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Balancing the System: Designing for Work-Life Alignment

Balancing the System illustration by Emma Richard

Graphic by Emma Richard (IG: @itsemmarichard)

Work-life balance has been a growing area of concern for decades, but today we seem to struggle more than ever in achieving a healthy equilibrium. The increasing frequency of work-from-home during the pandemic has now worsened the blurred boundaries between employees' professional and personal lives. While most professionals have personally suffered the impact of a work-life imbalance, the path to individual and organizational solutions remains unclear.

In this episode:

In this episode, our host Mazi Raz is joined by two of our Ivey Academy Coaches, Shakeel Bharmal, Leadership Coach and Founder, Oceanblue Strategic Advisors, Ivey MBA ‘00; and Jodi Ohama, Leadership Coach. During their discussion, our panelists look at the phenomenon of work-life balance from different perspectives.

Other ways to listen:

Key topics

In this session:

0:00​  - Introduction by Mazi Raz
3:05 - Jodi on how we view work-life balance and understanding disconnection, misalignment, and time-realism
8:06 - Shakeel on acknowledging and understanding what we can personally control, and reflecting and becoming more self-aware in the process
13:44 - Jodi on pinpointing what is important to us and the power of sharing it with others around us; adjusting mindset to really focus on how we're using our time
15:27 - An example of how engaging in activities we enjoy outside of work can help strengthen our boundaries with work
16:46 - How are we using our time away from work? Being mindful with how we decompress and re-energize
19:57 - Revisiting control: what about people who have less control in their work lives due to circumstance (e.g. people experiencing poverty, crisis, etc.)? How can we ask for help?
22:39 - How do we contribute to the demands of others' work lives, and how can we build awareness to positively influence those around us?
26:41 - "Busyness" culture and finding ways to maximize our productivity while honoring our boundaries
29:24 - The importance of dialogue: expressing our own needs and listening to others'. Making sure that our approach to work-life alignment respects individuals' values.
37:38 - Outro

Note: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this multimedia content do not necessarily represent those of Western University, Ivey Business School, or The Ivey Academy and its affiliates. This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes, and its appearance on the Site does not constitute an endorsement.


Podcast Transcript:

MAZI RAZ: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Ivey Academy podcast, where we discuss current topics in leadership and organizations, unpack the latest research in the field, and look at trends across different settings or insights to share with our audience. My name is Mazi Raz and I'm the director of Learning Design and Strategy at the Ivey Academy.

We at the Academy acknowledge the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak, and Chonnonton people as the original storytellers and the caretakers of the land on which we are situated. We commit to honoring their past, present, and future. I am accompanied by two good friends of the Ivey Academy, Jodi and Shakeel, both of whom are members and contributors to the Ivey Academy coaching community. Jodi is a leadership coach and a consultant whose passion is to help actualize and achieve goals of both life and work. Jodi is connected from Calgary.

Shakeel is an experienced business leader, consultant, and a leadership coach. Shakeel is MBA grad of 2000 and he's connecting from Ottawa. Jodi and Shakeel, let me set the stage for what the conversation would like to have today. In our lives and events, we often bring attention to themes and topics that are important to leaders and organizations. Sometimes we talk about an issue that is very topical such as COVID-19. It was, for two years, on top of everyone's mind.

And sometimes we talk about issues that are not on top of everyone's mind, but they should be. For instance, we had a dialogue last summer about cybersecurity. Today's talk topic is arguably one that affects everyone everywhere, yet in different ways. Work-life balance has long been recognized as a key factor in creating and maintaining a sustainable, productive, energized individual life both at work and at home.

Work-life balance is an umbrella term encompassing many of the factors connecting the daily dynamics of paid work, what we call the professional lives, and a broad array of non-work activities. So to speak, our personal lives. The idea of balance is achieved when harmony or equilibrium between work and other life domains is viable and sustainable. Conversely, imbalances as a result of the collision between the two aspects unsatisfactory and unsustainable combination of the demands of work and non-work activities.

