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In my opinion, we should be really looking at work as a way to pursue our human potential so that we can enhance our relationships, our wellness, and other interests that we have in our life.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink, and with me is my friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan [Tinder] White Consulting, an HR consulting practice.
Our topic today is on blending work and life to realize potential. For years we have called it work-life balance, but for the last few years now, employees have responded well to the term work-life integration. COVID pushed organizations to not only allow it, but to encourage employees to do it. So what is the difference? Well, work-life balance is focused on keeping your work life and your personal life separate but equal, whereas work-life integration is centered on the belief that there is no distinction between the two and that both must coexist in harmony. Looking back, how did we ever strive for work-life balance? Balance implies perfection, which is rare. At least throughout my career, they were never in true balance. At times, I needed more time with my kids or being home, and other times I needed to be at work more often. Remember that I’m a CPA by trade, and that is a well-known profession for working more January to April than the rest of the year.
And JoDee, I felt like I never perfected work-life balance. I felt like I was never doing either one of them as well as I could or should.
Yeah, it was a battle.
Working against each other almost.
Exactly. I felt guilty when I was at work sometimes, and I felt frequently guilty and I was home not working. So yeah, not a happy place.
Right. Work-life integration involves blending both personal and professional responsibilities. Rather than viewing work and personal time as separate entities, busy professionals can find areas of compromise. This might look like completing household chores while you’re on a conference call, or bringing children into the office when the schools are closed. We’ve talked before that Susan and I both worked four days a week at times in our career. I know for me for many years, I would leave work during the day, volunteer at my kids’ elementary schools, and then go back to work. When I started Purple Ink 13 years ago, of course, my office was at home and I could set my own hours and boundaries. And I encourage all of our team members to do the same now. But the largest advantage of work-life integration is flexibility. When employees are able to properly coordinate their schedules and responsibilities, they are more likely to experience satisfaction in all areas of their life. On the flip side, studies have shown that boundary violations – so when work and personal life seek into each other too much – can also have negative consequences. When work-life integration is out of balance, employees may actually experience decreased satisfaction and productivity in both areas. However, in today’s remote work world, it can be difficult to maintain work-life boundaries in practice. For example, employees may be tempted to check their work email or answer a text from a coworker after they have logged out of their home office. Additionally, work-life balance may look different from day to day. Someone may need to spend more time at the office leading up to a big launch or they may need to prioritize home responsibilities to take care of a young baby or an aging parent.
Our guest today has a different way of thinking about work and life. Our guest is Dan Bruder. He’s the cofounder and CEO of Blendification. Dan created Blendification to harmonize work and life. Blendification is outlined in his book, “The Blendification System,” and it’s also a popular TED talk with over 225,000 views.
Dan, we are so glad that you’re here.
Thank you, I’m glad to be here as well. Looking forward to the conversation.
Great. So tell our listeners why work-life balance is a myth.
I think work life balance served its purpose, to create awareness around people spending too much time at work. And the unintended consequence of work-life balance is it created an adversarial relationship between work and life. So most of the time, when you hear people say, “I need more balance,” they’re not telling you that they’re spending too much time with their family and it’s time to go back to work, it’s usually “I’m spending too much time at work,” and they start demonizing work as this thing that’s taking away from what they really want to do in life. So as we keep focusing on work-life balance, we tend to create this barrier between work and life, and that’s actually unproductive, because we know that we spend most of our waking time in work or work-related activities, so if that time that we spend is not really contributing to the benefit of our overall life, we’re really living a wasted life. If you were to look at a pie chart, we really should be looking at how work can enhance our life, as opposed to putting up barriers and roadblocks to work. And there’s a psychological process that says how do we actually gain benefit through work. And I can give you some examples as well and how I’ve evolved on this, but essentially, that’s the work-life balance myth, is really that work is something that we should not like, something we should avoid doing and we should run from at all costs. In my opinion, we should be really looking at work as a way to pursue our human potential so that we can enhance our relationships, our wellness, and other interests that we have in our life.
