Categorized | Workplace

Balancing Work and Your Personal Life

Posted on 26 January 2011

Why is the two-word sentiment “Back off!” so difficult to convey in a polite, professional manner? We’ve all seen–or become?–the classic cases: The executive conducting client calls while on the beach with his kids. Or packing three or four gizmos on a belt to ensure 24/7 connectivity–but a ceaseless cacophony of beeping, chirping chaos as well.

Even highly successful people have a right to claim personal space, experts say. In fact, those that do often end up with a more rewarding career in the long run, they say.

Too Connected?

Still, with layoffs more and more common and an uncertain world economy, many employees feel under stress to remain connected more than ever. Todd Dawson, vice president/senior partner of Management Recruiters of Omaha, confesses that “there is no sacred time” these days. His wife is irritated when he takes calls from home, given that he’s in from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Yes, he even takes calls when he’s watching his children’s ballgames. When he travels, the cell phone and Palm Pilot are always close at hand. Still, he says, he doesn’t complain so much as accept it as part of modern workplace realities.


The challenge is overcoming yourself, not the bosses or co-workers.

“There is also a huge fear of leaving the impression that if you aren’t willing to work during time off, you might be perceived as a noncommitted employee,” Dawson says. “Being an executive recruiter is the perfect example. When you work for a company in attempting to fill a position, they don’t care if you’re out of the office on personal time. They only know they have a position to fill. And you are there to fill it.”

Old Habits Die Hard

The non-stop working climate can lead to day-to-day depression and stress, not to mention productivity breakdowns and eventual burnout. Especially as the career matures with a personal life, and greater workplace responsibilities conflict with those associated with being a spouse and/or parent.

“Even though most Boomers are over the idea of a ‘lifetime’ job with the same company, they still see their job as the only way to survive,” says Linda Talley, a leadership coach and author of Business Finesse: Dealing With Sticky Situations in the Workplace for Managers. “They have to keep the job and will do anything to that end. So when someone says ‘Jump!,’ they say ‘How high?’”

One client was so resistant to set boundaries, Talley says, that she took orders from an assistant. The result: She became easily irritated, couldn’t sleep, got the shakes and ate too much. When asked why she continued to refuse to establish personal space, “she said ‘It’s easier just to do it, even if I get behind, rather than say no and explain why,’ Talley recalls.

No Means No

So how do you learn to say “no” and manage to hold on to a successful career? Talley urges professionals to write out their boundary limits. “Why write it?” she says. “Because when you articulate something, you grant it power.” Then, proactively establish the boundary with colleagues and superiors during non-stressful times, before it becomes an issue. Otherwise, if someone ‘violates’ a boundary that you didn’t clearly establish, a personal conflict could emerge and you end up looking defensive and snappish. In other words, setting a boundary should be a professional consideration established in businesslike manner, not a verbal standoff.

Also: When this boundary is set, stick to it. Once you’ve established that you can perfectly handle responsibilities while commanding perfectly reasonable, personal space, your ‘experiment’ becomes a model for others in the office.

Outside of this, there are no magic formulas or tricks: The challenge is overcoming yourself, not the bosses or co-workers. Experts say the key is recognizing internally that asking for personal space isn’t a confession of incompetence or laziness. Instead, it’s a testimony to one’s professionalism to be able to establish firm boundaries and still serve as an office leader.

“If you can learn to manage your own anxiety over needing to be all things to all people, the word ‘no’ can become a word that is used with a fair amount of healthy regularity,” says Dr. Scott C. Stacy, a workplace crisis expert with the Lawrence, Kansas-based Professional Renewal Center. “Setting appropriate limits with others, and ourselves, is something that does not always come about naturally. It is a presence of mind that many of us have to learn how practice on a regular basis.”

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. John Groth says:

    Another way to be comfortable with your “no” is to be working a robust career plan. If the activity is outside your career plan you’ll think long and hard about about spending time on the activity. You still should be flexible but your written career goals and the career plan will keep things from getting out of control. In addition, you’ll have a career plan in place if your career dream changes and you plan on changing careers.

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