing on one area to the exclusion of all others.

As a corporate executive, she focused on her professional responsibilities so intensely that her husband called her “the machine.”

“I had no feelings. I thought this is what you needed to do to drive to success, that you have to push beyond any discomfort or pain.”

The problem that high achievers have is that it is often difficult to know when to shift focus, give the professional muscles a rest, and lean into other parts of your balance board, like health, family or fun, Hauk said. “How can you tell when you are just being a high achiever, and when you are getting burned out and going to fall off the board?”

The barometer

And that led her to develop what she called the Burnout Barometer. Every week, folks should rate themselves, on a 10-point scale, on three dimensions: How tired they are, how dissatisfied with the job they are, and how effective they feel they are being. Tracking the results over time can give a reading on whether you are burning out.

(Setting up a spreadsheet to track this is exactly the kind of thing high achievers would do, incidentally.)

If you don’t build your own board, your company will probably be glad to do so, but it may just mostly consist of one area, your job. “You can decide how you want this board to look,” said Hauk. For some people, the relationships area may mean spending time on immediate family; for others it may mean friends. The health area may mean mental health, or spiritual health, or it may mean exercise.

She encouraged her audience to make a list of things they want to accomplish and focus less on how to accomplish them. “Too many people, when they think about what they want to be or do or have, they immediately stop themselves and say, ‘Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not worthy. I don’t have the resources. That sounds ridiculous.’ And I want to encourage you to push that doubt aside and be open to whatever comes to mind for you.”

Write that list down, and, over time, build it to 50 items. “If you don’t write them down, they won’t happen.  You don’t need to know how.“

She said folks should share what’s on the list with others. “The more you share these things on your list, the more likely you are to find somebody who can help you get there, because they’ve already done it themselves.”

Not time management

We are often told that a key to success is better time management. But that doesn’t work if you are just more efficiently doing low-value tasks.

“It’s not about the time management,” said Hauk.  The real culprit in burnout is often the proliferation of what she called “non-promotable tasks.”  These are assignments that have low visibility and low impact and aren’t going to be remembered when it comes time to decide who gets a big promotion. These are tasks that are time-consuming, have to be done by someone, but aren’t directly impacting an organization’s mission or revenue. “For example, taking notes in a team meeting, writing the summary and sending it out. Proof-reading and editing somebody’s presentation,” but then not getting any of the credit for the presentation. Jobs that anyone in an organization could do, tasks that don’t require special skills, things that don’t get recognized, but you’re getting stuck with them.

“NPTs have become one of the biggest culprits when it comes to burnout, especially for women. Managers are 50% more likely to ask a woman to do non-promotable tasks.  But guess what? You all are 50% more likely to say ‘Yes.’”

So, in addition to doing these low-visibility tasks, you’re trying to complete high-visibility assignments and, as a result, you end up working 80 hours a week and burning out.

“I’m going to charge you with starting to take a look at not how you can be a better time manager, not how you can be better organized, but rather where are you spending your time? Are you spending your time on highly visible assignments?”

What’s needed is more communication with your manager, so your time is not being filled with NPTs, said Hauk. “So much of what’s going on with burnout is because of a lack of communication. Where can you start to delegate? Where can you start to say ‘No?’”

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