Work/life balance in times of crisis

Let's briefly go back to 2017/2018... This is what we could read about the subject in various articles at that time according to the “9th OPE [Observatory of Work-Life balance and Parenthood in Business] Barometer on the reconciliation of professional, personal and family life”:
« Practices such as teleworking, […] are being offered more and more by HR and business decision-makers... but are unfortunately not yet widely adopted ».
« 44% of French respondents would like more flexibility not only in terms of working hours, but also in terms of working arrangements (such as teleworking) ».

And now, 'Back to the future!’
We are in 2021. A pandemic has been wreaking havoc on the order of the world for over a year and on our lives.
The Goldman Sachs affair in the US smacks of 'The Wolf of Wall Street' with angry young bankers demanding a 95-hour work week to wrest some semblance of existence from the jaws of the beast.
Some companies (particularly in France) pressured by urgency and therefore by time are seeing an increase in employee turnover due to working at a pace that employees consider unsustainable.
As for leaders and managers, faced with many pressures, both high (shareholders, investors, etc.) and low (N-1, employees, customers, etc.), they often work flat out when it is not outright burnout that is burning them out!

Words from the (not so) distant past no longer have the same meaning.

The flexibility of the world of work that so many professionals were hoping for (in line with the boom in communication and (tele)work) to ensure a better work/life balance has turned into a vile beast.

As a result, this delicate balance has been deeply affected, especially for managers.
This article aims to help you understand the delicate workings of this process and to look at ways in which managers can move towards a better work/life balance in times of crisis.

A manager’s balancing act

I just can't resist the urge to use the metaphor of the tightrope walker to describe managers.

There in the middle of it all, you have the manager.
To move forward on his tightrope (his lifeline), he must be steady, upright and flexible.
In his hand is a beam that sometimes swings to one side (professional life) and sometimes to the other (personal life).
So many elements need to be coordinated to achieve the harmonious (but fragile) balance that will allow him to move forward in a way that suits him.
You can easily imagine the difficulty of the exercise.

However, the experience of project or team managers in times of crisis often resembles that of a tightrope walker caught in the turmoil of headwinds rather than that of a staid tightrope walker.

Headwinds in times of crisis

For businesses

There is yet another internal restructuring:
The manager has to deal with his team, which is asking a thousand questions about the short- and medium-term impact of the management committee's new objectives, along with potential pressure from shareholders (the case of the dismissal of Emmanuel Faber at Danone is an example of this).
He always has to do more with less. The financial coffers have mostly dried up and/or staff have quit (often on leave) under pressure.
Project managers have to review their projects and several months' work is called into question by the need to streamline costs and manage requirements.

There is also the impact of the protracted Covid crisis:
Telework has gradually become a new way of organising work, which for many is pushing telework to its limits.
From 2 days/week, the ideal schedule for teleworking, managers and their employees are now working entire weeks remotely and often by videoconference.
The physical distance also leaves less room for informal, face-to-face exchanges, which are so characteristic of the rituals of corporate life and indicative of its culture.

There is the requirement to be "always available":
The physical distance instils a feeling of unease in many managers who may be overwhelmed in their managerial position. For some, however, "seeing is believing".
As a result, there is a risk of "bouts of control" which can result in them overburdening their staff to ensure that current assignments or projects are running smoothly.
The outcome: employees who feel obliged to be "always available" or who may feel spied upon.
Conversely, leaders and employees expect the same from their managers, so there is considerable pressure throughout the system. A delayed pressure cooker effect for managers!

For employees

Work comes home (or is it the other way round?)
In other words, the world of remote work and the activities of the home are very much intertwined..
In these conditions, it is difficult to disconnect from one or the other on a daily basis and the mental load (especially for female managers) increases. A bad day at work has almost immediate repercussions on personal life (annoyance, fatigue, isolation, poor sleep, etc.).
This phenomenon is already familiar among managers and leaders who did not wait for the Covid crisis to bring work "home"... and the consequences that go with it.