In today's session, we want to attend to three broad questions. Number one, how do we better understand this imbalance? How does the balance or imbalance notion play out differently? For instance, we do recognize that gender realities of work-life balance are different. Number two, what critical factors contribute to the unsustainable or unsatisfactory combination of work and non-work activities? And lastly, the third question, what can we do in response? Individually, and of course, collectively.

So Jodi, let me begin with you. And first get a sense of how do you think about the results that came out from the poll?

JODI: Yeah, I think it's great. I think it's great, I shouldn't say that. I think it's good that some people have they feel like they have some opportunity to have this control. I'm curious to see how that plays out in a larger community.

MAZI RAZ: My question to you is that in your profession as a coach, I suspect that this question comes up pretty frequently. Tell us what you've discovered when you talk to your clients about this work-life balance or imbalance.

JODI: Yeah. Thanks, Mazi. And first before I start, I just want to acknowledge that I'm participating from Mohkinstsis in Calgary, the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy. So thanks for that beautiful introduction as well, too. So yeah, in my work, even as a leader and as a coach, I sort of see this idea of work life imbalance. Part of the problem is that we do often look at it as separate things. We look at work versus life as separate. We each have 24 hours in a day. We all have work obligations. We all have personal commitments.

Somehow we have to figure out how to get that all done plus we want to have the sense of satisfaction, right? So through my work, any time this concept of work life imbalance comes up, I sort of find it falls within one of three buckets. I'm going to offer these three buckets. I call them disconnection, misalignment, or time realism. I offer these as a way to reframe this idea of work life imbalance. Let me just tell you what I mean.

So disconnection. Disconnection means— if you think about it, there's a separation, or a divide or disconnect between what's meaningful to someone and how work connects to that. So it can happen for one or two reasons. Either we're not clear what's important to us. You know, we're not clear of what's meaningful. Someone hasn't taken the time to clarify that. So they may know that they may know that they're, unhappy but they have no idea what would make them happy. So how can we possibly live a life that feels good or where we feel like we are valuable if we don't know what that is, like, if we don't know how we bring meaning.

The second reason for disconnection is where we actually just forget to connect, like we actually focus on the bad things and we don't really look at the good things, you know what I mean? We don't pay attention or connect how work really supports what's meaningful to us. An example for me, I know that it's important for me to work with others, to build others, to learn from others. If I get stuck focusing on the problems or the irritations of my role, I become disconnected from the fact that I get to do that.

That adds to that struggle and that feeling of imbalance. So disconnection. Another bucket is misalignment. Misalignment is really when people know what's important to them, they're clear, but then what they're doing or their actions are actually misaligned with that. Again, using me as an example, if I think it's— if I know what's important for me to work with and build other people, if I'm spending a lot of time on my own or I'm not taking the time to do that, I'm going to feel again that imbalance. Or there may also be, with some of the people I coach, there may be an ethical imbalance.

Like maybe if they don't believe in the company or if they don't believe in the purpose, you know, that also might be a misalignment. And I think the question we can ask ourselves is are the actions I take aligned with what's important to me? And I think it's important to call that out, too, that it's not just about work. It can also be about how we're spending our time. Example, like scrolling social media or something for a couple hours. If that's an action that's in conflict to what's important to you, or it's taking away from things that you want to do, again, that's going to add to that sense of imbalance.

Finally, the third bucket. And again, this is just how I organize it. The third bucket, so I've talked about disconnection, I've talked about misalignment, that third bucket is the sort of time realism or this time intentionality. And often people think that this is it. They think that this is the problem. There aren't enough hours in a day. But again, we all have 24 hours. And it's this question of, do we have realistic expectations of our time and/or do we spend our time intentionally? Especially in this past couple of years, we've had so many more expectations on our time. We've had to homeschool. We're taking care of aging parents.

Yeah, when I talk about realistic expectations there's a few things that contribute to that. Human beings, we underestimate how much time it will take— how much time a task will take. So leaders underestimate, individuals underestimate. And the other part is that we want to do so many things. We want to go to all the soccer practices, the kids soccer practices, the soccer games. We want to do book club, yoga, exercise, work, domestic duties. It's like all these things. Like again, are we being realistic? Can we actually do all these things?

