Work-Life balance: Tipping the scales in your favor

Work-Life balance: Tipping the scales in your favor

by: Lt Col John Stratton | .
493 Fighter Squadron Commander | .
published: May 08, 2018

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- At my first commander’s call, I spoke about the importance of maintaining an appropriate work-life balance. Since then, I’ve tried to remain consistent, with both my words and actions, in driving this message home to my squadron. While I may not always appear to be emulating my own guidance, and I definitely struggle to maintain my own work-life balance, it is one area I am proud to say I was consistent over the last two years of my command tour.

As I attempt to strike the right work-life balance in my own life of military service, I find the best approach is realizing the work-life concept is best applied by making a qualitative assessment versus a quantitative assessment.

What do I mean by this? This is not about spending equal time at home and at work, or allocating equal time to all your activities. The qualitative (or “quality”) part of the assessment, and the right question to ask, is what are you doing with your time when you are at work or at home? What are you doing to be effective in that moment or activity given the time you have?

We all work hard and the military will ensure it gets every last drop of blood, sweat, and tears out of each one of us before we separate or retire. It is likely you have already spent a considerable amount of your time deployed, TDY, or otherwise “absent” from your family supporting high operations tempos at home-station. Some of it is controllable, but most is not.

Therefore, if you are looking to your supervisor, squadron commander, or wing commander to establish your personal work-life balance for you…you will be disappointed. As a commander, I find that I can only do so much. I do my best to set the appropriate climate and promote a culture for a healthy balance by controlling the things I can control on the schedule. I can even ensure someone works no more than an eight-hour shift, but this is the quantitative (or “quantity”) side of the equation. Even if you are working predictable hours during a Monday-Friday workweek, you will lose every time if this is your only means of assessing your own balance.

Knowing and accepting that you are going to work long hours, you need to shift your focus to the qualitative side of the equation. How do you do that? Show up and BE PRESENT! Engage in the task at hand and provide it your full attention. Whether that’s preparing for your next flight, studying to pass your CDCs, working on the Mighty Eagle, or if you’re actually fortunate enough to share a meal with your family or talk with your child about their day at school for a few minutes before bed - be present. Give that moment and activity 100% of your focus then assess the outcome by the quality of the time, not just the quantity of the time you put into it.

Focusing on the qualitative side of the equation, as opposed to the quantitative side, instills power. Don’t continue to be a “victim of the system.” You are responsible for designing and living your own life. Embrace it…own it…and see it through. Part of ‘owning it’ is also being capable of self-reflection and self-assessment to qualitatively analyze your own work-life balance. Be honest with yourself and know when things are getting out of whack…but also be capable and confident in your abilities of fixing it and bringing your life back into balance.

We are fortunate to have strong leadership within the Liberty Wing who value mission focus and job performance. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a force multiplier and mutually supportive of the leadership lessons and guidance our Wing Commander continues to instill. A healthy balance will continue to help our Airmen “be the wolf” and allow our commanders to keep “moving the chains.”

At my final commander’s call a few weeks ago, I tried to reinforce this message one last time by using Nigel Marsh’s 2010 TED Talk on this subject -- he is far more eloquent and succinct in his delivery than I ever could be.

If you have time, I encourage you to watch Mr. Marsh’s short presentation here:

During his talk, he provides 4 main take-aways:
1. If we want progress – we need an honest debate. Certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with having a meaningful relationship with a young family
2. Governments and corporations aren’t going to solve this issue for us
3. We have to be careful with the timeframe we choose to judge balance - 1 day is too short and retirement is too long
4. Approach balance in a balanced way

Tags: health, Balance, Work, Life, TED talk, Commander, military
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