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Episode 60:

Love as a Work-Life Balance Strategy

If you've ever used the term "work-life balance", this episode is for you. At Softway, we believe in something a little different. In this episode we break down the concept of work-life integration and why it is necessary to building a healthy workplace culture.

Speakers

Feel the love! We aren't experts - we're practitioners. With a passion that's a mix of equal parts strategy and love, we explore the human (and fun) side of work and business every week together.

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Jeff Ma

Host

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MohProfile

Mohammad Anwar

President

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Frank Danna

Director

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Transcript

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Jeff Ma
If you've ever used the term work life balance for any reason, this episode is for you. We have operated under a very different perspective when it comes to how work exists in our lives at Softway. And we think that you'll get a lot of value in hearing our perspective. In this episode, we break down the concept of work life integration, and why it's so important to a healthy workplace culture. Enjoy the show.

Hello, and welcome to love as a business strategy, a podcast that brings humanity to the workplace. We're here to talk about business. We want to tackle topics that most business leaders shy away from, we believe that humanity and love should be at the center of every successful business. As always, I'm your host, Jeff Ma, and I'm a director here at Softway, which is a technology company that helps transform company cultures. I'm joined by my colleagues, President CEO, Mohammad Anwar, hey, Mo How's it going?

Mohammad Anwar
Hey, Jeff.

Jeff Ma
And Frank Danna, Director at Softway, hey Frank.

Frank Danna
Hey, Jeff Mohammad.

Jeff Ma
Well, gentlemen, we're going to be breaking down yet another topic here in our in our little three man session. And today, I actually wanted to peel the onion a little bit on a term that we've heard a lot of, especially in the last year and a half since COVID. But even before that, it was always a hot topic. And it's the term work life balance. And I think we'll hear that you hear this term, all the time, in different contexts. I think most often you're hearing it in the context of complaints, usually issues, if you will, with work life balance, people, feeling that they have no work life balance, feeling that work life balance at a certain company is, is, you know, not there. So when people say work life balance, what they mean is too much work. Not enough, not enough life. And that's an issue for people. And so I know that we love as business strategy, a Softway and just in our philosophy, in general, have a bit of a different perspective on this. And so I wanted to share that with the audience today. And so Mohammad is always started way back before, this is one of our oldest kind of thoughts, right? Like this was before the days of our book, this is before even Seneca and a lot of philosophies. We had a perspective on work life balance that was a little bit different. How did that come about? Or tell us the origin stories of these, of our perspective on work life balance?