So then again, like, intentionality. Like are we intentionally using our time and spending our time? We have to ask ourselves again, going back to those sort of— even social media, if I think about that. Some people may find that's some form of self-care, but again, I think we can just ask ourselves does what I'm doing contribute or detract from the life I want? Or does that contributor detract from that feeling of satisfaction?

So what are these three buckets? I just again I offer them as a way just to sort of reframe this work life imbalance.

MAZI RAZ: Jodi, it's interesting. One of my former classmates from the MBA program at Ivey, Sanchos, Sanchos Lee, he offered a really interesting nuance around the things that you're proposing and he asked me to rephrase instead of work-life balance he asked me to consider it as life work. And just that tiny little switch, you start realizing that the misalignment, the time realism, and the disconnection, how gets a completely new meaning.

And then it forced me to re-evaluate everything that I was, doing not only just what I was doing at work, but in a holistic fashion, how everything was coming together. Shakeel, let's pick up this conversation and push it forward. In your work as an executive coach, what nuances about work-life balance have you detected and it will be lovely if you can share some examples.

Shakeel: Yeah, sure, I'd love to. Thank you. I really love what you said, Jodi, and just to acknowledge that I'm coming to you from the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation here in Ottawa. Jodi, that was such a great way of organizing and framing the conversation. The nuances that are important. One of the things that I come across in my coaching conversations with my clients, first, I just want to acknowledge how lucky we are.

I mean, the clients that I deal with are very fortunate in that they're in a position where they can explore these choices about work life balance and nuances. Not everybody is in a state of life where they feel like they have those choices. Given that, I have found with clients, it's a question of control. This feeling I don't have control over my time, I don't have control over my life, I don't have control over my choices.

And what I've discovered with my clients— In fact, my favorite moment as a coach, is when through questioning and conversation, the light bulb goes off for my coaching clients where they realize I have more control than I realized. And so for me the nuance comes around this question of control. What do I have control over or what don't I have control over? And if you can start framing the question this way and say— Jodi, you talked about a definition of what is happiness for me?

It's similar to the question of if I don't like the situation I'm in now, whether it's because I'm not spending enough time with my family or I'm working too long hours, or my physical or mental health is being impacted, a lot of people can benefit from just thinking about what do I want instead of that? And I run into a lot of people that actually haven't taken the time to define. I don't like what I have now. But they haven't defined what they want instead.

And once you take the time to say what do I want instead, then the next question that we ask and we discuss is, what about that situation, that future state that I want instead, what about that can't I control? What can't I do to impact that? Actually put that down. List it first. And then I physically use my hands and say OK, now you have that list, move that list to the side and now identify what can I do. Right?

So I may not be able to change my boss and the expectations they put on me. I may not be able to change the hours I work because it might be the nature of the demand. For example, if you're working in health care right now, very hard to control some of those things. But you may be able to control how you articulate what you're looking for, what challenges you're facing. And once you put that out there to the world, to your boss, to your coworkers, and say, this is what I'm feeling. This was what I want instead.

You're now creating a situation where other people can perhaps help you. And so for me, it's around those nuances of what can you do. What can't you do is an important one. And the other one that is an important nuance is am I am I actually expressing it? I may know what's important to me but am I suffering in silence, or am I actually articulating it to people that this is what I'm looking for? Because if you don't tell people that you're struggling and you just put on a brave face all the time, can't really blame other people for taking advantage of that. Because you look like you can handle it. That's a nuance I talk about.

MAZI RAZ: Shakeel, before we get into some of the examples that you may have prepared for us, there's a question that comes to my mind as I'm listening to you. These are very powerful questions that you're inviting people to ask themselves. At the beginning, the way that I understood the concept of work life balance is the sustainable fashion of doing so. I suspect the questions that we are posing people are not difficult questions.

And there are also questions that people will immediately nod and say yes, yes, I understand that. What, in your perspective, makes people forget these questions and what is it that people slip out of this reflective and self-aware moment that pushes them into momentary imbalances?