You know, that makes such good sense to me. It’s funny when you said how work-life balance very rarely, it’s about, you know, “I need more work in my life, I need less life.” It shouldn’t be against each other. So thank you for that.
Yeah. And Dan, so we’d heard that word, that term “work-life balance” forever, and then people talked about work-life integration, and now you’re talking about work-life blend. Tell us more about what that means.
Yeah, I think work-life integration, that of course, evolved, you know, hashtag… hashtag work life integration, evolved from COVID and where people were actually forced to work from home, and I think most people looked at that as integration. So we’re integrating work into our home life, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. That’s an element of it, but what I’m talking about is that work can serve as an opportunity for us to learn, grow, and develop as a human being, and the tools that we take away from work can be applied at home. Now, physically, where we work is irrelevant. It’s what we learn from work and what we’re doing with work. For example, when I came out of college, I went into the banking industry, and they started investing in training me to become more aware of customer’s needs. And they taught me how to listen and show empathy and listen before speaking. And I thought, “Wow, that actually works pretty well with my girlfriend,” who is now my wife of 31 years. Later on, they started… I went and worked with Marriott and I went through change management, StrengthsFinders training, all these things that I learned from work, I thought, oh, my gosh, I have to steal all this, and take it and apply it in my home life. So if we just open our eyes at work, there’s plenty of opportunities to grow, learn, and develop. On the other side of that, leadership should be looking at, hey, my impact on people far exceeds their individual job and the tasks that they have to complete today. I’m actually impacting their ability to maintain a positive relationship at home with their spouse, their significant other, their children, their parents, and their community. And that’s what I think work can do when we blend work. So that… that’s not a physical blending of work. That’s work-life integration. Work-life blending is embracing work as an opportunity to pursue our human potential as just another source.
Boy, that is so powerful, and listeners will know that anyone who says the word StrengthFinders, like, rings a bell with me, as I always said – now they call it CliftonStrengths – but I tell people all the time that I became a better spouse, and I became a better parent, and I became a better coworker the day I understood CliftonStrengths. That was just a for me a powerful example, I think, of what you just said.
I agree. I recently, about two months ago, I went back to where I used to work at Marriott and I met with several of the executives who are actually, you know, former mentors, bosses, and such and I said, you know, “I have to admit that kinda stole a lot from you guys. It wasn’t physical things, I stole everything you taught me and I just… I absorbed it. I was like a little kid with my eyes wide open.” And it’s like, oh my god, I can’t believe you’re helping me with all these things I’ve struggled with in my life. And sure, they’re gonna help me better manage people, and maybe the company makes more money, but this is really… I mean, I felt very selfish. And I admitted to them that I was like, “thank you so much for giving me these tools.” And that’s how I look at work.
I bet they loved hearing that, too. That’s really a wonderful story. So Dan, could you give our listeners maybe some practical advice? Most of our listeners are HR professionals, business leaders. How can they help people blend their work and life?
With HR, I think this is really, really cool, because HR now has a seat at the table. When I was in the corporate world, HR was present, but it was marketing and sales, and it was product development that really controlled the narrative. HR now has a seat at the table at the executive committee. And now the question is, is how does HR really take hold of that and really become that trusted adviser within the executive committee. So I look at this back down to what is the probably the greatest problem facing business today. And I believe that the greatest problem facing business is that we have sacrificed connectivity in order to enhance productivity. So and connectivity is at the human level. So when we went into COVID, and everybody started working from home, I think everybody was so pleasantly surprised in the first three to six months on everybody’s ability to maintain productivity. But what happened is they separated from work, and they lost connectivity. Now, connectivity is kind of a delayed reaction. Productivity we can measure to the minute, but connectivity happens in the form of culture. And later on, we saw it in the form of resignations, in the form of loyalty, in the form of depression, in the form of suicide, anxiety, all these things when we lose connection to other human beings. So HR, and really the C-suite, their role is to create connectivity in order to fulfill or fuel productivity. So now the question is, how do we do that? Because now it’s not just about how do we measure metrics – it’s how do we measure metrics and understand the human connection. So the job of a leader is really challenging. So specifically, within HR, I think… and here’s what we… we believe, is that strategy is the tool that helps us create connection within an organization. So HR needs to be fundamentally involved in the strategic development of the organization. Because when