Mohammad Anwar
Sure, I think, I think the reality is that there's a misunderstanding of work life balance, right? Like, if you really look at the phrase for what it is, it means balance of work in life, meaning 50-50, 50% of your time, you're working 50% of the time, you're doing your life things, right. And the first misconception is, there is no life without work. Right? Like work is part of life, if you really think about it. Our work impacts our life, our outside of work, life and in work life, right? Like, if you have a bad day at work, it impacts your life, if you have a bad thing going on in your life impacts your work. So number one, that's all life, and you can't have a decent life without working to pay for your life. So it's like it's this is this, you can distinguish the two, our philosophy is that life consists of work. And we're not saying all of your life is only doing work or talking about 50-50 equilibrium, there is no way to achieve that. The reality is we need to treat life as life. You have ups and downs in life. You have things that happen in life. And that that moment in time, you can be like, well, this is the time of the David, this is not my life. So I'll deal with it when I get off because that's when I get to take care of my life. Because until then I'm a different person at work. And that's very difficult to achieve. You're telling this singular human to get to work and be a different person and get out of work and then be a different person because you're treating with his work life balance equation as two different people are two different scenarios and two different aspects all together. And what we believe is in work life integration. The reality is that life is consistent over work. You're going to have ups and downs in life, you're going to have seasons, where you need to take care of your family, you need to take care of yourself, you need to take care of your health. And you need to be able to prioritize more of your time for taking care of yourself and your family. And then they're going to be seasons when work might be where you may have to go and do a little bit more of work. And you have to make some sacrifices at home. But it's all about at the end of the day, having that ability to swing one way or the other four seasons and do it in a way that is healthy. Do it in a way that it's flexible, and allows you to adjust and be flexible to your life circumstances, life situations, where you are in your life and your journey of life, whether you are now a new parent with a baby, or whether you have aspired to travel or move to a different part of the country, or you have to go take care of your parents who are sick, or you want to go back to school and still have an income. How can we create work life integration, where we're not treating work as a separate aspect, but rather a part of your life? And how do you accommodate and create environments, where you have opportunities to have that flexibility. And that is something we have preached and tried to aspire for even six years ago. It's becoming more of a reality today, post COVID. Because now people have recognized that, hey, if I can work from home, and if I could take care of my kids going to school, from home, and I've had to accommodate all the life situations and still got work done. And I'm able to get work done and manage my life. Why do I have to go back to work? Why do I now have to be at the office eight hours a day? Why do I have to go up a go travel and commute to be at the office just to stamp in and stamp out my eight hours of the day that I'm supposed to be there because that's my portion of the work life balance. It just people are now recognizing that Wait a minute, that like it's not balanced is what I need. I need flexibility. I need the ability to take care of myself when I need to. And I will take care of my work. And I need to be trusted, that I will also take care of work because I believe it is a part of my life. I can't lead my life without work. Right? But I can't come to work and be fully productive if I can't take care of my life situations at home. So why not integrate the two and have that flexibility. And by integrate doesn't mean you're working 24 hours because that was you know, we had a copywriter who argued with me that work life integration means work enters your life. And I'm like, Oh my gosh, I don't know how to explain to you. But that's what I'm meaning. By work life integration means you have that flexibility of going back and forth based on the needs and demands.

Jeff Ma
I think I think that the term work life balance, one of the biggest problems with it is that whenever is used you think the context and you think of what it means. There's this inherent negativity to the work, like work life balance as it when you say I have no work life balance, you're inherently saying Life is good, and work is bad. And you're inherently saying that I hate my job most of the time, not hate maybe a strong word, but you don't want to be working. And yeah, I get that nobody no work is but by definition work. So you have to, you know, work at it. I have a friend who you know, a good friend and we hang out and we will we'll schedule things to do together. And I remember back earlier, he would, you know sometimes say hey, do you want to go do this? Or do that? Or do you want to hang out? Get on a game tonight or something? And I'll say no, I can't, I gotta I gotta jump on a call with with some folks in India to work on it work on a thing. And you know, it's late night and he's like, he's like, holy crap like that. At that time. I'm like, yeah, and then he's like, Man, this sucks. Your job is like, That's messed up of your job that you should find a new job like, he's getting really worked up for me. I was like, No, I was like, I don't understand what you're talking about. Because this is not nobody told me to do this. I run a team that I think it'd be very important tonight to align on on what we need to get done. And I don't do this every night. And I think that you know, tonight it would be a perfect opportunity to get this kind of work really kick started and I'm happy to do it. And he didn't really understood he just didn't understand that concept. He was just like, No, you know, you're you're like, he understood the concept that No boss made me do that. That no one environment impose that on me. And I think that's where it's hard for you to understand work life integration versus work life balance is that they saw Some people don't know any other world, where it's just, you know. And the reality is people, you know, yes, a lot of people don't like their jobs. But let's be real. It's not that you don't like what you do, you don't like people you work with, you don't like the environment that you have to deal with. And, Mohammad, you mentioned earlier that there's this inherent work self in our home self, that we have learned to very clearly delineate. The problem is like, if you have a work self, that's exhausting, like a work self is someone you just have to like, always be someone you're not it takes energy, it takes effort, it takes focus to just not be yourself for that much time. And so yeah, of course, you're going to feel the strain of work life balance, because, you know, an eight hour workday or whatever it feels so exhausting, because it's not the work is rarely the actual work that exhausts you, it's dealing with people in a way that you feel like you have to tiptoe around the politics, the the toxicity and just having to put on a front and a face and smile at people you don't like and things like that, these things. That's what creates the feeling of work life imbalance, when really what you mean is, you know, there's a, there's a culture that makes it you cannot be yourself and you feel the need to have a separation of work in life. Right. Agreed. It's, that's the end of the podcast to