Shakeel: In fact, the answer is actually, again, simple to talk about, hard to do. People forget the routines of taking time for reflection. I always talk about reflection in three stages. Before, during, and after. If we know the circumstances in which we have difficulty with, for example, work life alignment where we get sucked in and drawn in, typically in the moment we know in our head it's happening again.

It's about taking that moment to say— when that comes up in your brain, it's happening again, to say it out loud. It's happening again. Even if you're just talking to yourself and acknowledging it, that you're feeling that emotion of I'm getting sucked in again, I'm getting taken advantage of again. And when you're about to go into a circumstance where those kinds of situations happen, say before you go into the circumstance, on your way to the meeting, just before the Zoom call starts, let me remember to acknowledge when I'm feeling like I'm getting sucked in again.

It's just those reminders. Taking that 30 seconds for reminders about how these situations make us feel, acknowledging them, and then, of course, after the fact, when you've left a situation, and you feel like I just got taken advantage of or I've just made some commitments that are outside. I'm not being realistic, as Jodi said, is taking the moment to say it happened again. And then what can I do about it right now? And that comes back to control. What can't I do? What can I do? What can I do right now to change the circumstance before it goes on too long?

I'm not sure if that's helpful but it is a discipline. It is a discipline of taking time to reflect.

MAZI RAZ: I find it helpful. I appreciate that. Thank you. Jodi, what are your thoughts about this?

JODI: Yeah, those are great points, Shakeel. And I love that you were talking about this control and having this awareness of taking that time for reflection and really examining what we do control. And I think and the more stress we sort of get into, this sort of narrow minded thinking, these things that we can do to help us, maybe there's a way that we can have a visual to help remind us of what's important to us.

We take that time. Maybe we take some time every day to just reconnect with that. Or again, we really need to have that clear vision. Take the time to have that clear idea, that clear vision, of what's important and sharing that. Shakeel, you brought that up. Sharing that with other people, using cheerleaders, the people who care about you. Even leaders, your teammates, share that. Share what's important to you with other people.

Part of your reflection, Shakeel, I know you sort of looked at what— almost like the negative part of it. But also taking that time to reflect like, oh, what are the positive things? What are the positive things that I'm receiving? Because that does help shift this feeling. We don't want to be stuck in that negative. I think this is a really great activity that this alignment, when I talk about that alignment, a good exercise is like for one or two weeks, just track where your time has gone in half hour increments, just for awareness.

Just write it down. And don't be like, OK, 8 hours of work. Try and really label each half an hour of that work just to see. And this, again, I think this is a great activity. It's what I do with a lot of my clients. This just gives us some awareness of where are we spending the time? And how did I feel in that time, and is there a way that I can reposition my time, my hours, in these activities that do feel good to me? That's helpful.

Engaging in those activities that do sort of fill our bucket a bit.

SHAKEEL: What you're saying, Jodi, is making me think of specific examples. You know, I think about teams that I've worked with in the past and just pick— I won't name names, but I think about two people on my team. Both of them worked really hard. Both of them might say they really struggle with work life balance.

One person has intense work, but they've also got intense activities outside of work. Another one has intense work and has no activities outside of work. Guess one— guess what happens, right? The person that doesn't have any activities outside of work, work expands to fill the entire day and evening.

JODI: Yeah.

SHAKEEL: But the person that at least has committed to doing things outside of work hours, as stressful as it might be to schedule things to do those things outside of work hours, it forces them to put some boundaries. And so one of the things that I reflect on is to think about what can I actually do when I'm feeling too much work? What can I do to actually schedule time to do something else outside of work? And that constraint theory will help me kind of put some boundaries and close, you know, I have to be out of here by 5:05 because I've booked to go to the gym at 5:30. And so create those constraints for yourself.

MAZI RAZ: Shakeel and Jodi, something really I think stuck with me as I was listening to you. Jodi, when you invited us to take a period of time— I think you mentioned two weeks— to just keep a record of how increments of half an hour how our times are being spent, I chuckled a little bit internally and I'm like, I don't need to do that. My calendar just shows. Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom. All the way.

