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In the New Year, Give Work+Life Grace a Try

Amanda Fennell

“Your career will stall if you go remote,” said a boss I had several years ago. The viewpoint this phrase embodies is that employees are more productive when management is able to personally monitor them from the office cubicle during a rigid 9-5 timeframe. But the successes of today’s hybrid work setting prove that this view of the working world is no longer relevant.

Employees can thrive in their work—and lives—on their own time if you trust them and give them the autonomy to succeed. Now, as we head into a new year and formalize our goals and dreams for the months ahead, I’d like to challenge another viewpoint traditionally held by businesses and management teams: the notion of work-life balance.

What’s Balance?

The term “work-life balance” first appeared in the UK in the 1980s as a plank in the Women’s Liberation Movement. The movement advocated for flexible schedules and maternity leave for women. But while men were able to freely pursue their career goals without worrying about housekeeping and family-raising, working women were expected to do the opposite: maintaining responsibility for their careers and for housekeeping and childrearing.

While these antiquated views of working men and women have faded (to some degree) over time, the idea of attaining work-life balance has remained—arguably leading to significant stress for employees.

In fact, workplace stress continues to be shockingly high among American adults. Wrike’s United States stress statistics from 2019 found that 94 percent of workers reported stress at work—and that was before we brought work home with us due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wrike also says that 54 percent of workers said workplace stress impacts their home life in a negative way.

Alarmingly, women were more adversely impacted: according to the APA Stress in America 2016 survey, on a scale of one to 10, women described their stress levels as 5.1, compared to stress levels of 4.4 among men.

This data reveals a lot about the American approach to work and the negative impacts this approach can have. Expecting people to properly balance work and life on equal levels at all hours of every day is unsustainable. It simply does not work, and the effort to make it work has a significant, detrimental impact on women in the workplace in particular.

Redefining Arbitrary Boundaries

So how can we create a better-functioning viewpoint on managing work and life—one that addresses the burden of responsibility workers face, the ongoing inequality of the sexes, and the challenges of juggling work and caregiving (which, for many of us, must both take place in our homes, all day long, due to the ongoing pandemic)?

For me, the answer is a new framework for the symbiotic relationship between work and life: I like to call it work+life grace.

The core tenet of work+life grace is that we should no longer strive for work-life balance—it simply isn’t attainable. Instead, we should embrace being invested in our personal and professional lives each day and each moment, and be cognizant of the tradeoffs and compromises that come with continuously investing in both of those commitments.

You can be a mom or tend to a pet on a client call; likewise, you can adjust your work hours on days when you need to accommodate international collaboration by taking a Zoom call on a crisis issue while watching Netflix before bed. Rarely can any of us completely set aside one role to focus on another (at least during business hours). And we shouldn’t be expected to do so.

Simply put, it helps to acknowledge and accept that our work and our lives are intertwined—and that together, they make up 100 percent of who we are.

How to Generate Support

The day I stopped trying to effectively “balance” my work and personal lives was the day things changed for me. I redefined what success looked like and decided to throw myself into every aspect of my life headfirst. I accepted that work and home aren’t so neatly separated—they are just, collectively, life.

Everything is interconnected. When I can keep a pulse on it all without setting arbitrary boundaries, monitor the inevitable overlaps, and adjust my own (and others’!) expectations accordingly, a lot of the pressure to be perfect in each distinct category fades away.

Today’s hybrid work setting gives you the ideal launch point for making a similar shift in thinking. Throughout COVID-19, American office workers has proven they can thrive in difficult situations and that there is no drop-off in productivity or efficiency between working remotely versus from an office. Instead, today’s workers proved that they can excel at work while also excelling at doing household chores, pursuing new hobbies, walking the dog, caring for kids or other family members, and connecting with loved ones. There is time and space for everything if you acknowledge and accept this change in thinking.

How do you get buy-in from your workplace on the work+life grace paradigm shift? It’s a group effort, so starting the conversation with your peers and manager can be a great place to begin. Let your colleagues know what you’re trying to do and invite them to join the effort. Community is key.

And because supportive community is so important, people leaders need to lead the charge on this sort of change. If you’re one of them and are looking for tips on how to get started, here are three tactical things I’ve implemented with my teams at Relativity in support of this philosophy:

Break in the Calendar Block Method

Build in 5-minute gaps at the end of your 30-minute meetings (or 10 minutes at the end of a 60-minute meeting) to allow for mental breaks and to take care of small life tasks. Keeping your calendar (and others’) free of completely back-to-back bookings will help build a little flexibility into the day for other tasks and self-care.

Practice Compassionate Scheduling

Be cognizant of the people you work with are in different time zones or operate on a different work schedule. If you have an early morning meeting with a few night owls, let attendees know that audio-only participation is just fine. On the flip side, you can also normalize letting people be on camera when they’re doing other things around the house—like making dinner for their family—as they’re chatting with you.

Normalize the Blend

Set the standard for others by not hiding your personal obligations. A pet, a child, or a parent might come into your Zoom video frame; acknowledge them, and introduce them to your peers if it is organic. Do not hide them or wave them away. They are part of what makes you authentically yourself. It’s okay for them to appear in your workday.

Now’s the Time

Implementing these changes into your work habits will help start you on your journey to work+life grace and, hopefully, bring along your friends and peers in the process.

The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed us to reset how we think about our work lives and what we value in a working environment. It has also helped us realize that our careers won't stall if we work remotely or in a hybrid environment. You can thrive in all settings if you accept that your work and life selves are partnered into making you the amazing person you are.

As we look forward to the new year, following two years notorious for burnout and overwhelm, I hope you’ll consider making the pursuit of work+life grace one of your resolutions. It could make all the difference in your sense of fulfillment and peace in 2022.

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Amanda Fennell is chief security officer and chief information officer at Relativity. In her role, Amanda is responsible for championing and directing our tech and security strategy, including risk management and compliance practices. She has a masters degree in forensic science, and has 15+ years of experience in forensics and cybersecurity.