we talk about human needs, humans’ desire… primary desires or needs are to connect and belong. So they need to connect to something meaningful, connect to other people, and belong to a team. That’s what we need. We’re tribal, right? And so that’s HR’s role. And strategy gives us the ability to outline that. And I say strategy – I put culture within our strategy block here. And if we can really identify and understand what our true cause, intention, our behaviors and habits as an organization which represent our culture, now we can actually build a plan to go there. So I think HR has to be fundamentally involved in the strategic planning process, understanding that this organization needs to fuel a basic human need of connecting and belonging. So that’s at the company level. So then underneath that, our employees are no longer connected to each other. We don’t know each other, because we’re working through Zoom. So I met somebody the other day, and they said, “I’ve never met my boss in three years, never seen them face to face.” And I think that’s almost… that’s kind of the norm. And when that happens, we don’t have a relationship, and we need relationships. So HR, one, has to be involved in the strategy, the macro-perspective of the organization. But underneath that, we need to basically foster communication in their jobs. Most HR – and I think this is good, but it’s… it’s just a fraction of a step. Most HR is going, we need more team building, so we’re going to baseball games, or we’re doing happy hours, or we’re doing all these team building events. But people aren’t looking for team building events. While that’s nice, they’re looking – when we talk about engagement, it’s about being engaged in work, not outside of work. So how do we engage people in their work, create a friend at work? So now the role of HR and really leadership is to foster and build connections at the lower level of the organization, connections between people. So two things. At the top it’s getting very, very involved in the strategic development, and then at the micro level, creating and manufacturing relationships within the organization at the employee to employee level.
Yes, I love it. It seems like maybe in the past technology has somewhat prevented us from connecting with each other, but you have a plan about how we can use technology to help us connect our work and our life.
Yeah, technology – you know, it’s one of those double-edged swords, right? So I look at it as technology has given us the ability to work from home and remain productive, but it’s also been the primary reason why we are no longer connected. So we can blame technology, or we can face the reality that technology is becoming more and more part of our life. In fact, there’s a… there’s a phrase that’s becoming more popular now called the Homo Technicus, and that is living with technology and really blending life and technology. And that’s really the next phase. So we can’t run away from technology. We can’t avoid it. We can’t just say everybody comes back to work on Thursday, and everything’s fixed, because technology is going to dominate the way we do things. So now how do we adapt or build technology that will foster better communication within the organization? And I’m not talking about just, you know, communication like Zoom. We need to evolve technology from a productivity-based tool to a connectivity-based tool, and that means challenging people. And fortunately, AI… and it’s been… it’s mind boggling. We’ve dived really deeply into AI, and so we see AI as a tool that will fundamentally change how we communicate. It will be able to challenge us, challenge our thinking, and enhance our thinking at every level of the organization. So I think… And what we are… we are deeply involved in is adapting and building specific AI technologies that enable everyone in the organization to become more connected to the organization. When we say connected to the organization, the organization is really about what its culture is, what its strategy is, and then how they execute on this stuff. And what we want to do is make sure that more and more people in the organization are involved in building that culture, setting the strategic direction or impacting that, and then participating in where it goes. Now, we couldn’t do that through traditional consulting means because, like, traditional consulting means are really reserved for the executive elite, because they’re the ones that will pay for it. But to pay, you know, X thousands of dollars for somebody that makes $20 an hour is not likely. But with technology, we can take AI – Artificial Intelligence – and go and touch everyone in the company, survey them, and ask them about what do they… What do they think the company’s strengths and weaknesses are? What do they think is impacting the company? And what do they think the solutions are? And this isn’t like the old, you know, drop box – suggestion drop box. This is a AI bot that has been trained to act like a professional consultant that adapts the way they communicate from an executive… they’ll be able to communicate with an executive at an executive level, but then also communicate with somebody that just graduated from college last week, or has no college experience at all. So we can adapt that. And that’s where we can take this high, fast, super impactful consulting information and take it to every single person in the company. And then when we do that, what we start seeing is people at all levels of the organization are becoming connected to the company. So that’s the problem we’re solving. So we talked about AI, that’s kind of that fancy, new, you know, shiny car. But the truth is, underneath