But then I stopped to realize that, yes, I go til 8 PM but I don't have a good record of what I do in the evening. So my mind went around that and I realized that what I usually do is that I decompress. So my evenings are actually spent around decompression, re-energizing, and that comes with of course, a heck of a lot of Netflix.

And then the activities that re-energize me and prepare me for yet another grunt day tomorrow. But what you are proposing is very different. You're actually proposing to think carefully the purpose in my non-work activities as well. Am I correct understanding that?

JODI: Yes, absolutely. So yes, track that time. Mazi, I'm so glad you pointed that out. Track the time fully. And also, yes, you may have a grunt day at work. But if you were clear on what sort of fills you up, like if— again, like I can use myself as an example. Like I get filled up when I get to help people or I get to talk to people. Is there an opportunity where I can bring more of that into my day? Is there an opportunity and yes, track those half hours.

Yeah, track the time not separating work from life. Life is life. We all have this constraints of 24 hours. What does this look like? That decompression time, that Netflix, you know, does it take me two hours, three hours, to decompress? Can I go for a walk in half an hour that helps me decompress? And Shakeel, I just want to pick up on something that you said. You said, you know, I'm a big fan of— I'm a huge fan of time blocking.

Like it has been a life changer for me. I have, in my schedule, half hours of like, do nothing. Do nothing. Daydream. And really sort of planning my day that way, the flip side of that activity that I shared of like tracking the time for every half an hour, another thing that you can do that some people find helpful to look at this time realism piece is write down everything that you want to do in a week. Write down everything. Like for me, and this—

You don't have to do it in half hours. You can do it in hours. But for me, I was like, I want to have eight hours of sleep every night and I want to have nine hours of sleep on the weekends and I want to spend this many hours working out. So it's sort of like where the last one I had had you look at past, maybe try and be proactive and plan and just look and see, OK, actually, do I have realistic— do I— am I actually being realistic?

We only have 168 hours in a week. Can I actually do all these things? And if there's not, maybe we don't have to be at every soccer practice. Or maybe we can take turns with another player's parent, or domestically, I think this is a big one. Domestically if you're in a household where you and your partner both work full time, are you both contributing equally to the household duties? And if not, could this be a conversation?

There's all these sort of different pieces around it. Yeah. There's a lot of good bits in there.

MAZI RAZ: I appreciate that. I have a question for, I'm going to start with Shakeel, and see maybe, Jodi, if you'd like to come in at the end of this piece as well. Shakeel, you brought the notion of control several times. So this is a critical— related to that means having choice. So we can control. That may not be true for everyone.

People may not— first of all, they may feel that they don't have control and in reality they may not have a lot of control. They have to work two jobs. They have to come home and the demands of a family will be just right upon them right away. So they can't go to the gym. They cannot decompress. They cannot do nothing. Some of the advices that we're sharing with them.

How do we make sense of that? How do we make sense of the fact that control or choice may not be available for everyone?

SHAKEEL: Yeah, no, no. It's a very, very important point to acknowledge is that there are definitely some people, due to circumstances positive circumstances in their life, the way things have worked out, they have a lot more control than do others. And some people go through crisis situations where, for a period of time, they don't have control. I would say that everybody has a lot more control than they believe they do.

First of all, for some, that will be just incrementally more. For others it's a lot more. But we should acknowledge people that are in situations, extreme poverty for example, that find it very difficult to get a sense of control. Having said that, without getting into the whole story, having been to rural parts of Africa, seeing communities where there is extreme poverty, I have actually met people that despite being on the treadmill, they have found the extra 10 minutes, 15 minutes of time to think about what could they do differently and have actually transformed their lives.

Not by themselves, but by expressing to other people here's, what they want to change in their life and getting help from others to do that. Now again, not everybody is going to have those resources available. So let's acknowledge that. More is possible than you realize when you start asking the questions. What could I do? What could I do instead of what can't I do only, right?

MAZI RAZ: This was a really pertinent point for me when you raised at the beginning that a lot of us, you know what we don't want, but we're not as clear as what is it that we want, right? So that makes a lot of sense to me. Jodi, what are your thoughts about this?

