Marketing content shared with Michigan Business Network by:
Bonnie J. Knutson, PhD
The School of Hospitality Business
Broad College of Business
Michigan State UniversityOne of my vivid childhood recollections is having Sunday night family dinner at Nonno’s (Italian for grandfather) house. If you have ever watched the television show, Blue Bloods, about the New York Irish family who has dinners together every Sunday, you get the picture. Our dinners probably had more pasta, expresso, and tiramisu, however.
Afterward, we would all gather in the living room around the big wooden cabinet that housed a relatively small television screen to watch The Ed Sullivan Show. If you are of a certain age, you may remember some of the wide array of entertainment that appeared on the show, from opera to circus. While Ed featured virtually all types of acts, some were so popular they were invited back time and time again.
One such performer was Erich Brenn. For those of you who are not of the Sullivan generation, Erich Brenn had a plate-spinning act. He would run onto to the stage, spinning a plate on a stick. Once he got it spinning, he would place the stick in a smallholder on a table. Then he would grab another stick and start a plate spinning atop it and put it in another holder. Erich would continue doing this until he had three, four, five, six, seven, and even eight plates, each spinning atop its own stick. Naturally, the plates would be spinning at different speeds, so the excitement was watching him run from one to another keeping each of the teetering plates from crashing to the floor.
Welcome to Work-Life Balance. That title, however, is a misnomer because it implies that the only plates we must keep spinning are work and home. We wish it were that simple.
Increasingly, it feels like we are doing an Erich Brenn imitation trying to keep a multitude of plates spinning because each of our responsibilities requires us to keep its own plate from falling to the floor. Owner. Manager. Employee. Colleague. Spouse. Parent. Teacher. Child. Sibling. Housekeeper. Homemaker. Neighbor. Friend. Volunteer. Athlete. Ad Infinium. On top of all these roles, Work-Life Balance has been exacerbated over the past two+ years as we added a pandemic plate, one for the economy, another for sustainability and climate change, and one more for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Of course, we cannot forget the uncertainty fostered by what happens in Ukraine.
The bottom line is this: There is no such thing as Work-Life Balance because it cannot be universally defined. It is not a dichotomy or a one-size-fits-all. Nor is it static over time. What it is, however, is the embodiment of “two key everyday concepts that are relevant to each of us. They are daily Achievement and Enjoyment, ideas almost deceptive in their simplicity. [because] they help [us] to answer the big question, ‘Why?’”.i Why do you want that promotion? Why do you want your employees to have added personal days or a hybrid work schedule? Why do you want the Board to allocate funds for a renovation? Why do you want to add plant-based “meats” to the menu in the cafeteria? Why do you want to work at all? Why…Why…Why?
When I think about Achievement, I always go back to what U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven famously said. “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a…sense of pride. And it will encourage you to do another…” For example, when your sales team exceeds its goals for the month, the achievement encourages them to aim for higher objectives. One of my favorite means of showing employees how much they have achieved is what I call Service Scoreboard. This is simply a whiteboard (or even an old-fashioned chalkboard) showing the number of customers they served the prior day and year to date for the current year compared to the previous year. A copy of the scoreboard should also be part of your leadership’s meeting packets.
All of us have a pretty good idea of what Achievement means. Enjoyment is a little trickier. It is not the belly-laugh hilarity kind, but closer to “the Joys of Living” kind. Joining your employees as they revel in a turn-around picnic you where your management team grill the burgers and serve employees. Seeing one of your summer interns excitedly running up the stairs to tell you about the academic scholarship he just received. Even chuckling as you learned that your children volunteered you to sit on the collapsing seat for the dunk tank in their school fundraiser.
Taken together, Achievement and Enjoyment are two sides of the same coin; they are the Ying and Yang of Work-Life balance. And we need some of both every day to keep our life in sync. The beauty of this duality is that the two concepts give the Life-Balance definition a lot of wiggle room for each of us to keep our plates spinning and our lives balanced in what has been called our four quadrants of life – Work, Family, Friends, and Self.
Your Bottom Line will thank you.
PS: I always make my bed first thing in the morning. I think my mother was a Naval Admiral in disguise.