this, what does AI do? It’s really creating a fundamental connection in the organization. And that’s really what we’re trying to do. We just use strategy and AI in order to do this, to extend the connection web to everybody in the company. And that’s when we start answering that true problem of people are now becoming more connected. And we’re doing it through technology, despite technology. And there’s another element of this, too, is… which I won’t get into, but it’s also connecting the individual employees through AI, too, and so now we’re addressing both of those concerns that I mentioned, connecting and belonging, addressing those through AI, and it’s really, really cool to see what we can do. And the pace at which we’re learning and building and designing AI-based software… It’s actually mind boggling. I’ve never seen anything like this. And I would encourage all your listeners that… And I teach an MBA class in entrepreneurship, and I said, “You guys, everybody should be looking at AI right now as the bigger than the internet.” So the internet… I look back at the Internet and I was like, that’s a tool, and I used it. But AI is fundamentally more impactful than the internet was. And that’s what I’m learning and it’s… and it needs to be the benefit of AI, it can really challenge and grow people at all levels of the organization, you know, the ones that are forgotten, and we need them in our organizations, we need to engage those people. And it finally… technology gives us that ability to do it.
I’ve got two questions for you based on everything you just said. First one is, so you’re going to use AI to survey employees to understand what’s on their mind, what’s their obstacles, what’s keeping them and going deep in the organization, where consultants probably couldn’t. Will the AI then help coach the individual so it’s not just gathering information? Is it responding back, creating community? What… What’s there?
Yeah, what we’ve done is, there’s an AI element to that, but ultimately, what we believe is that the coaching of employees throughout the organization should really be done through internal peer groups. So why don’t we use internal peer groups? We call them offshoots groups. And so we create offshoots groups with everybody in the organization, say three or four people, and then they end up using a structured process, that they they’ll watch a short video, and it’s not really AI-specific, because we then switch over to human behavior and say, let’s connect three or four people, let’s plan that conversation. So, say, 30 minutes a week about a specific topic of personal and professional growth. And then we create peers that now are helping each other grow. We don’t need a consultant to do that, because what we’re trying to create is friends at work. So we know, like, and trust the people at work. So we can use traditional software and technology for that. AI feeds that, but the primary thing is really getting down to the human side, because what we don’t want to do is rely exclusively on AI. We want to use that as a tool to connect people, but then ultimately, we need to foster the connection between people outside of the normal work, day-to-day, monotonous stuff, but really talk about, I think we can… we can get people together in an organization so that they can help each other grow. And by doing that, they grow. And that’s these internal peer groups.
So that really helps me with my second question was, I had to hear how you’re going to connect people. And so it sounds like you find… the AI is gonna help us figure out who has like issues, and then you’re going to clump them together and let them peer coach each other and hopefully through that they’re gonna make friendship and build some social capital, and then everybody wins. So, if I read that right.
Exactly. So it’s… AI helps with the connecting to the company. When we have to get down to the core, I mean, really, at the… at the minute level of the organization to create human connections, and we can’t, we need to use AI and technology to foster that, but there’s no substitute for people connecting, and that’s… it’s a pathway.
Thank you. Wow, that is super exciting.
What is one small step people can do in this area to create more joy at work?
I think joy at work is critical, because that’s really what we’re seeking. We’re seeking joy, fulfillment, empowerment. And I think there’s two different levels. So as a leader of people, leaders need to be looking at ways that they can create really friendships at work. Gallup talked about this in the Q12 Survey several years ago. And that really led to this disengagement, you know, where 60 something percent of the people are disengaged. So really, our role, in addition to creating productivity, is creating friends at work. So that’s at the leadership side. I’ll flip that around. If… For employees, employees need to be looking at work as a place where they spend most of their time and an opportunity to build a better life, not just financially, but intellectually, emotionally. I was talking to my daughter the other day, and she had a bad day at work, and she says, “I can’t imagine doing this for 20 years,” and I said, “Well, that’s the essence of Blendification.” If you can’t imagine yourself doing something for 20 years, you need to seek within your work or outside of your work ways that you can motivate yourself, and usually that is creating a way that I can learn and grow as a human being. So I think there’s a… there’s a leadership responsibility, but there’s also an employee responsibility. I don’t want to gloss over the employees’ need to open their minds that work is a place where they can grow, learn, and develop, as well.