There is the confinement:
The 'curfew' or 'lockdown' effect creates a heightened sense of 'eat, sleep, work’ for managers who are already mentally overloaded. No close friends to talk to and/or a spouse who is already dealing with their own difficulties.

In this case, the cocktail of physical distance from the teams + static posture can have repercussions on the degree of anxiety, stress and ultimately the quality of life (sleep, weight gain, demotivation, etc.). Managers are concerned about their distance from their team.

There is the burden of time/availability:
The youngest child comes into the office (let's say the dining room or the kitchen) to ask for a little bit of attention or play time, and quickly makes it impossible to concentrate on the urgent file in progress or the phone calls to be made.
Not to mention the most common situation: that in which both spouses are working remotely and have to divide the tasks (or not!) to manage daily life (meals, cleaning, laundry, children's homework and activities, etc.).

Finding work/life balance in times of crisis

Regaining balance in the midst of headwinds is a delicate and challenging exercise for the manager who must keep a firm grip on his beam.
However, the very nature of the headwinds I have described above ought to put you on the alert.

There are things that depend on you and... things that do not depend on you.

Stability and strength without flexibility will not help you when faced with headwinds.

So what do we do?

Don't look for a magic bullet
Let's dispel one of the manager's deep-rooted myths: the search for THE magic bullet.
Sorry to disappoint you but... it doesn't exist!
But there are just as many headwinds, as many ways to walk the tightrope, as many ways to maintain one's posture and balance as there are managers.
This seriously complicates things and this is even better because it also means recognising your uniqueness as a manager in your specific context.
What do you think of this?

Observing the headwinds
You are one part of a system that is bigger than you are, just one aspect.
One of many that will shake you up, upset you but also reassure you or put you back on course on your tightrope!

You therefore have a partial understanding of your surroundings and often find yourself having to react rather than act. Do you know what ‘firefighter mode’ is?

Observation and questioning are your faithful allies:
- What is going on around you?
- What kind of winds are you experiencing (in your limited field of vision)?
- Which are favourable or which do you need in order to regain your balance?
- Which professional and personal headwinds (the strongest and weakest) are there?
- What makes it difficult for you to observe your environment?

Slowing down the pace
Once you've had a chance to observe from a distance, it's time to come back to you, the manager, who holds your beam, and to take a closer look at yourself.
If you stop on the tightrope, you may feel insecure (risk of falling) or feel that you will have trouble getting back on, so slow down just enough to think about how you are moving forward on the tightrope. It is paradoxical but also very effective!
- What is your level of strength/energy at this point in the journey?
- How flexible are you (physically and mentally)?
- What do you need to adapt to headwinds or harness favourable winds in order to maintain your balance?
- Who are the people you can rely on or ask for help?
- Who is it best to stay away from?
- Is the pace you have taken now more conducive to regaining your balance?

Change your posture
You have examined the factors, now it is time to change your posture and your balance to regain proper balance (that which suits you).
- What do you need now?
- Which part of the beam (professional or personal life) do you see yourself working on?
- What are your options for taking action (realistic and feasible)?
- What depends on you? What depends on others?
- How can you also play a part in helping others and how much of your time should you devote to this?
- How can you get closer to the other tightrope walkers so that you can fight the headwinds together?
- What can you not change that you are already taking on board as something new?
- What will be the consequences if you decide to stay on your course without changing anything for yourself and those around you?

And how do you feel now?

The real trick in balancing life and work in times of crisis is to juggle all these aspects and get the timing right to avoid being blown off course by the powerful and destructive winds.
I have deliberately decided to take you through a series of questions because the scope of your answers will depend on you and your own circumstances.
You can return to it at any time when you are going through a crisis in your life and incorporate all the new elements that you will have to deal with in order to maintain your work/life balance.

It is also an opportunity for me to show you the full potential of the Ask'n Get by ARANSI approach by offering you one-off managerial support and advice from experts (managers themselves), tailored to you and your specific circumstances.

Did you like this article? Leave a comment on our posts.
Are you tempted by the Ask'n Get by ARANSI experience?
A solution for each of your needs: our AI to identify and summarise your management and specific meetings to question, analyse and advise.