Frank Danna
the podcast, that's the end of the podcast, I feel like, you know, what we've we've definitely done a Softway is okay, if you need to spend time with your family, do it if you need a lot, if you need to realign with friends, make the time. If you're slacking, or behind or not focused or need to step up and work, you do what you got to do. And life shifts when it needs to and work shifts to. And that's really, to me what work life integration means is that there's not this counterbalance, I'll take some coins from this side. Now I have to put other coins on this side to make sure that I'm balanced completely. It's literally the flexibility, like Mohammad mentioned. But you can't really have this type of integration without working for an organization that allows for that type of flexibility. Because it's incredibly difficult to take time to adjust if you're getting flack about it, from the people that you work with. Right? Like if you're trying to embrace work life integration by not trying to do less work, or more fight or whatever your whatever other people see as their perception, you have to have a committed culture that says, we believe in this and we recognize it. And that makes it to where you as an organization can actually create this environment. Because the outcome of this is people actually show up. refreshed, they show up knowing that they don't have to stress about their dental appointment. They don't have I mean, these things that people get really worked up about, I you know, I can't take two, two hours off to, you know, go get my teeth cleaned, that I haven't done in two years, because I've been afraid of how people are going to respond to react. Because it's outside, you know, like that, that literally happens. It happens all the time. Yeah, imagine a workplace. And I'm not talking about a physical office, I'm talking about a work environment, because you know, remote and hybrid is going to be here where you can do the things you need to do, and take care of the work that you need to take care of. And people won't judge you for it. That's, that's really what we're trying to achieve. And when you start with trust, like Mohammad mentioned, and you begin to practice these as a team, and as an organization, you start to see that you're able to bring your full self to work like Jeff, you mentioned, you're able to actually not have to turn on or off a work version of yourself because it's you. And that, to me is why this we should aspire to create this not just in this culture at Softway, but in all cultures and organizations. Because, you know, it's incredibly liberating. I think, once you once you remove the demands of having to create a perfectly balanced work and life relationship, it is a stress relieving thing. Please hear me on that.

Jeff Ma
Frank, I think what you said there bears repeating work life. The concepts of work life balance, work life integration are not within a person's mindset. It is in the culture of how a team or organization behaves, behaves. Yeah, absolutely. So like, like as software as an example. Everybody, this sounds weird, maybe to some people even here, but every if someone's not in the office or working remotely, or you know, everybody knows why. And it's like, I don't mean that as a bad thing. But it's like, oh, yeah, someone's their dog got sick, or they're out there taking a personal day they're doing whatever, then there's no judgement, no shame. It's like this accepted, kind of because we all know that Life is here with us alongside when we have meetings planning stuff, we're not just like, when we have sprint planning and stuff where we don't just sit and go, Oh, you know, you have three days out. And we say no, like, this week, I'm dealing with some stuff we talked about, even if we're not taking time off, we say, hey, this week, I have the kids, and they're going to be distracting me. And, you know, everyone knows that like, this is know that about me, because that's part of my work, my work will be impacted. You scheduled a meeting at 8am, I'm taking my kids to school to me, I'm going to take that call, I want to be on mute, I want to be delivered my kids at daycare. That's the reality. And I have your point, I'm accepted for that. And I'm forgiven for that. And I, I appreciate that. That understanding from others, and I extend that courtesy back to them, and I work extra hard to make it up for them. Because Because of that environment, you know, I think and I think people don't like how many people in our audience and just be honest with yourself right now, like just, you know, have recently or you know, whatever have called in sick to do something else, you know that when you're not sick? It's I mean, like, that's just so I know, friends and people who just that just happens, think about why you have to do that. Like, why do you call that sick? Yeah, take a personal day, to do anything, you want to just be a you're just fed up with what you have to deal with. And you need that space, which should be a fair and valid reason to take a break in the first place. But second, you feel the need to, you know, not look that bad. When you need that time, you need to still put on your work self persona and say I'm a hard working individual, a team player. I'm all in this. But I just happened to be sick today. Like, no questions asked. If you call in sick at Softway, everyone's gonna call it on you make sure like, Are you okay, can I? Like you better not be lying? Because, yeah, not myself, but your door with a care package? And you're going to be like, you're gonna you're gonna be like, Oh, I'm not actually home right now. Yeah, it's gonna be very embarrassing. So I mean, it's just, yeah, good.

