Our provocation is simple: stop seeking a utopian balance of work and personal life – which when achieved is at best transitory – and start reflecting on what gives you energy and what drains it. By shifting your lens on how to have a balanced and fulfilled life through getting the best return on your energy, you will empower better choices of how to use this most precious resource.
The concept of work/life balance dates back to the manufacturing laws of 1800s enacted to protect women and children . . . then was spoken about again with the Fair Labour Standards Act of 1938 which established the 44-hour week. Today it is a multi-million-dollar industry and a term we use to berate ourselves about what we believe we are failing to achieve, often building resentment of our careers for taking away our potential happiness.
How helpful is balance as a construct to apply to our life anyway? The image of balancing on a tight rope or balancing spinning plates conjures up the showman or artist under extreme pressure.
Moreover, the subliminal message that work is hard and once you get home it’s all a bed of roses is equally unfounded and unrealistic. What we all crave are more moments of positive energy, fulfilment and happiness. Where they come from is far less relevant.
The challenge therefore, is not to try to balance our time, but to rather look at the energy flow, and how to leverage it to create more of those shiny moments and limit the self-imposed or systemic draining of our energy.
Earlier this year, Aesara brought together 18 of UK’s top people leaders in London to learn whether R.O.E. made as much sense to those at the coalface of leadership and talent management as it does to us. We wanted to explore how to apply this as an enabler of more resilient healthy workplaces around a topic which has confounded so many of even the most progressive companies today.
“People get their energy from different places, in different ways”, many in our break-out group commented. “Yes, and stress takes different forms too. So, what works for one, might not work for another, and therefore blanket approaches from the organisation never really fix the issue. Whilst some love ping pong, others need solitude to replenish their reserves.”
Generational differences came up as well. Are millennials more prone to energy and resilience depletion or not? The example of reverse-mentoring (younger mentoring older) was cited as a place where energy often flows well, if only for the unusual experience.
What resonated was that success and happiness are OUR choice, the organisation is there to enable opportunities for both, however it is the individual who needs to make the choices of how they choose to spend their time and use their energy.
Aesara’s R.O.E. model is designed to empower the individual to do this in a simple and effective way. It is made up of four simple quadrants through which the creation and depletion of energy can be tracked, it can be applied to an individual, a team or across an entire organisation. Each quadrant is then underpinned by a series of psychological and leadership-based tools to support the person with the skills they need to sustain the best choices.
With the model providing the hub of debate, the discussion continued: for some, planning is not energising. For others, structure is essential for energy to flow. Either way, it was agreed, this model highlights the importance of identifying personal ‘energy shots’. What, how and where do I get my energy? Once these are known, they are less likely to be neglected, more likely to be prioritised.
Perhaps most importantly, ROE gives back some control and provides a structure to the all too ambiguous conversation about feeling overwhelmed and helping us be more resilient.
The debate continued in the groups with a reflection on how to bring this topic to life in our organisations. “We have to make it permissible for individuals to take responsibility for their own energy and stop expecting the organisation to manage it for them” said one HR leader. Doing this requires role modelling from the most senior leaders in the organisation, most people agreed. Just starting with raising awareness will be a step forward.
We concluded the discussion with William James’ quote: “the greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude”. Which brings us full circle to provoke the bigger question, do we have the courage to look through a different lens on how we define a happy life and take responsibility for this ourselves.
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