By Carol Pandza, former SVP & CHRO, AmeriHealth Caritas
January 2024 – When I started working, cell phones, computers, and other “smart” portable devices didn’t exist. There was no email, no texting. The typical office worker had a set schedule, five days a week, 8 hours a day. It wasn’t uncommon for even C-suite executives to leave the office at 5pm to get home for dinner. Receiving a call after hours was rare and signaled that something was truly urgent and important. I had never heard the term “work-life balance.” Things have changed.
But…this is NOT a rant on how great it was in yesteryear and how terrible it is today. Rather, it’s a reminder to think about how to prioritize your most precious asset – your time – in a way that satisfies, both personally and professionally.
When I was CHRO and the Covid 19 pandemic hit, our HR, IS and other customer facing teams scrambled to broaden employee connectivity. We had to keep the business going for the people we served. We were grateful many were already connected, and we worked furiously to get anyone whose job could be done in a new way ready with devices, connection, and training. If you weren’t a believer before, the pandemic likely convinced you how beneficial this connection was.
As with most things, the benefits come with downsides. We need to use the tools rather than allow them to use us. But…how?
Here’s some good news: Most of us already know how to get the life satisfaction that includes the balance we need. We know that our needs change depending on what’s going on in our lives and what’s going on at work. When I was a young mother, I managed a team and asked that they not stop me as I was leaving the office because I had to get to daycare before it closed at 6, and more importantly, because my three-year-old son had asked not to be “the last kid,” a request that still pulls at my heart. They also knew that if they needed me, they could call later.
Sharing our needs and why we have them takes vulnerability and honest communication, both of which signify strong relationships and mutual respect in a work culture. So, some things to consider:
- Recognize that the change is real; things won’t go back to how they were before. The evolution is ours – we have to figure out how to deal with the new reality. Even before the pandemic, workers had complained they felt like they were “on call, 24/7,” that their “time off” activities were often interrupted, and they didn’t feel they could refuse to participate. Some who worked 100% of the time from home during the quarantine did not want to come back to the office, even in a hybrid model, although some of their jobs arguably had a face-to-face component. Some still don’t. Others feel free to take personal time during the day for a movie or a haircut, justifying this because they take calls and answer emails and texts on off hours. People’s expectations differ. Figuring things out isn’t easy. Acknowledging this is step one.
- Remember that the work is the boss. Consider what the job really requires. Some must have set hours and/or in-person work — think nurses, EMTs, law enforcement, chefs, bank tellers, wait staff, carpenters, electricians, etc. These jobs are less flexible because they are people facing and needed for safety and service. But even some of these roles are changing — who would have predicted the current reality of seeing a doctor through telemedicine? Other jobs are easily done with less time in the office, or even through 100% remote work. Job level changes expectations, too. People in higher level roles generally expect to do more. But this doesn’t mean they can’t and shouldn’t have a “real” life and regular down time. Every person, regardless of role, needs time to rest, relax, and do things they love.
- Invest in relationships, at home and at work. Prioritize getting to know your colleagues. Share your needs. Ask about theirs. It’s easier to discuss expectations, provide back-ups, understand differences, and plan to accomplish work when you have trust and open communication. It’s a safe bet that not everyone will have the same needs, desires, or work styles, and listening to understand differences goes a long way. People are likely to be responsive to your needs when they know you will reciprocate. Bosses can help by modeling the behaviors they expect – and by taking the time they need. The benefits? Improved morale, reduced burnout, greater productivity.
- Develop and prepare others to act in your absence. This is everyone’s job, but especially important for those who lead. Constant connectivity is anti-development. People can become used to calling for a decision even when the boss is on vacation in Maui, and some bosses may like that feeling of being indispensable. But this isn’t healthy for anyone. Leaders need to get people ready to be competent and confident to act when they are away – this takes planning and discipline. Some people put a message in their signature or subject line about their availability and who to call in their absence. This signals confidence in the backup and may be a good tool to consider.
- Remember that what we CAN do is not always what we SHOULD do. Flexibility works both ways. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice important times in your life or feel exhausted from constant work. But real emergencies happen, both personally and professionally. Sometimes you will need a hand, and other times you will lend a hand. Most of us have no problem rising to the occasion in such situations. But someone’s desire to complete a project on the weekend does not in itself constitute an emergency. And just because someone prefers to work from home does not mean they shouldn’t make an effort to get some face time when it makes sense and others value it.
So…what’s the bottom line? Devices and connectivity are here to stay. We need strong relationships, communication skills and discipline to manage them so they don’t manage us.
About the Author
Carol Pandza is an active consultant, coach, mentor, and writer. Carol retired as Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at AmeriHealth Caritas at the end of 2022, after serving there for over 15 years.
Carol led all of the company’s Human Resources functions during a time of unprecedented corporate growth, and brought over 30 years’ experience in HR with specialties in learning and development, succession planning, executive coaching, diversity/equity/inclusion, culture change, and assimilation for mergers and acquisitions. Carol and her teams developed tools for talent management, change management, and organizational development to address talent gaps. They also enhanced benefits for all associates and created an executive development program and a variety of workforce development programs to enable corporate success and employee wellness during growth.
Throughout her career, Carol has held a number of key leader and consultant roles for global and Fortune 100 companies, as well as for small businesses and start-ups, across a variety of industries, including healthcare, education, and manufacturing. Carol and her teams have won various awards, and have been recognized for work in diversity, equity, and inclusion, with Carol herself recognized as a top HR Professional.
Carol is a proponent of lifelong learning, and has a B.A. from Rutgers University, completed the HR Executive Suite Connection at Harvard University, and an instructional design certification from University of Michigan. She has maintained lifetime status as a Senior Professional in Human Resources from the HR Certification Institute since May of 1995. Carol primary areas of interest remain consulting, coaching, and writing.