Very well said. If our listeners would like to reach out to you to learn more, where can they find you?
Well, they can check me out on LinkedIn, our website blendification.com, they can reach out and email me dan dot bruder at blendification.com. Happy to have a conversation. I’m super excited about the opportunities that are that were that are in front of us. Clearly, there’s some issues with technology that we’re going to see, but man, we are at the cutting edge and at the front of something really, really special. I would love to talk to anybody about it. So reach out to me any way. And I have a TED talk that I did in 2017 before all this came became popular, and that’s something somebody might look at, too. It’s pretty… pretty interesting.
Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I know that I am really intrigued to follow this and to learn more about your tool and how to use technology to better connect with people.
Yeah. Thank you, Dan.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
JoDee, we have a listener question today. “Is retention different in corporate versus nonprofit settings?”
When I saw this question, my first thought was that there would not be a difference, so I did a little research on this, and I found that… I think we all know that turnover has been rising in recent years for all kinds of different organizations. Not only are companies and nonprofits losing talent, but now they have to hire and train new employees in their place. The 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that overall turnover was 57%. And that’s 25% if you just consider voluntary turnover, where people leave on their own, or 29% for involuntary turnover, where maybe they were let go, or they closed a location or shut their doors, whatever that might be. Again, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, government-related jobs had the lowest turnover rates, with only 19%, while the highest turnover was in entertainment and hospitality at 79%. That’s a huge difference there.
There was not one specific category I could find for nonprofits in general, but educational services were at only 30% turnover, and arts, entertainment, and recreation – and all of those encompass many nonprofits, as well as for-profit businesses – but they were one of the highest at 79%.
You know, my takeaway is that in the corporate world, people are there for a variety of reasons. They’re there to earn a living, they’re there for benefits, they’re there for the challenge, the growth, the development, but I think that when you’re a nonprofit, usually people are there… many of them are there for a mission. And so in addition to money and benefits and challenge and growth and development, they’re also potentially there because of a passion around the purpose. So it doesn’t surprise me that nonprofit retention rates are stronger. But I think that we all, whether we’re HR and a… or a business leader in a for-profit or not-for-profit, we gotta keep our eye on the ball. We’ve gotta… we’ve got to focus on retention, because if not, we’re not going to be able to do what it is we’re intended to do.
By the way, in my opinion, I think that government-related jobs having the lowest turnover is probably a good part due to benefits and stability. As much as we think our government might not be that stable, I think a lot of government jobs are very stable.
True, and… and I think some of them also, purpose is a real driver. You know, their dream is to work at the FBI or their dream is to really help underdeveloped countries and so on and so forth. So yeah, fascinating find. Thank you for taking that question.
In our in the news section today, Susan, I found a recent article that correlated flex time hours with well-being of our employees. I think we’ve known for a while that employees like positions or companies that offer flex time. I realize not all positions can offer this, but what I had not thought of, though, was the impact that this might have on an employee’s well-being. In a recent article from the Great Place to Work organization, flex time policies allow employees to build a schedule that matches their biological sleep patterns. I didn’t know, but Susan, 1/4 of the world’s population are mostly night owls.
I don’t know any of them, JoDee, because I’m never up.
And me, as well. But most of those night owls are not getting enough sleep. So when organizations offer flex time, which means they work their scheduled number of hours but have the freedom to alter their start and end times… Night owls force themselves into standard working hours at the cost of their sleep, and flex time hours, of course, allow them to start their workday later. Employees not getting enough sleep have lower productivity, are more likely to suffer exhaustion and/or make poor decisions, and also, they are more likely to miss work. So sleep is a very important part of our well-being, and anything we can do as organizations to help that will improve their well-being.
That makes sense.
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