As pandemic restrictions ease, companies are figuring out and putting in place plans to get employees back to the office full-time or a hybrid model. People-centered companies are wisely seeking employee input to help them shape their policies, but have you paused to figure out what you need and want? If your leaders or boss ask you what you want and what would support you, are you ready to answer? Or, if you work for a company that isn’t proactively seeking input, will you be ready to confidently ask for what you need to re-enter the work world and shape your new normal?
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that workers need to take back some power and confidently set boundaries so they aren’t slaves to work 24/7. Being always on or always available isn’t a sign of commitment; it’s a sign that frustration and burnout will show up in one’s future. Being constantly busy isn’t a sign of accomplishment or worthiness; it’s a sign that your resiliency stores are being depleted and will run out at some point.
So, don’t leave your work re-entry up to chance. Instead, get attuned to what you want and need to re-enter on your terms. Start with these 5 actions:
#1. Visioning. Start with visioning. Set aside time to consider what you need to help your life function well and in more harmony, for you to be fulfilled, and for you to show up as your best self in all aspects of your life.
A first step is to learn from pandemic living. As this article by Arthur Brooks suggests, take advantage of what this momentary pause has given us, a new experience that holds learning for each of us. Consider: what from during the time of the pandemic do you want to carry forward? And, what from during the time of the pandemic do you want to put down and leave behind?
Next, define success for yourself and your life. In this moment of reimagining your world, take ownership of what success looks like to you and define it on your terms. Look at what you WANT and GET to do and who you WANT and GET to be, rather than considering and anchoring on societal shoulds. Ask: What would I want to do to feel successful and fulfilled in my life? Who would I want to be to feel successful and fulfilled in my life? Then, consider how you could measure that success. For example, it could be committing to having an evening meal for an hour every day with your family, because you value connection and being a good parent.
Get clear on your values. Take the time to better understand what you value in your life and what’s important to prioritize, and then define what those values mean to you. If you value creativity, learning, or family, for example, what do those specifically mean TO YOU. Creativity might mean that you want to be able to have time to master your musical talents as a hobby. Learning might mean that you always want to be immersed in a challenging work project. Family may mean maintaining a deep connection with your parents and siblings. These values show up and look different for each of us, so it’s helpful to define them for yourself.
Finally, envision your life with your definition of success and values in mind. What does it look like to live according to your definition of success and your values? Where are you putting your attention and your energy? What’s present in your life? What role does work play? Where does it fit in your priority list? What from pandemic living do you want to keep or shed?
#2. Ambition & Pace. Many of us fail to get clear on our personal, internally-driven ambitions. We aren’t honest about how good we want to be and how quickly we want to attain our aspirations. Societally, we make a lot of judgments and assumptions on this front one way or the other (e.g., demonstrate grit and rise up the ladder quickly! or don’t be a work-a-holic!). Neither is right or wrong; what’s important is to tune in to what YOU want. So, get clear on your current ambitions. Think about: What are your goals for the next 12-18 months? Where do you want to be and what do you want to have achieved? And, what do you want to take on now as a focus vs. set aside for another season, if you will?
Then, set your pace. A common theme coming out of the pandemic is the aversion to going back to our modern pace of constant busy-ness. To break the cycle, one has to be realistic about the pace at which they want to be leading their lives and managing their careers. Be honest—do you want to be in the fast line, middle lane, or the slow lane? Again, there’s no right answer, and there’s nothing wrong with being in any of them. Some people run at a faster pace and want to be in the fast line, because they are jazzed by their life and work. Others may be balancing work and family so want to be in the middle lane. Others, especially now, may be in a state of recovery because of recent demands from work, caregiving, or general life circumstances. What’s most important is to be honest about what you need in your life right now and what you want your life to feel like. What kind of pace are you willing to embrace at this point in your life?
With your ambitions and awareness of pace in mind, plan and shape your time accordingly, and recognize that you are likely going to have to make choices. What will you cut from your list? What will you allow yourself to be bad at? What can you outsource? What can you share with others?
#3. Resilience. Work-life balance is a term that does us a disservice. It sets unrealistic expectations about what our work-life should look like. It is rare that we can have “balance” all of the time. As Adam Grant has said, “Work-life balance sets an unrealistic expectation of keeping different roles in steady equilibrium.”
A better way to find more fulfillment and avoid burnout is to build work-life resilience. Start with determining what you need to sustain yourself. Get clear on the non-negotiable, must-do activities that you need to have as part of your day, week, or month that will keep you operating at your best. For example, I must exercise in the morning. Or, I must meditate for 15 minutes to reset myself in the middle of the day. Or, I need to write for 30 minutes in the evening to reflect and process the day. I need to get out into nature for an extended period of time each week. I need time with my closest friends each month. Or, I need to attend at least one of my children’s activities each month. Whatever it is, get clear on how you will fit those in and have back-up plans. Ideally, put these sustaining activities on the calendar first and work to create habits that can bring these into your life without struggle.
#4. Work & Home Craft. With the above steps completed, now start to work and home craft. Work and home crafting takes a broader view than job crafting. Job crafting is about aligning one’s job to what best works for the individual to get more satisfaction out of work. Work and home crafting should be about crafting your work and home structures to better align with your holistic life to get more satisfaction out of work and life. What would you need to negotiate with your work and at home to support your visioning, your ambition and pace, and allow time for you to build your resilience?
Or, what would it look like for work to accommodate more of your life? On The Sustainable Ambition Podcast, Christine Bader shared how modern work structures often don’t leave enough room to accommodate other aspects of our lives. It’s true—many of us are essentially slaves to our work with little time left for the personal. So, what would it look like to renegotiate your work structure to accommodate more of your life?
Or, think about how you create more ease. Many of us think we need to slug through our work and home lives. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but does it always have to be hard? What if we were to challenge ourselves to bring in more ease. Ask yourself, what could my work and home structures look like to bring more ease to my life? Then, what do I need to ask for to create that ease at the office and at home?
#5. Learning Loop. Our lives aren’t static, nor do we always know what will work for us. That will be the case as we re-enter the world and renegotiate our lives at work and at home. So it’s important to add a learning loop to this process so you can learn, grow, and evolve what works for you over time.
From the prompts above, you’ll have knowledge of what’s important to have in your life, what you’ll be prioritizing now, the activities that will sustain you and build your resilience stores, and how your work and home structures can support this new vision. Now, get clear on what you want to prototype first.
Talking to employers about testing a prototype plan or pilot will likely get better traction than making outright demands. So, put yourself in a position to try and refine. Put your ideas into action and establish a check-in point for yourself and with your employer. Pick a time now one quarter out and put an hour block on your calendar to evaluate where you stand with your practices and their alignment to your vision. How are you feeling about the use of your time and your pace? Are your work structures supporting more work-life fulfillment? What’s working? What’s not working? What do you want to keep doing, stop doing, and what do you want to try next? From here, what do you need to re-negotiate at work, at home, and with other people in your life?
Now, let’s be honest—companies can’t accommodate each whim or need of every individual. So be realistic in your ask. But don’t let that stop you from asking to shape work to better work for you and others. The adage, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” is true. We need to speak up for work-life fulfillment and better harmony. It’s better to believe we have choice in the matter and use our voices to ask for what we need. It’s time to carpe diem! Seize the day to shape them in a way that will allow you to be more fulfilled and show up as your best self as we step back out into the world.