No one on their deathbed ever said they should’ve spent more time working. So goes the old saw. But, judging from the amount of time people spend glued to their cellphones, one might wonder if that’s still true.
In today’s highly plugged-in business culture, where professionals at all levels are being tasked to do more with less, finding the balance between work and life can be next to impossible. Add to that the reality that much of our socializing is also tech-based, thanks to such computerized narcotics as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, and the line blurs even more. Today, that deathbed scene might very well include one last selfie.
Let’s face it. Work-life balance is a myth. Work trumps life virtually every time. And, it’s a costly choice. As life coach Regan Walsh wrote in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review: "Studies show that our brain and body have trouble distinguishing between the kind of stress caused by real danger (our house is on fire) and perceived danger (a boss with too many demands). In response, they release hormones and chemicals to speed up our heart rate, increase blood pressure and stimulate our muscles.…But, our bodies can’t sustain that level of readiness for long periods of time. After a while, they begin to break down. That can result in anything from chronic headaches to nausea and insomnia or more serious physical disorders, including heart attacks, hypertension and, of course, stroke." And, you were expecting a gold watch for your years of dedication on the job.
LIKE THE COBBLER’S CHILDREN
The irony of the work-life issue is that property professionals are on call 24/7 and rarely unplugged, even as they try to maximize the tenant amenities offered to reduce stress for building occupants. Clearly, it’s a common problem in this industry, but, happily, there are antidotes to overwork. The key is applying them.
Today, the concept of work-life balance, all the rage a decade ago, has virtually disappeared. "When people hear the word balance, they always think it has to be equal, like the scales of Justice," says Denise C. Webster, Emeritus CPM, president of WM Consultants. "To think you can balance work and your personal life means you’ll spend the same amount of time in each. But, you have a minimum of eight hours of work and, hopefully, eight hours of sleep. That would leave eight hours of downtime for a true balance," hardly a practical day for any property manager.
To trot out one more old saw, it comes down to quality over quantity, or as Webster puts it, "productivity versus relaxation. You’ve got two separate goals fighting for your attention."
Ideally, those goals shouldn’t be at odds at all. That’s why those in the know speak more accurately—and more tellingly—of work-life integration, which essentially means "how your life and work mesh," says Walsh. "It’s important that your values align with the work you’re doing and you can integrate the two things you love." Of course, perfect integration is often also a myth, Walsh points out, and there are times when each—work or your private life—will demand more of your focus. Like a pendulum, it might swing both ways, but it’s rarely in balance.
And that, in large part, is governed by the stage of life you happen to be in. Generally speaking, a 20- or 30-something new to the industry is more likely to be laser-focused on climbing the corporate ladder than they are on a house in the suburbs with a picket fence and swings in the backyard. A professional with growing kids, on the other hand, often will find themselves torn between the tenant meeting and the class play. And, the empty-nester might gain more freedom to pursue work—or other interests outside of work, for that matter.
It should be noted that four of the professionals interviewed for this article are married, and Walsh has young children at home. So does Andrew Romerdahl, MAI, CCIM, senior regional director of Real Estate and Construction for Providence St. Joseph Health. On the other end of the spectrum, Webster is a grandmother with freedom to pursue her interests, whether they be work or play. Melanie Colbert, principal of Operations with LBA Realty, is a newcomer to the empty-nest stage of life and is finding more time to engage in her career without the guilt of missing school concerts and play dates.
Work-life balance comes down to quality over quantity, or "productivity versus relaxation." Work-life integration, on the other hand, seeks to mesh life and work together and recognizes that, sometimes, one will demand more of your focus than the other.
And, that’s a good thing for Colbert, a self-confessed "workaholic," who, like many in commercial real estate, puts in long hours and is often on the road between properties. "I ask my people to work hard, but they know I’ll always be right there with them, leading the charge," she notes.
Before the nest empties, though, it can be tough to feed both sides of one’s life. Romerdahl just finished an intense time of shuttling back and forth between Providence’s offices in Seattle and Anchorage, Alaska, to manage those two regions while the firm staffed up in both. He saw it as an opportunity. "I knew what that entailed going in, and I knew the alternative was for them to hire another person," he says. "Rather, there was the realization that I could take on more." As most things in the battle between work and life, "it was a trade-off."
The downside of the trade-off was the three days a week minimum that he was away from family. In the course of the past year, he estimates he logged 180,000 miles traveling back and forth on airplanes.
A MATTER OF GIVE-AND-TAKE
The upside of that trade-off was the company’s understanding when it came time for Romerdahl to relocate to Seattle. "My wife and I agreed that it would be better for the kids to stay in school and postpone the move until the summer," a decision the company embraced. It should be noted, of course, that these types of decisions are more complicated in single-parent households, where being away regularly might not be feasible.
In the case of Providence, a healthcare company, it would be in direct contradiction of its mission to not support that end of the bargain, says Romerdahl. But, apparently, it’s also a mandate for real estate companies without that specialized focus. If tenant amenities—fitness centers, concierge services and the like—can be seen as antidotes to workplace stress, it makes sense that the company providing those services would practice what it preaches. According to Colbert, LBA Realty does. "Our managing partner says we can’t sell it if we don’t live it."
LBA’s corporate office is located in a BOMA 360-designated mixed-use development in Irvine, California, called Park Place, which the firm also owns and manages. It’s "highly amenitized, for the sake of all employees." Not only does the campus offer tenants bikes for rent, access to local hiking areas and free Wi-Fi, but LBA also hosts a "12 Months of Giving" campaign to encourage volunteerism, which includes a food drive and a fundraiser for the community’s homeless population.
A perfectly rounded life includes giving to oneself, separate of both work and family.
Such amenities provide a needed diversion from the stress of work, Colbert says, and many are geared to promote socialization in the working community that makes up the tenant roster. "You need entertainment areas with foosball or ping pong in order to relax and enjoy your colleagues," she says. Of course, those same amenities make staying at work more enjoyable and reset the productivity level.
That’s all great for work, but Colbert and Romerdahl both confess that they’ve been tweaked by their families to unplug. "To my wife’s chagrin, I’m usually on my phone from first thing in the morning to close to when I go to bed at night," says Romerdahl. "Old-school property managers will say this is a 24-hour business. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not eight-to-five."
"Work trumps the personal," says Colbert. "In my case, I know that’s true. When the phone rings, you step out of the restaurant or walk into another room to deal with whatever issue it is. My family accuses me of not being present. You take a peek at your emails and you’re all at once going down a different path." And, she adds, you can’t "do" both home and work simultaneously. "Multitasking is also a myth."
WORK: THE FUN PLACE TO BE
Whether you call it work-life balance or the trendier work-life integration, the implication is a comparison of two parts. But, our lives are much more complex than that, and a perfectly rounded life—in this wildly imperfect equation—includes giving to oneself, separate of both work and family. It’s enough just to juggle work time and downtime. Folding in "me time" can be as elusive as the Holy Grail.