We’re Not in High School Anymore: Moving From the “In Crowd” to Inclusive

Inclusive

The workplace can feel exactly like high school. You have the class brain that has the right answer in every meeting. The bored employee who likes to sit in the back, play with their phone and hope they don’t get called on. The social butterflies who are on every committee, organizing baby showers and charity events.  And of course, you also have the jocks.

Ah yes, the jocks. Let’s think about their role in high school. Usually they’re the most visible of all the students, eclipsing even the valedictorian and the troublemakers. They attract a lot of attention from fellow students, teachers and even people around town who come to their games. As such, they usually have the confidence to express themselves openly and they tend to launch trends or set cultural norms, like how to dress, act, or even how to greet each other. (e.g. “Hey man, how’d it go last night?”) While some students resent the jock’s popularity, others admire and emulate their behavior.

And of course, many jocks – accidentally or on purpose — intimidate or exclude those who don’t conform. The outsiders who don’t comply with the code of popularity often feel marginalized or even bullied.

That about sums up the jock archetype, right? I think we can admit that we’ve all seen these dynamics play out in the workplace as well.

Here’s the thing, though. In some ways, those high school jocks are as invisible as the class wallflowers. No, really. The jock archetype is so defined and well known, the spotlight so intense, that all the other traits are often lost in the shadows. This doesn’t always become visible until after graduation. I realized this when I thought about the athletes I knew in school; one went on to be a famous animation designer, while another followed a spiritual calling and became a pastor. And another jock started a hair salon.

These classmates went off the prescribed jock trajectory  – and it makes me wonder if they too felt limited or silenced in high school by the one-dimensional stereotypes assigned to them. It’s quite possible they didn’t feel able to express their true interests. Which makes me wonder if the workplace is just as limiting. Would our “jock-like” colleagues (or any colleagues for that matter) appreciate the ability to expand and exhibit other qualities? Are we too quick to assign roles to our coworkers and exclude or interpret accordingly?

For instance, if we view our project manager as the humorless “class brain” who never stops working, we may exclude that person from team-building happy hours. Or if we think of the sales team as a bunch of gregarious socializers, we might dismiss a complex product idea that comes out of that corner. It’s all too easy to quickly label an employee’s strengths and cast them into an eternal role, instead of encouraging growth and allowing for multi-dimensional interests. Let’s take the case for gender in the workplace, women may not always fit into the male-dominated jock culture (even if they were jocks themselves) and that can foster misperception, create a culture that makes women feel excluded, and ultimately lead to a lack of diverse leadership within an organization.

And it doesn’t only apply to gender. When one strong culture prevails in a workplace, everyone may feel obligated to play the same role, instead of exhibiting his or her own unique gifts and contributions. This article by Jim Dougherty explores how one office came to be dominated by “jock culture” and performed poorly. It wasn’t because workplace jocks are inherently bad; it was because the one-note focus on a certain interest (in this case, sports) created a damaging insularity that drove outsiders to disengage or leave the company. Eventually, the team performance withered without diverse points of view.

Groupthink is the opposite of innovation. Don’t get me wrong, cliques spring up in every big workplace. But when a good portion of your team feels disregarded because they don’t fit in with the prevailing vibe – or when they feel they must stifle parts of themselves to be accepted — productivity suffers. That wonderful synergy that comes from professionals of different backgrounds and interests blending their efforts never gets the chance to happen.

Take a look at your workplace and the roles your colleagues are playing. Maybe some of them would like to expand those roles, make surprising contributions or explore new development areas. So often when we think about talent, we think about finding the right people – but all too often there’s an untapped goldmine waiting right in our own office.

 

 

Global Work/Life Balance is an Outdated Concept: Today, It’s All About Setting Boundaries

Work/life balance became a buzzword a couple of decades ago. Everywhere you turned there were presentations, articles and self proclaimed “experts” all promising to help the overworked find better balance.

The thing is, I’m not so sure work and life are really separate concepts anymore. Isn’t work just another part of your life, just like family, hobbies, pets and whatever else is important to you? “Life balance” is probably a much more accurate term today, and people work every day to try to achieve this concept. It is a balancing act that involves harmonizing family with career, hobbies with the job, and health with work.

Sure, there are still the no-holds-barred leaders out there whose commitment to work eclipses everything else and there are those who think that’s the way it has to be if you want to be successful. Some of these people might even be happy with their life this way, who are we to judge? Many experts today still proclaim it is possible to have it all. However, what exactly does “all” mean? Well, as difficult as it is to say this: I don’t think work/life balance is completely possible. If you want balance, you will need to sacrifice something.

What we should be talking about isn’t work-life or life balance, but becoming aware of what’s important to an individual and helping them create the right situation and strategy for THEM. Work/life balance isn’t about being home at 5 everyday, it is about being able to accomplish what one wants out of life. In my opinion, it’s about setting the right boundaries. If you clarify what you want, create a plan, set boundaries, and manage it well, fulfillment in one’s personal and professional lives can be yours.

It’s all about boundaries.

To achieve life balance, you have to set these boundaries both in your personal life and your work life. An article in Harvard Business Review referred to this as making “deliberate decisions.”

It has to go both ways to work out. Global leaders often have to respond instantly to crises and sudden situations. Then again, sometimes your personal life is more important—your preschooler is in a theater production, a parent is diagnosed with an illness, or your eldest is graduating from law school. The fact is, when a situation with enough importance emerges (in business or personal life), we make time. And you know what? The world doesn’t end. This just shows that having boundaries and stepping away is possible. Planning is key and with proper boundaries in place, it becomes easier to give attention to all areas of your life.

  • Define “balance.” First, you have to know what balance means to you. Is it being home for dinner three nights a week? Only traveling a certain number of days a month? Climbing Mt. Everest someday? When you know what you want out of life, you can create a clear plan to achieve these goals.
  • Set boundaries at work. Once you know what you want, you have to set expectations in the workplace to achieve these goals. Maybe you’re home early three afternoons a week, but you’re available during certain hours after the kids go to bed. Decide what types of situations you really need to respond to, learn how to say “no” and delegate more to your team, or job-share with coworkers.
  • Be proactive at home. In some ways, this goes hand-in-hand with the above point. Talk to your family and significant other about what’s important to you but also address what types of work situations may require your attention no matter what. This can help avoid children or partner resentment when those events arise.
  • Walk the talk. Don’t preach life balance and then send emails in the middle of the night, regularly stay late at the office, and text your team members at off hours. Managers are often unaware how their own behavior unintentionally sets the standard for the team. People may feel they have to respond in the middle of the night, stay late until the boss leaves, etc.
  • Introduce your personal life into your work life. Back in the day, talking about your personal life at work was a big no-no, but now those walls are coming down. You see more and more amusing family anecdotes or personal stop-and-think moments being integrated into presentations and speeches. The more you make your workplace feel like home (as much as your company will allow), the more balanced you’ll feel at work.

As the late Zig Ziglar once said, “I believe that being successful means having a balance of success stories across the many areas of your life. You can’t truly be considered successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles.” The idea of work-life balance isn’t just corporate lip service anymore, but it isn’t really about having perfect balance either. It’s about creating an ideal situation for yourself as an individual – accepted at home and at work – so that you can thrive both personally and professionally.

For a workshop, webinar, or speaking engagement on How to Set Boundaries and Achieve More Life Balance, contact Melissa: melissa.lamson@lamsonconsulting.com