Balancing The Scales of Work and Life

Do you know what it means when someone asks about your work and life balance? On its face it simply means the relation of time and resources spent on your professional life as it pertains to your personal life, how much focus does your work pull from your family or vice versa. Having a healthy balance between these two competing priorities has been shown to result in better job satisfaction and performance. 

ERG Motivational Theory

To understand why, we need to learn about a human psychological theory known as ERG theory. ERG theory was developed by Clayton Alderfer as a refinement of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. To quickly summarize ERG theory, it divides basic human needs into three linear categories, existence on the bottom, relatedness in the middle, and growth at the top. Each of these categories includes several needs, existence includes safety and survival needs, relatedness includes social interactions and relationships, and growth includes the need for personal development and esteem. Alderfer had stated that if one of these three categories isn’t being met then a person will invest more time and resources on an inferior tier, a regression into a category where they can control the fulfillment of their needs. 

Application of ERG in a Professional Setting

Now, if I can take some creative liberty with ERG theory and assign some very general descriptors to each group, you will start to see how this relates to work/life balance and performance. Existence will be labeled as “salary,” relatedness will be labeled as “family,” and growth will be labeled as “performance.” For a person to ever reach the performance tier, they must have satisfied the needs in their salary and family tiers. As an example, if an associate is not achieving their performance goals, or isn’t receiving enough support from work, they will likely become demotivated and regress into the family tier to seek comfort (relatedness). If an associate does not have their social needs met, they cannot possibly advance into the highest tier, or at least not in a sustainable manner. Instead, without that support system from your social team of friends and family, you regress into the lowest tier, and focus on things you can control, like your salary. Maybe that means you work extra overtime, dive deeper into your work, further alienating your family. This is not a formula for long-term success.

Existence is Futile

Earning enough money to survive is the most basic need and the foundation of many motivational theories, but associates solely motivated by money lack the ability to achieve growth. This is often the underlying factor in time theft cases where an associate’s obsession over maximizing income drove them to falsify time records. If you are fortunate enough to where you can live comfortably without having to focus so intensely on your income then you are more likely to shift focus to the next tier.

Family Comes First

To satisfy the second tier an associate must be able to achieve social needs outside of the workplace, whether be it friends, family, or being part of a community, this is a need that cannot be overlooked. True balance of work and life is found between the existence and relatedness tiers of the ERG theory. Once this balance is achieved an associate can turn their focus towards improving their mind, their body, and/or their soul. Through this growth an associate can realize self-actualization and hold themselves in high esteem, influencing great job satisfaction and resulting in superior performance. 

My Personal Experience Through the ERG Lens

Not even 10 years ago, I was stuck in the bottom tier, only focused on coming into work and getting a paycheck. My financial situation was so dire I was woefully demotivated and only focused on maximizing my ability to generate income. For years I worked 70+ hour weeks and was able to put a lot of money away in savings. One day I decided I didn’t want to live like this any longer and that I was more valuable to the world than just a paycheck. I moved over 100 miles away into a different state and bought a house with all the money I had saved. From there everything started to improve, I met someone who changed the course of my life. She encouraged me to never settle for my current state, it was her that motivated me to go back to school and finish my bachelor’s degree. I changed jobs a couple times trying to find the right fit, a company that understood the value of its people and was committed to investing in them. We got married and started a family. Now, I was beginning to meet my relatedness needs, spending less time at work and more time with family and friends. It took a little while to find that balance, but like any relationship there is give and take, some weeks I was away for work, others I got to work from home. Being present when both of my children took their first steps is something, I could never put a price on. Having satisfied the second tier, I am more focused on growth now than I ever was. I am currently taking graduate classes to acquire my MBA and always learning how to be the best father I can be.  

How Can You Achieve Growth for Your Associates?

As a business owner your team is the most important part of your product or service, if you haven’t realized that yet you should consider this; without your associates there would be no one to develop, test, manufacture, market, or sell your product and no one to provide service to your customers. There is a common saying in business of “customer first,” and while the customer is very important, their satisfaction should never come at the expense of your associates. In fact, customer satisfaction is ONLY obtainable through the satisfaction of your associates, happy associates do better work and make customers happy. 

People are an organization’s greatest strength

Invest in Your Team

Come up with as many ways as possible to invest in your associates. Provide them all the training they need to do their jobs correctly and efficiently, DO NOT HESITATE. Delaying training for associates is one of the largest mistakes a business can make. Encourage your associates to seek growth, offer tuition reimbursement, and help them acquire professional certifications and licenses. To quote Richard Branson, “train them well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so that they stay.”

Promote from Within

This is incredibly important, an organization that has properly mapped out succession planning and is able to advance associates from within the organization is able to minimize recruiting and on-boarding costs as well as training expenses. Associates who are promoted from within are already familiar with the basic operation of the business and do not need remedial level training on the way things operate. This also sends a great message to the rest of the team that with enough ambition and hard work you can move up in the organization. 

Embrace Flexible Scheduling and Remote Work

With the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 we have seen that most companies can continue to operate with a workforce operating from a remote location. If it can be done it should be encouraged to allow associates to work from home, the environment is less distracting and more conducive to error free work, completed in a timely fashion. Going a step further, get creative with breaking away from the 8-10-hour day schedule. Instead of asking associates to work a fixed schedule, let them define their schedule with the understanding that they must complete all their work. As a business owner do you want your associates showing up to the office when there is little to no work to be done? Or would you rather they enjoy the downtime with their families and friends so they can recover for when business picks back up?

Listen to Everyone

This is the last point but arguably the most important. Never think that you know everything, no matter how long you have been running your business there is someone out there with a great idea of how to do it better than you. You want those people on your team helping you improve your operations and your business. The worst thing you can do is shut down those associates and cause them to take their ideas elsewhere and potentially become a fierce competitor. If for nothing else, showing your associates that you value their insight and opinions will foster loyalty and respect. 

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