A Coaching Power Tool created by Ann Herd
(Life Strategies Coach, UNITED STATES)
With the demands of a global and changing economy, many employees are being asked to do more with fewer resources. As a consequence, these employees may feel “stretched” and pressured to devote a great deal of time and energy to their work. They may feel that the time and energy they devote to their work is at the expense of the time and energy they would like to devote to other pursuits not related to work, such as their family, social relationships, or other endeavors. These people may describe themselves as having a lack of “worklife balance.” They feel that work is getting the lion’s share of their time and energy, when what they would really like to focus on is their non-work life.
On the other hand, there are those who feel that their non-work lives are getting the lion’s share of their attention, and wish they could devote more time and energy to achieving their career goals. These people also may describe themselves as lacking in “worklife balance.”
Both sets of people – those who feel they devote too much energy to work, and those who feel they devote too much energy to non-work activities – feel “out of balance.” They want to achieve greater satisfaction in both their work and their nonwork roles, and not feel that one is demanding greater amounts of their energy at the expense of the other.
What is worklife balance? Merrill and Merrill (2009) define balance as the “alignment between values and actions.” We each have values relating to work and family. At the same time, we must make moment-to-moment decisions every day about how we will spend our time and money. To the extent that these decisions mirror our true values about work and non-work, we are “in balance.”
Another way to look at worklife balance is that when we are “in balance,” everything in our life is moving toward a common purpose. All our “parts” are moving in the same direction. Like a runner who is running a marathon, all parts of the runner’s body are helping her to move forward – her legs are moving forward, her feet, legs, hands, arms, face are all facing forward and moving forward in the same direction to achieve the same goal of finishing the marathon. Contrast this image with a person who has one arm being pulled one way, and another arm the other way. The person cannot stay in this position – with their two arms being pulled in different directions, for long. Something has to give.
If a person’s top core values are career achievement, work, and work-related outcomes, and they spend nearly all their time at work, they are “in balance” because their actions are aligned with their values. On the other hand, if this same person spends nearly all their time on non-work activities, they will feel out of balance because these activities do not mirror their core values.
How do you know if you are “in balance” or “out of balance?” Self-monitoring is helpful to know whether you are in or out of balance at any given time. Self-monitoring entails paying attention to physical and mental signs that may indicate your state of balance.
Monitor your body for signs of tension and discomfort, and monitor your thoughts for signs of conflict and stress. In addition, you may ask the following questions to help you diagnose the extent to which you feel “balanced:”
- Do you feel happy, and conflict-free, about the decisions you make on a daily basis about where to spend your time?
- Do you feel that you are “where you need to be” most of the time?
Positive answers to these questions indicate balance, which is accompanied by feelings of peace, serenity, acceptance, and acknowledgement that you are doing what you need to do at any given moment, and that you are where you need to be at any given moment. On the other hand, positive answers to the following questions indicate lack of balance:
- Do you often feel as if you should be doing something else?
- Do you often wish you were someplace else?
Of course, there may be times when a person decides to be “out of balance” for awhile, in order to achieve a particular goal that requires more time, or intense focus of effort during a certain period of time. As long as the decision to be “out of balance” is a conscious and deliberate choice, the negative feelings of being out of balance will not be as great because the person knows that this is for a specified period of time and that the decision is aligned with one or more of his/her core values.
An example of a person striving to live in balance is that of a soldier named Mary who is serving in the military. Mary is married with two school-aged children, and she has identified that her core values include service to country as well as family. There is a war, and Mary is called to deploy with her unit to go to the warzone. She has discussed the deployment with her family, and while they are not happy that she will be gone for a year, they understand Mary’s decision to keep her job and go to war – they understand that this action is aligned with one of Mary’s core values of service to the country.
Mary feels in balance with the decision, and makes plans for dealing with the feelings of imbalance she knows will happen when she is actually away from her family. Mary’s action plan includes emailing her husband to set up times when the whole family can talk on Skype each week; scheduling letters, emails, and phone calls to each member of her family; and having her family use a calendar on which they can mark off the days until she is home.
To re-cap, the following equation summarizes the relationship between balance, values, and actions:
Balance = f(Alignment Between Values and Actions)
The extent to which a person feels “balanced” or “out-of-balance” is a function of the extent to which they see alignment between their core values and their day-to-day actions.
Case Study: Out of Balance
While the example of Mary above shows a person who is taking positive action to maintain balance, Catherine is an example of a person who senses that she is out of balance. Catherine is an executive who feels she must spend all her time at work. Her company has been through a merger with subsequent layoffs, and she has seen a lot of people lose their jobs. Catherine feels she must prove herself worthy of keeping her job, and so she gets to work at 6am and leaves at 7pm on most nights, plus works all weekend in her home office while her kids and husband stay busy around the house and going to their sports and play activities. Catherine has missed more of her kids’ track and crosscountry meets and soccer games than she can count, and she feels badly about this. She worries that she is missing some of the kids’ most important growth milestones and missing out on opportunities to share the highs and lows of their growing-up years. Catherine feels frazzled, stressed, and torn between her work and family responsibilities: she feels out of balance.
Another person feeling out of balance is Sally. Sally is a stay at home mom who homeschools her three children, who are triplets. She and her husband spent a long time deciding that home-schooling is what their three children need right now, and deciding that Sally will have primary responsibility for home-schooling the children. Recently Sally’s mother has also come to live with Sally and her family, and her mother requires a great deal of time and attention because she is getting older and is suffering from the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Sally majored in art and worked her way through a prestigious art school. She had been working as a successful graphic designer before having the triplets, and she longs to be able to devote some time to her art.
Unfortunately Sally feels pulled in different directions due to her extensive family responsibilities. She has not worked on her art in months, and every day that goes by leaves her feeling depressed and hopeless that she will ever again be able to enjoy the talent she worked so hard to cultivate. Sally also feels out of balance.
A coach working with Catherine or Sally would first help the client increase their selfawareness about the extent to which they feel balanced, and the specific areas where they feel out of balance. The coach would help the client identify where their behaviors and day-to-day actions are, and are not, aligned with their core values. Once the client has identified areas of mis-alignment, the coach would then help the client set goals to move their actions into greater alignment with their core values.
1. First, help your client identify their core values. To do this, you may wish to first have your client relax and close their eyes while you read a list of values to help the client identify their top 3-5 core values. Alternatively, you may wish to provide a written list of values examples and have your client choose which ones resonate with them, or use the list as a helpful tool for identifying other values that are most meaningful to them.
2. After your client has identified their top 3-5 core values, ask your client to think carefully about each of the values they have listed, and identify the extent to which their actions each day exemplify and are aligned with the value. Which value(s) would they like to see more of in their daily life?
3. After your client has identified a core value that they would like to see more of, have your client brainstorm specific actions they could take to “see” and live that value to a greater extent. Some questions to ask that may help your client identify specific actions include:
- What can you do more of, that you are not doing now, in order to live outthis value?
- What might you need to take off your plate, in order to have time foractions which exemplify this value?
- How can you rearrange your schedule so that you spend time on thisvalue?
- What might you need to take out of your schedule to allow this value to show up more in your actions?
4. Finally, be sure to have your client set SMART goals (specific, measurable, action-oriented, relevant and realistic, and time-bound) regarding steps they can take relating to the actions they identified above.
Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2003). Life matters: Creating a dynamic balance of work, family, time, and money. New York: McGraw-Hill.