Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Work life balance is dead. Long live the blend.



by Anna Rasmussen June 8th 2016

You can tell a lot about someone from just a little observation. On this particular day I was learning a lot from the two men sat opposite me in a cafe.



They had the look of serious professionals catching a quick lunch, but friends too. Old friends, I guessed, from how relaxed they were with each other. One was sharing a video of his son playing football, and the other reciprocated with one of his kid toddling around the kitchen. They talked of their partners’ successes, sport, moving house and opportunities at work. They were laughing, clearly thoroughly enjoying spending time together. 

After lunch they hugged and headed for the exit. As they went their separate ways, the hug turned into a firm handshake and the conversation switched to spreadsheets and strategies and the stuff of a life that seemed separate to the one they had just been engaged in. They suddenly seemed less positive, more serious, a bit unhappier. 

My shameful stereotyping to one side, there was something fascinating going on here. 

Even before I was a career coach, I always struggled with the idea of having two personas - one for work, and the other for life outside. And not just because I knew I could never pull it off. Rather, I never saw the logic of this work/life dichotomy; never understood this precarious wrestle between two abstract and seemingly opposing concepts. Nobody’s wellbeing is so neatly defined. 

There are many tangible aspects that actually make up your wellbeing - your health, your job security, if your kids are happy, if you spend enough time with your partner, how much you earn, a wish to be more assertive, a clear career plan and so on. This is how any journey to better wellbeing has to begin, by identifying the unique recipe that determines who you are, what you want, and how you need to be to get there. This is your blend, and you ignore it at your peril. 

And ignore your employee’s blend at the peril of your organisation’s future.

When Apple were coming up with the iPhone, I’m pretty sure they weren’t saying: “You know what, we won’t really bother with all that stuff that will make it useful; we’ll just make it look nice and pretty and hope nobody will notice.” 

Yet that’s how so many companies try to improve the engagement and productivity of their colleagues. Try to shortcut your way to wellbeing if you want to - summer picnics, dress down Fridays, intricate plans for the proliferation of fun times for all… and yep, you might get a few smiles along the way and pat yourself on the back that the wellbeing of your staff has suddenly rocketed. It has not. And it won’t until you commit to treating the root cause of their wellbeing - the individual components of their unique blend. Until you commit to helping them identify and move towards their optimum state of wellbeing, then odds are they’ll fall short in their commitment to you too.

It’s helpful to see blend in terms of a wheel, divided into segments. These segments are your priorities, what you consider to be the building blocks of your blend and therefore wellbeing. Identifying these things is an exercise most of us will never have done, conditioned instead to just live within the cacophony of it all. Blend is how we disaggregate the noise, how we work out the parts of our lives that need tuning. Instead of some vague wish to be happier, blend gets forensic about your future, forcing you and your employer to set specific goals and track your progress against each. 

If all this has a whiff of the Millennials about it - well, no bad thing. They are the future of your business; and because they are a very different lot to what’s been before, then you need to be different too. Because they are more demanding of choice, you need to give them more choice. Because they are less apologetic about being in control of their lives, you need to give them more control. Because they are less loyal to their employers, you need to give them the reasons to put their loyalty with you. And because almost three in four Millennials want their co-workers to be a second family, you need to reframe your relationship with them - less transactional, more... well... human. You need to give them the time and means to explore their blend, before someone else does. 

You also need to foster the culture that is the precondition for blend to find its home - one of open and honest dialogue, devoid of prejudice, where managers and leaders absolutely get that the wellbeing of their best talent makes hard nosed, bottom line, commercial sense. In the US estimates put the cost of lost productivity due to disengaged staff at around $450-$550 billion every year. See how quickly a business would fix that gaping hole in earnings if it were caused by broken machinery or a PR crisis. 

The truth is, blend no more belongs to Millennials than any other generation. Every age group has its wants and fears. While almost half of Millennials say they want feedback sessions with their managers every week, nearly one in four of their older colleagues admit to calling in sick rather than facing their annual review. (My only surprise is more people don’t see the point of these once in a blue moon moments of interest in you, that are usually not about ‘you’ at all, but rather what you did and didn’t do for someone else’s benefit.)

Post-war grafter or baby-boomer; generation X, Y or Z - regardless of our age, we all need to understand our blend. Otherwise, how can we possibly know if we’re reaching our potential? 

I’ve been applying blend in my coaching for 10 years. The results are always remarkable - and perhaps because I’ve just been watching two men who remind me so much of him, my mind goes back to a client I had a few years ago. A high-flying investment banker in a world not known for its empathy, he had been scheduling fake meetings so he could get home in time to give his little boy his bath and bedtime story. Presuming a brusque reaction to any request for time off work, he had become a liar, then scared of being caught for lying, and so inevitably utterly disengaged. His performance had started to suffer, which got his boss on his case, and the whole unfortunate not-so-merry go round kept spinning. Until blend. 

We sat together, we identified his priorities - yes he wanted to spend more time with his son, but he also needed the buzz of work, and to fire on all cylinders he needed his manager to know when to take the foot off the pedal and when to drive him hard. He took his blend to work with him and said “Look, you know I’m good at what I do; and to keep being good, to keep making you money, I need us both to be working towards these things happening.” Were it not for blend, the company would have lost one of their most valuable assets, he would have just shifted the problem to another firm, and a little lad would still have a very unhappy Dad he wouldn’t see before bedtime.

Sure, we all have our gut sense and nice anecdotes of success. But the case for blend also comes with hard data behind it. To take just one statistic, in our recent research of 1,000 professionals 63% said they’d consider a job move. Any business facing that sort of turnover is in serious trouble. The same research offers the solution to address this concern. It states the happier people are, and less stressed they are the less likely they are to consider a job change, and the more fulfilled their work life blend the happier and less stressed they are. What does this mean in simple terms? Support individuals to achieve a fulfilled blend and they will be happier, less stressed, more likely to stay with you, work harder for you, and succeed alongside you. Blend makes all that more possible.

It’s time to ditch these outdated dichotomies: them vs us, ambition vs vulnerability, work vs life. Practicing blend and the culture that goes with it is how organisations keep themselves relevant to the talent they have, and the talent they need; how they keep pace with a society that changes according to the wants of the people who live in it. In the end, it’s people who will define your success as a business, and the best will want to work where they see their blend being achieved. 

To learn more about blend and how it can help your business please contact Open Blend Method at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and visit www.openblendmethod.co.uk 

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