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Straight Talk from Managers on Work-Life Balance

Baltier-and-WilliamsonWant a promotion or new job, but not sure you have the bandwidth to take on the expanded responsibilities? Most of us might try to gauge matters by asking the hiring manager indirect questions. “But there’s no need to be subtle!” says Stephen Williamson, CFO of Thermo Fisher Scientific. “Ask managers how they deal with work-life balance, and how they help their team do the same.”

“The need for work-life integration is becoming more and more accepted,” agrees Kim Baltier, VP of North America Commercial Operations for the company’s biosciences business. “I believe that anyone who is meeting deadlines and delivering on their goals has earned the right to take the time they need outside of work. It’s not something that’s ‘given’ to you. You take it because you deserve it. And you should never feel guilty about it.”

Here, the two executives share more of their perspective—and their advice—on how to strike a balance between work and your personal life.

Role Model Managers

Kim: As a leader, it’s important for me to set boundaries around what I expect from my team. My employees and I have agreed not to send email on weekends or evenings. If they want to work then, that’s okay; but don’t involve others. If someone sends an email on Sunday, the recipient thinks, “Oh, she’s working; that means I have to as well.” I want to avoid that. If someone on my team sends me an email on the weekend, I don’t respond until Monday. By doing this, I’m demonstrating to my team that it’s okay to be offline and have downtime—and they should do the same.

Stephen: Kim is right that it’s very important to walk the talk by having balance in your own life—however you define it—and enabling your team to do this as well. I try to make sure that everyone who works for me knows that I strive for balance and sees how I create that. If I find myself out of balance, I try to be open with my team about it and articulate what I am doing to correct it.

Bringing up Balance with Your Boss

Stephen: Keep in mind that, while your needs are important, the company and your team also have needs. You have to get your job done. Thus, be balanced in your request. Articulate how you will meet the needs on both ends. Also, pick the right time to have the conversation—make sure your manager has enough time to properly consider your request.

Kim: It’s a give and take. You should not feel guilty about taking what you need, but you also have to make sure that you are giving what is expected of you. If you’re doing that, your manager should have no problem with your taking personal time when you need it. They know they can rely on you to manage this balance

Seeking Better Conditions at a New Company or Post

Kim: Some jobs inherently offer more flexibility than others—for instance a job in sales as opposed to a job in a customer care center with fixed hours. You need to think about what’s right for you, based on your own needs. If the job is a good fit, and if you’re delivering on your commitments, the chances are good that you’ll be able to find a way to work with any manager to ensure a good balance.

Stephen: Communication is critical. An employee should feel free to speak openly with their supervisor. This safe environment enables an employee to manage their own needs and still get their work done.  

Final Words to Remember

Stephen: This is a marathon, not a sprint. Each of us needs to find our own path to work-life balance. And that path will change as we pass through different phases in our life. For me, the key is to maintain a combination of flexibility and determination.

Kim: I agree. Though my children are older now, I remember when they placed more demands on my time. Life and work are not separate—nor static either, thankfully.

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▶ Read more from the April 2016 newsletter.

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