Frank Danna
I was just gonna say, but think about it, you know, we talk. So you brought it to the behavior side, which is kind of where I was tiptoeing around. But it also honestly starts with leaders. So like, if you're thinking to yourself, okay, how does culture like this get formatted? How does it get created? How does it get established and pushed throughout an organization? It starts with leadership. And here's, let me give you an example. If you walk into a room or have a conversation with a leader around a group of people, and that leader says, a little like, like, a stinging jab at the fact that you're taking time to go to the dentist during work hours. Right? There, they're kind of like, and I don't know why I'm talking about the dentist, I literally don't know why that's the example I'm using. But just imagine, right? He, I

Mohammad Anwar
gotta get a pair appointment setup, right?

Frank Danna
I need I really do this, I do. But imagine for a second, that leader in front of others, sets a precedent by how they reacted to a situation, maybe it's not in front of others, maybe it's just to you directly. That's not something you do on company time. I'm anticipating that you're going to work extra time, as a result, whatever that needs to be. Leadership is ultimately creating the environment. And that behavior extends from the way the leader behaves, and ultimately reacts to an individual trying to embrace this idea of an inclusive kind of work life integration. And so at the end of the day, if you're if you're striving to create this environment, you have to ask yourself, if you're a leader, are you setting the right example for people to be able to do this for themselves? That's, that's, that's something that Mohammad, like you said, six, six years ago, we were having this conversation about work life integration, you know, even even a little bit before we really started to transition to our wrists. I wrote a blog about it in October of 2017. Because of the term you told me about, from work life balance to work life integration, you said that term to me, and I wrote an entire article about it, because it blew my mind. Right? That was many years ago. But it started with making, making focused changes in the way we behaved around life experiences being a part of work. And I feel like that's, that's the ticket. That's the key is leaders actually do set the tone in regards to how this is perceived and ultimately explored inside of a company.

Mohammad Anwar
I remember back in 2017, Jeff used to bring Cody into the office when Yes, here. Yeah. Cody, when he had no care caretakers for his baby or anything like, you know, he would, I mean, there was no for us. We didn't force him to bring Cody but he chose to bring Cody to take care of his His son and feed him and take care of him change his diapers in the middle of a work day in our work office, it was actually a very welcomed.

Jeff Ma
Here's the mindset, the mindset behind that it was it was there was like some critical projects going on. And I it's not that I didn't want to fail, I didn't want to let my team down. And I knew that there are certain meetings or things that I could have stepped out of, I could have said, you know, today, due to circumstances, I'm stuck with the kid, I might call in here or there or whatever. But I really am out for the day. And I would have felt comfortable doing that. So those circumstances were truly like, I want to be here for the team. And I know that this is an environment that will also be welcoming of weird circumstances. So I was really happy to bring my son in. And he was a newborn. And he, you know, slept for a lot at times that worked out as well. But there are some meetings where I'm just like rocking a stroller that we had these big conference rooms where I'm on the end with a birth cloth and a baby on my shoulder. It was great times great memories very weird. With my second child, I did less of that, because I was like, now now it's two. So I'm not bringing two in different. But Jeff, would you have done that?

