It’s About Bloom, Not Balance
Numerous factors in our lives and careers are crucial in shaping our journey toward quality and fulfillment. My exploration into these aspects, through global research, interviews, and deep analysis, has led me to identify critical factors vital for anyone aiming to excel personally and professionally. These findings are what I refer to as work-life factors, each playing a distinct role in enabling us to be at our best instead of engaged or balanced.
Consider the six life-factors as the personal attributes and traits that empower us to thrive as individuals and to navigate our existence with purpose and resilience. These internal drivers motivate us and keep us grounded and focused on what truly matters. The life-factors include relationships, skills, well-being, meaning, agency, and respect.
On the other hand, work-factors (including trust, belonging, feeling valued, purpose, strategy, and norms) are those essential principles and conditions within our professional environments that facilitate our alignment with—and contribution to—our organization’s goals. They are the external supports that enable us to engage deeply with our work and to find meaning in our contributions.
The dynamics of these work-life factors are ever-changing, evolving with each phase of our career and life. They oscillate, influencing us in myriad ways, sometimes uplifting and at other times challenging us. This fluidity means that the impact of these factors is not uniform but deeply personal, varying greatly from one individual to another and from one leader to the next.
Leaders, in particular, must navigate these shifting sands with care and attention. It is not uncommon for an entire organization to be out of sync, with varying levels of engagement and performance across the team. This variability is a critical insight, one that challenges the conventional wisdom perpetuated by organizations like Gallup, which have reported stagnant employee engagement levels for decades. Such findings suggest a misalignment in our collective approach to understanding and fostering workplace happiness, pointing to a more profound need for a revised perspective on the interplay between work and life.
Let me make my case by painting a picture.
Imagine a scenario where a highly engaged, high-performing team member embarks on the life-altering journey of starting a family. The anticipation and subsequent arrival of a new family member inevitably lead to significant shifts in their life-factors. Maybe their sense of respect or relationships or skills tapers off during this part of their life.
This transition period poses a question for leaders: How can we support our team members through such profound changes? Is it reasonable to expect them to maintain the same level of performance and engagement immediately upon their return? Or might there be value in allowing space for adjustment, recognizing that their engagement—and indeed, the engagement of all team members—will naturally fluctuate over time?
As we think about the complexities between work and life integration, it becomes evident that a one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement and work-life balance is fundamentally flawed. It’s like using a single key to try and start every car in the parking lot.
Each team member’s journey is unique and influenced by an intricate array of personal and professional factors. Leaders must, therefore, cultivate a nuanced understanding of these dynamics, recognizing that the path to high performance and deep fulfilment is not linear but cyclical, marked by periods of growth, transition, and, sometimes, retreat.
My global research is telling. Assessing nearly 10,000 employees worldwide in 11 different countries, I discovered that only 41.3% of workers are blooming—that is, their work and life-factors are in a majority positive stance. That means nearly 60% of all workers are not blooming, suggesting that no one population will ever be 100% happy. It is literally impossible for an entire organization to be full of individuals who are fully engaged or balanced.
To me, the evidence is clear: We are in need of a different leadership lens. We need to peel back the bark of what we think it means to be a leader and devise a new harmonious order and spiritual intelligence for team members. It is not the position of authority that makes the leader, but the ability of the leader to nurture their people so they can be their best. Team members are constantly exploring, studying, and redefining their work-life relationships, and it is leaders who need to amend how leadership is characterized forthwith.
The narrative of work and life is not about maintaining a constant state of high employee engagement or work-life balance but about recognizing and nurturing the potential for growth and renewal within each phase of an individual’s life. This perspective shifts the focus from striving for an elusive equilibrium to fostering an environment where individuals can bloom in both work and life—where they can realize their potential in all aspects of their days.
Consider the impact of significant life events on an individual’s work-life factors. For instance, adding a new family member—as I mentioned earlier—or a personal milestone or a challenging life event can profoundly affect one’s focus, energy, and effectiveness at work. Leaders equipped with empathy and understanding can provide the support and flexibility needed during these times, ensuring that team members feel valued not just for their professional contributions but as whole individuals.
This approach to leadership extends beyond mere accommodation to actively creating a culture where human beings, in all its forms, are celebrated and nurtured. It involves building a workplace environment that values continuous learning, adaptability, and resilience—essential for personal fulfillment and professional success.
By embracing this new way of thinking, leaders can inspire their teams to seek out challenges, embrace change, and pursue personal and professional development with vigour and enthusiasm. This mindset encourages a deeper sense of purpose and belonging, fostering a culture where individuals are motivated to contribute their best, not just for their own growth but for the collective success of one another.
The true measure of leadership lies in the ability to recognize and nurture the unique potential of each team member, guiding them through the various stages of their work and life journey. By shifting our focus from balancing to blooming, we can create a more dynamic, supportive, and fulfilling workplace environment where individuals are empowered to grow, thrive, and contribute to their fullest potential.
And dare I say it, bloom, there it is.
Dan Pontefract is a leadership strategist and award-winning author of five books, including his latest, Work-Life Bloom: How to Nurture a Team That Flourishes. Dan will be hosting a pre-conference workshop at the HR Conference & Expo, April 30-May 1, 2024. Find out more at www.danpontefract.com.
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