My husband is a better cook than I am.
And—despite the delicious salad dressings and smoked meats he’s known for—sometimes it stings that he’s a better cook than me.
All this time, I thought I was supposed to do the cooking.
Because I’m a woman, and that’s what I’ve always done.
I feel inept when I’m not in charge in the kitchen when I’m not the one with the dinner ready right after work.
But I make more money (sometimes)
And that’s not always easy for him.
Men often carry a deep pressure and expectation to support their families financially.
Our identities—the stories we tell ourselves about our role in the world—are intrinsically linked to how we work and relate to others.
It’s hard for couples to balance their work/life identities.
And it’s not just me.
80% of women and 70% of men who are in a dual-career couple report struggling with the demands of balancing their home lives and each other’s work.
Clients often bring up their relationships even though they hired me as their professional coach.
The other day I was working with a client about his leadership career, yet we ended up talking about his marriage.
“During the pandemic, I had to become a hero at work,” he told me.
He’s the Operations Director at a travel company, so when COVID-19 struck, he was full bore in the hurt locker, putting in extra hours—which he’s been doing ever since.
“It’s been super stressful, and I’ve hired you because I’m about to burn out,” he went on.
“I don’t know if I’d be here today if not for my wife’s steady support. And at the same time, I worry I’m putting added pressure on her. She’s the CEO of a non-profit facing big change.”
He explained that they have two kids at home—life for this client was a real roller coaster.
“But—and I’m feeling terrific about this—I’ve just hired some help so I can lean in more around the house and be there for my wife.”
Is this how it works?
Our need for human connection is primary, and whether we are married or single, gay or straight, CIS or Trans, we must balance our efforts to build families and homes with our efforts to earn money.
Money we need to pay for our homes, provide for our families, and support all the other things we need to live.
Money is why most of us work in the first place.
But how many employers talk about their employees’ lives outside of work?
I know quite a few leaders who act like there’s some invisible, invincible door and that their lives evaporate as soon as their people walk through. They’re here to work now, and that’s that.
This boundary is why many employers justify stances like, “don’t bring personal baggage to work.” It’s because, in their fantasy worlds, work and life don’t interact.
“Work/life” balance is a croc.
All of it takes place in the bounds of our life, our limited time on earth.
Rarely do we expect employers to think this far into their people’s lives, let alone hold them accountable for caring for their people as people.
Instead, we quietly work our issues out alone, in the privacy of our relationships. And when it gets so hard that we break, we think it’s a personal failure.
It’s not a personal failure when work is too much to handle
The truth is, we need the support of our community, as people, and as workers.
And it’s not just primary relationships that have to navigate these challenges. Single people also have to take care of their home, health, pets, extended family, and friends, and it is often harder to figure out in the context of a full-time job all by themselves.
We must think and talk about how our communities support our results at work.
Organizations of all kinds have tended not to think about or prioritize the importance of our home team to the organization’s success, but they should.
When my husband cooks and I don’t think about it, I have more bandwidth and energy to do valuable work.
When my kids were young, a whole league of people enabled me to start my business and their Dad to do his work. It required nannies, pets, our parents, neighbors, and friends—many unpaid.
The arsenal of people who have supported me enabled my business to thrive as a result of my focus and hard effort.
This support has enabled my children to be healthy and educated, my elderly Mom to die having been cared for, and my community to benefit from my volunteer efforts.
Leaders need to think about who supports their people and support those people.
If you or your organization claim to care for your people or if you want a competitive advantage in today’s ruthless hiring market, consider who supports your team.
How can you support those people?
Here are four ways to shift your people policies into high gear
- When designing your benefits, consider ways to support the people behind your team members. Things like hybrid work arrangements, flexible work hours, asynchronous work options, on-site child care, child care subsidies, elder care subsidies or support, pet care or sitting opportunities, home cleaning and repair grants, energy credits, in-house travel agents, mental health resources, new parent and doula support go a long way to make your people feel seen and valued for the lives they’re trying to create for themselves. Benefits that make your people’s lives easier—not just their work—go a long way. It’s okay if you can’t provide all these; survey your workforce to find out which ones matter the most to your people.
- Know who is on the home team and include them when you can. From the first interview to the time someone leaves your workplace, expend energy and effort to get to know whom your employees depend on ( and care about) outside of work. Celebrate them when an employee wins an award or incentive. Thank them with care packages and cards for milestone employee anniversaries. Include them in company events that make sense, introducing them as part of the community.
- If you are a manger with other managers you support, train them to become really good People Leaders. Employees feel their organization’s culture primarily through their immediate manager. Even more than you, the people who manage your teams directly need to make it their business to know and care about the people that make their employees’ home lives tick. Great People Leaders understand how important it is to appreciate their workers’ lives outside work. By doing so, great people leaders build the invisible but powerful connective tissue between employees and their organization, creating feelings of respect, inclusion, validation, and appreciation. Train People Leaders that this is how you roll—it may not be instinctual to them and showcases your culture in powerful ways that matter.
- Encourage ambition by making top positions seem feasible. Fear that being a Chief Executive will be too hard for their families is the #1 barrier for men and women to pursue promotions to senior leadership. Watching legions of leaders sacrifice meaningful home life for their careers is off-putting to most of us. The Harvard Study of Adult Development (the longest-running study of what keeps us healthy ) reveals that close relationships, more than money or fame, keep people happy throughout their lives. The younger the workforce, the more true this rings.
Happy = High Performing
When people feel soulless, when work becomes trading time for money, people become lifeless. They become parasites on your organization, sucking away energy and resources.
Plus, it’s simply inhumane.
By considering the rich dimensions of their lives, People Leaders can help create a more engaged, caring world at work.
We must do so.