Frank Danna
If there would have been any sort of any sort of behavior from Mohammad indicating that that would not be acceptable?

Jeff Ma
I mean, of course not. But I think it's key for me to highlight how much of like, that was, I don't want people to hear that and get the wrong idea. It's like, like, they're dry like this is this is why I can't share with like, my friends just don't get it sometimes. Because they're like, wait, your company's driving you so hard that you have to bring your kid in, instead of taking the day off. I'm like, No, like, you have to understand that the only reason that happens is because the culture around me was one that was warm, welcoming, and one that I wanted to make sure that I didn't let down. And so it wasn't like Mohammad goes, Hey, I know you have the kid. But you need to figure out a way to get this work done. And I'm like, Okay, well, how do I bring my kid? And he's like, fine, because that's not how it plays out. It was it was literally like, hey, Mo, do you think it's cool? If I run the kidneys, like, absolutely, we'd love to see that kid. And then I actually ultimately lowered productivity of the overall team, because many members would come and play with my kid for hours. And

Mohammad Anwar
I would argue that that it actually was a very pleasant distraction for everyone in the office and got us to actually feel really good. And got us to be energetic back at work. So people wanted that distraction. And it actually got us to like, have a break and be productive. It was actually very nice. So Jeff, that is wrong.

Frank Danna
You got to fail.

Jeff Ma
I'll make more I'll get to work. I'll make more kids, just just for the productivity of Softway.

Frank Danna
Oh, that's it. Like literally, Jeff, when you brought Cody in before you got the stroller through the door, someone already had him in their arms. Like literally it was. You're like, Where is Cody? And it's just he was just being taken care of like it was wild. Anyway, I remember that I

Jeff Ma
was, there were there were definitely chunks of time, like large things I should chunks of time that I shouldn't admit to where I didn't know where my child was. But I trust I trust you anyways.

Mohammad Anwar
Something like isn't that isn't that very, the same thing happened. As soon as COVID hit there was locked down. You had kids with you, we had to work with the kids around us, it actually prepared us to be prepared for COVID situation,

Jeff Ma
I was just talking to another person who works somewhere else like about this, like, like how I'm always blown away by the stories of like, struggles of other people's transitions to COVID time, it was a crazy transition for all people in life. But from a Softway perspective. Like it, it was not that difficult to be honest, to translate kind of our, our underneath the surface culture, to the new environment, overall, because of things like that, like there was already an understanding of what was acceptable, like in our culture and things like that there's less of this, you know, we didn't work remote before, but it seemed, for me at least very, very seamless.

Frank Danna
And I think for others that that had that had this, the shock of having to deal with family, it created a much more a much better understanding of having grace for people. And, and so now I feel like like you mentioned at the beginning, Mohammad, people have actually started to recognize that work and life are really way more integrated than we've ever thought they were and these barriers and these perceptive walls like this, these walls of perception that we've put up between both of them have started to really come down. And that is important that people have gotten the chance to feel it. Right. It was almost a forced necessity and as a result of that, it's changing work. But the, you know, what we encourage people to do is continue to strive for work life integration, even in even in the perception of how you see yourself in work and in life. And, and that also does create this opportunity to remove stress and anxiety, knowing that you're able to properly just be yourself throughout

Jeff Ma
Moh. Let me ask you a question, though. What if I come to you and I say, Great work life integration, I'm a leader, I'm a another CEO, it's great. But I know that when I start, you know, just being nice to everyone and letting them take whatever time off they want and doing their personal, I know that people are gonna start abusing this, they're going to start taking personal days, whatever dropping their work. Like, that's why I can't do like, you know, I'm not going to go in this direction, because, you know, this is easily abusable. How am I supposed to get keep my team? productive? if, you know, life is, you know, this valid reason to just slack off? What do you say to that, that that leader?