JODI: Yeah no, I agree. Shakeel, that's beautifully said. Yeah, that control, you know, what can I control? I can control my thoughts. I can control some things. And I think that that's beautifully put. Where is that shift of thinking? So yeah. I think you said it beautifully.

MAZI RAZ: I like to offer a slight shift in the dialogue a little bit. We have been so far in the last 30 minutes or so seeing the story from the perspective of being the victim of the demands of working life but I suspect that all of us will also contribute to the demands of other people's life, right? So we are at work. We may have people who work on our teams. At home, we have people that we may be responsible for or to.

And then the question is, how can we build that level of awareness? It can help us, I don't want to say control, but bring some positive influence in other people's work life balance or imbalances. Jodi, let's start with you and then we'll go to Shakeel.

JODI: Yeah. I think we each have a responsibility. So we've talked so far about what we can do, but there's other things that we have to understand that we live in relationships. We live in relation to others. So I think having these conversations, sharing our own— sharing what's important to us with others. If you're a leader, taking the time to understand what's important to the people around you, finding out, I think that's important.

Search for alignment. Search for those opportunities to create that sort of win-win. Also, as a leader, or even just as an individual I think, just asking ourselves like, am I more focused on— am I focused on an objective or am I more focused on a process. So—

SHAKEEL: Or a task. Yeah.

JODI: Yeah, a task. Like can I care more about an end result than I do about how they got there? You know? It's the same thing. And even if I think about that on a personal level, you know, is there space for flexibility? And a personal level, you know, it saves me lots of arguments on how to load the dishwasher with my husband. Like, it's like what do I care about how the dishwasher is loaded or whatever?

Yeah. I think boundaries, boundaries, this idea of boundaries. A boundary is the distance in which I can love you and me simultaneously. So we have to practice setting and honoring boundaries for ourselves, but also for others. You know? Like we have to respect other people's boundaries and understand that hey, as a leader, maybe I'm not going to send a text at 9:00 PM, or 8:00 PM or 7:00 PM. You know? Shakeel, what do you have to add?

SHAKEEL: I'd love to pick up on that point. I'm going to get very specific and I'm going to draw on real client examples here. Had a client who was talking about how important it was to set an example or send the message to the team about work life balance, setting boundaries, and as he was talking about, he was looking for help on how to articulate to his team how important it is to do work life balance.

But when we reframed the conversation, he came to this realization that I'm saying the words, but I'm not behaving in alignment. It's so cliche. Our actions speak louder than our words. When you say to your team, it's important to get some rest at night and don't take on too much work and don't send emails all the time, you can say that in words but then you have to look at your own behavior.

When you say them in words, but you don't behave in them, it sounds like just HR policy speak. You're doing it because you were told to. I had this client that realized in our conversation that said I'm actually sending more powerful messages because I will send an email at 6:00 in the morning. It just happens to be convenient for me because I'm up and I'm on my treadmill, but what message am I sending to somebody else?

The other message that people don't think about is the words we use to praise our colleagues, coworkers, the people that report to us. When we only praise those people that work really long hours to get heroic efforts done, to get a deal completed, and you celebrate that person, sure the person deserves some celebration for their hard work.

But what message are you sending to the other people that aren't able or want to work those extremely long hours? What would it look like to also reward people that manage to actually get a job done really well but within a certain boundary or time frame? So I think as leaders, we have to look at what is our own behavior and does it align with the words. And we also have to recognize who are we rewarding and acknowledging publicly for their contributions to the work?

Rewarding people that behave in some kind of work life alignment way is a very powerful way to send messages on what is good behavior.

MAZI RAZ: There's an interesting book by a sociologist at Stanford University, Jeff Pfeffer. The book title is called Dying for a Paycheck. And he highlights, in some instances, in some cultures and corporations, this game of demonstrating how busy one is and that impression of how busy you are it might give power to people or at least the illusion of power. And B, may actually fend off excess requests coming to them.

