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micro skill

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2018 winners of the award at

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So, how are you managing your work-life balance?

For those of us who are working a minimum of 40 hours a week, commuting to work, have children going to school and involved in after-school activities, volunteer, coach and are trying to keep our personal relationship vibrant, perhaps the phrase “sweet agony” is the best descriptor of when things go well on any given day.

The concept of work-life balance doesn’t make sense to me, as it implies that there’s an ideal state. Though technically the phrase work-life balance may not be an oxymoron like sweet agony, most of us are burning a lot of energy to meet the needs and expectations of our lives at work and at home every day.

Ultimately, what defines our happiness with respect to managing the demands of work and life is how we can blend them. Most of us don’t live in two separate worlds where at work we focus only on work and at home we focus only on home. With the advancement of technology and instant communications, many people now are multi-tasking their roles at any given moment to meet the needs of their family and their employer.

This micro skill’s focus is on your capacity and flexibility for work-life blending with respect to setting expectations for both home and work.


On any typical work day, how many communications do you typically receive and respond to from family and friends? Repeat this question now for how many communications you get from work during your personal time.

Each communication is a distraction and requires time and energy to respond. Work-life blending begins with becoming aware of the expectations you have consciously or unconsciously agreed to for both home and work. There’s no such thing as balance; it’s about making choices that can potentially upset one party or the other.

For example, at your son’s hockey game a text comes in from a peer who needs your help to finish up a project at work for which they have an urgent deadline. They say it will take only five minutes and they need your help now. You text back and say, “Sure, but it will need to wait until the end of the first period, and I have five minutes – max – between periods.”

I know this example well because it’s happened to me more than once and I’ve learned that any decision we make can upset someone. If you don’t respond immediately you can upset your colleague, turn your attention away from your child’s game and you’re disappointing them. It’s in our best interest to pay attention and to assess risk. Work-life blending is about learning to make decisions that mitigate risk for upsetting one person and meeting the needs for the person you’re currently focused on. How we blend decisions with respect to time ultimately defines our sense of control and ability to blend the demands of home and work.


We each must define what’s important to us. It makes sense that for the average person both work and home life are important. It’s up to us to set the expectations for what we’re comfortable with and what people at home and at work will accept.

If you’re in a work culture that expects you to work many hours in your time away from work and this is having a negative impact on your family life, there’s a decision to be made – your can address your concerns or your can continue to be upset by it.

Our mental health and happiness are influenced by the decisions we make that promote well-being and those decisions that we make to resolve stressful life situations. Work-life blending success happens once we find the right blend of time and energy that meets the needs of work, home and self.


Create work-life blending daily, using the following coaching tips:

Set your limits – When off-hour demands for your time and energy come to you from either work or home, the first decision is how much time and energy you will invest. Once you know what you’ll do, set your limit. This sets a clear boundary and expectations.

Notify people impacted by decisions – If a work-life blending decision is going to impact someone, keep the lines of communication and trust open by notifying them, rather than having them wait or wonder where you are. A loved one will be much more forgiving if you say you’ll be 30 minutes late because of a work issue you’ve decided needs your attention now, versus no communication at all.

Ask for feedback – It’s hard to keep everything rolling 365 days a year. When it comes to work-life blending, it’s about paying attention to how your decisions are impacting your life at home and at work. One way to keep yourself honest is to ask people how you’re doing meeting your responsibilities and whether there are any concerns. It can be easy to blame work, but often we are the ones who decide to bring work home. If you ask and care about the response of your partner and children, check in with them to see how your decisions are impacting them, so you can consider this information next time you have to make a choice.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

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