Mohammad Anwar
First of all, I will say that it's unfortunate that you're painting everyone in the same light that as though everyone would abuse it, or everyone would slack off? I think there's some realities to it, it doesn't mean people won't take advantage of that type of an environment. But that's where your culture comes into play is like, what kind of culture do you have? What kind of relationships do you have inside of your organization that might lead people to abuse that, that that freedom or flexibility, right, and it starts with you as a leader, having trust and assuming good intent of your team, if you're going to start with an angle of, well, I don't trust my team, I do not believe they have good intent, I think they will take advantage of this, then you are the one who has to change your perspective. Because you need to approach this from an angle of assuming good intent of your team and trusting them. Now, if there are people who take advantage of your flexible policies, then address them one on one address that very person, you know what that takes, that takes courage to be able to address that one person and not punish everyone, for the acts of you very commonly, when leaders will change policies and protocols for the entire company, because some one person abused the policy. I look at that leader and I think, are they just not courageous enough to address that one person too, they just decided to change the policy for everyone. You know, I heard this one story. You know, you know, they had a strong shift time in his workplace. One of my, I worked out with this person. And he said he had to show up at 530. Every morning, at at 6am, they would have a, you know, a meeting to talk about their cases and what they needed to do. And the boss would come in every day. And in the morning at six, and the first thing he would do is yell and scream at everyone, because somebody showed up late because that one person showed up late, everybody else had to listen to this guy yell and scream about how you better show up on time, you guys better come here in time and 90% of them are there on time at 530 in the morning. It was just because of the one or two people everyday the whole team got a chewing, yelled at and he's like, is this crazy? Like, I just wish my boss had the courage to talk to the people who were abusing the responsibility they had instead of us having to constantly hear, you know, get punished for the act. A few so similar vein, Jeff, I would say like, first of all, you don't know that people are going to abuse the policy. That's just your assumption. Secondly, you're assuming bad intent of your team. While there might be a few, you can't paint everyone in the same perspective. And yes, you need to address those people. And you need to have the courage to go address that person. But you got to give everyone else the genuine shot to take advantage of the flexibility because at the end they are going to do what is needed for the workplace is to trust yourself and your team.

Jeff Ma
That last piece is huge for me Moh, like i think i think work life integration that two way thing where if you do it right, it's not just a free for all vacation policy. It's also a permission for people to go above and beyond and work as well. Like, quick this top my head right now quick shout out to Maggie McClurkin, our executive producer. I worked on a team with her on a long time ago now but I'll never forget Because we were like kind of CO pilots of this team that we're working on in, you know, just because it'd be a great way to like get going on that sprint and working, we both decide that we meet at like eight or 9pm that night, just to work out some details and stuff like that. And that was an incredibly good time. Like, I go back to the culture like we met, and we got, we just got together, we got focused, but it was like having a call with a friend or something like not just because we at the time, we weren't necessarily even like, you know, that close, we were just both have the same mindset of like, Hey, we work in an environment that, you know, work life integration, we can work during, quote, unquote, lifetimes, as well, as super super, really productive work, we got a great meeting that we felt really good about setting things up, right, that way, it made our relationship better made it easier to work from that point on as a launching point for a lot of things. And I love that moment. It's just an example of how like, it works both ways how we were willing to put that work in integrate it into our life, and it made a big difference. So that was a great conversation. And once again, thank you, Frank, and Mohammad for joining me in this conversation. When it comes to work life balance, hopefully we gave a little better perspective how we look at it. And maybe you where you're wherever you are, the organization can find a way to consider work life integration, possibility and what that might look like for you and those around you because we really believe in it. We think it's a game changer. And yeah, with that, thank you for listening. Thank you for following us. Our book, I'll always keep plugging, because I'm proud of it. Our book is on Amazon and all book retailers. It's a best seller on USA Amazon and Wall Street Journal here at Love, love as a business strategy, the podcast, we are going to continue posting episodes every Wednesday. If you like what you hear, please do share with a friend. Give us a review, and all that good stuff. So with that, we'll see you next week.

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