And this has turned into, it's almost a negative reinforcing cycle that creates a very toxic environment. And all people do is just simply complete tasks, checklists, and keep busy for the sake of being busy, not direct relationships to be productive or being progressive. And it sounds like that we may benefit from recognizing that they are innovative and creative ways that we can actually still get things done, both in our lives and at work, without just buying into this game of being busy for the sake of business.

SHAKEEL: My favorite example of that, Mazi, if I can just jump in here, I was talking to somebody about reading or podcasts, and they said I don't know how you find the time to stay current or on what's happening in the world. I don't have any off time just to kind of work. I said, well do you go for a walk?

Yeah, I have a dog. I go for a walk. I said, well, are there certain ways to integrate into your walk, reflection time. One example that I learned from a fellow Ivey coach actually is start your walk with a specific deliberate question you want to ask about yourself. What can I do to be more productive this week? What can I do to be more in service to myself this week? And start your walk with that question, with the goal that at the end of the half an hour walk you've come up with a couple of things.

So using that time more productively. Another thing. Listen to a podcast. Pick a podcast that is educational around work life balance or stress management. There's such great content. Listen to this one again, by the way, as you're taking a walk. So there's ways of integrating activities into our time to actually use our time more wisely.

MAZI RAZ: Jodi, let's stay with this concept of responsibility to ourselves and of course to the members of our, not just team, but family and friends around us. So I think that we need to keep in mind that we are in social settings both at work and outside of work. What advice do you have for people maybe you can draw up some of the examples that you've had with your clients? What advice do you have for people in recognizing that they are both responsible and accountable for others work-life preferences as well?

JODI: You know, this dialogue. Just having this conversation and being in the space of expressing our own needs to others and hearing others' needs, that is this— that's a key thing and I think that we're often, we're the ones who put limitations on ourselves or put boundaries or these expectations on ourselves sometimes. So yeah, having those conversations with others. I think the awareness and the acceptance of being realistic, for both, again, it's a dialogue. I think it's these conversations.

MAZI RAZ: So what you're proposing, if I understand you correctly, is having dialogues beyond just the task at hand

JODI: Oh, yeah. Sharing with people like, what is important to me. What's meaningful to me? What's important to them? What's meaningful to them? What boundaries do they have? What— again, going onto these things of rather than the process or the task is looking at like, what's an objective? Like what do we all want? Like what are the shared things that we want and how can we find these? And again, having those dialogues. It's not just about the task.

MAZI RAZ: And that works, that functions— you're proposing that also functions in the family and with friends and with the community as well, right?

SHAKEEL: I know this is a term that we bandy about a lot lately and that is psychological safety, right? Are you as a leader— are you creating an environment on your team that people feel comfortable enough to speak up when they're struggling, when they're having a hard time? And some of you, some of the viewers may have come across this study that Google did, Project Aristotle, where they identified what were the predictors of teams that work really well together that are highly productive?

And they went through a lot of little experiments and they landed on psychological safety was the number one driver on whether a team was high performing. So then the next question is, well how do you create psychological safety? The number one way of creating psychological safety is when the leader expresses their vulnerability. When the leader says out loud that I'm actually finding it difficult to manage all that's on my plate, I actually don't know what to do here.

And when the leader does that it creates a safe place for other individuals to one, offer advice and support the leader, but also feel comfortable speaking up themselves and saying you know what? I'm also struggling. You're not alone here. And so I think that is a really important part of this work life balance as a leader to set a stage in a context where people feel comfortable speaking up.

JODI: Ask for help. Why do we not ask for help? And ask others how we can help them? That could be in our dialogue every day? Like how can I help you? To create that space. And for ourselves, yes, ask for help. I think that's a whole other conversation, but yes. Anastasia just said asking for help also builds trust. For sure.

Again, we live in relation. We are in relationships. We can accomplish things together much further than we can apart.

SHAKEEL: One of the favorite things I've heard from Brene Brown is this idea of the balance, the fine line between courage and vulnerability. Being vulnerable is courageous and when we frame it that way, it somehow emboldens us and say, hey, I am a good leader because I'm being courageous. That's what a leader should be. Yeah. Being courageous by being vulnerable, very, very powerful acceptance to realize that they're basically the same the two sides of the same coin.

