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When Work-Life Balance Feels Impossible, Managers Aren’t Measuring Performance Right

Toby Graham /
balance concept sculpture

The phrase “work-life balance” has come under scrutiny in recent years. A growing number of HR and business experts call it a “fantasy” or “myth” (or use more colorful language). Our always-connected world, they claim, has thoroughly blurred the lines between life and work—or maybe the distinction never really existed. 

And for those people who can differentiate between life and work, it feels practically impossible to strike a meaningful equilibrium between the two. There are only so many hours in a day. No matter how much time you dedicate to one or the other, work and life are in constant tension; whenever one flourishes, the other languishes.

But what if we’ve been thinking about this all wrong? What if, instead of measuring how many hours a worker spent on the job, we measured what they did with those hours?

Theoretically, that’s what managers are supposed to be doing. Yet, as Scott Behson writes for Harvard Business Review, the typical “performance review” is really just a measurement of “the quantity of work and of work hours in the office.” Because of this, he asserts, employees feel pressured to maximize their time at work, rather than their effort or the outcomes of the work. Workforce morale and productivity suffer as a result.

Adopt different management practices and these problems—including the seemingly impossible conundrum of work-life balance—start to evaporate: “Surprise, surprise: When you focus on measuring face time, you get…face time. But when you actually focus on performance, you get superior performance.

For example, Ryan, LLC has been lauded far and wide (and rightly so) for how they transformed its successful but overly time-intensive workplace into an even more successful firm that now couples its high-performance culture with respect for time flexibility.

It accomplished this transformation with a constellation of changes over a decade, but the central intervention was its new performance evaluation system. Instead of infrequent, subjective evaluations based largely on “time on task,” Ryan now has managers, employees, and teams develop a set of agreed-upon performance metrics that are consistently tracked. As long as these metrics are met and customers and coworkers are happy with their access to employees, managers at Ryan generally do not track office hours. Once Ryan made the change, some employees who had been receiving high ratings by working 70 hours weeks were revealed to have been less productive than many who worked fewer but more efficient hours. Turnover plummeted; satisfaction, engagement, and financial performance soared.”

Read “Work-Life Balance Is Easier When Your Manager Knows How to Assess Performance.”

Of all the employees who struggle with work-life balance, managers have it the hardest. Don’t make their jobs harder—and drag down your organization—by relying on manual HR processes. KPA’s software platform makes it easy to measure performance, streamline HR, and drive engagement and retention throughout your organization. Learn more.

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