You know, this reminds me a very specific story. I had a person on my team in the past that they got so much joy from working. They believed in the— look, there's lots of people that work in nonprofit and really believe in the cause, right? The mission, the purpose of what they're doing. They will give all of their time and energy to that purpose because they believe in it. I think in fact, sometimes when you force those people to not work after hours, you're actually hurting them because they believe so passionately in what they're doing.

So what you have to say in that space is actually being kind to that person means not bothering them or not giving them a hard time about working long hours, because that's actually bringing meaning to their life. But what you can do to the others in the organization is say, just because they do that doesn't mean you have to do that, right? Making it safe and OK for people to feel like they don't have to emulate those people that are working long hours and putting that on the table.

And that is a real person I worked with. I struggled with that. I kept trying to make her change her behavior and stop sending emails at night, stop working. And then all of a sudden, the light bulb went off. I said if I force her to do that I'm actually hurting her mental health because she loves what she's doing so much that by stopping her, like, it caused her great pain to take vacation because she loved what she did so much. And so, accept it but name it so that other people don't feel like they have to meet up to that standard.

JODI: And I think that there are also some things that person can do or the leader can do with that person, say, yes do all this. And maybe put a send later. You know? And send it in the morning so that you're not sending this message to everyone like hey, or setting this expectation. Because yeah, I agree with you. You know? And it goes back to that understanding what's important to us. If that's what really brings meaning to my life, yes.

You know, but this struggle of work life imbalance sometimes comes across as like, well, we're not leveraging and we're not— we might not be clear or we're just not organizing our lives in that way where we do spend time doing the things that are important to us. Yeah, it's a great conversation and there's so much around it. And again, a few things that we can do. Just the boundaries and the asking for help.

And you know, of course, be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others because this is it's a different time. We have clear expectations.

MAZI RAZ: These are different times as well. Of course. And some advice that may work for you may not work for other people and vise versa. So we have to be cautious. How do you recognize warning signs in your teams that they're working too much or perhaps heading for burnout and how do you want to intervene? I like to open this to both of you and see if you have any— can provide some practical responses to this very interesting question.

SHAKEEL: Should I go? I mean it's—

JODI: Go for it.

SHAKEEL: Something I actually think about quite a bit, and both in my previous work, but also I'm a board chair right now in the community. And I always start my meetings with some kind of check in and I call it my early indicator system. Right? Whether it be, hey everybody, before we get started on a scale of 1 to 10 just give us a number how are you feeling today, 10 being fantastic one being really low, just simple question to get people sharing them, sharing the numbers.

Or give us a word that describes how you're feeling today. Give us two words how you feel today. Give us an emoticon. So it gives an opportunity to get some indicators. Now sometimes you may not be able to dive in in the group setting on some of these, but you make a note and say, oh, this person said they're a three today. I don't want to embarrass them and draw it out in this conversation. But I do want to follow up with them.

So that's number one. Number two is look, just pay attention to your people. When you notice short tempers, when you notice the circles under the eyes, when you notice the sighs of exasperation, pay attention to those sounds and don't just sweep them under the rug. Make a note of them, come back to them. Respect people's privacy, but do come back to them.

It sounds simple. Pay attention. Look at your people. Listen to what they're doing and what they're not doing. Watch the body language. Listen to the sounds they make. So important. And you can do that on Zoom and you can do that live. Just pay attention.

MAZI RAZ: Might not that also functions very well with friends and family.

SHAKEEL: Yes. Absolutely.

JODI: Absolutely.


JODI: It goes back to my earlier point of really connecting with people, finding out what— finding out, like— Yeah. Establishing that trust, building a true relationship with people. And then of course, witnessing it and having that conversation.

MAZI RAZ: So on that note, thank you everyone. Until next time we meet, have a great day. Thank you for tuning in and listening to this episode. We'd like to extend further thanks to our guests for taking the time to share the knowledge and insights with us. The Ivey Academy podcast is produced by Melissa Welsh, [? Shauna Kingrand, ?] and Joanna Shepherd. Editing and audio mix by Carole Eugene Parr.

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