Hey Boss, What About Work-Life Balance?

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Categories: Career Help, Leadership

The last hypothetical I posted, Is This Your Project Stakeholder? attracted a wide cross section of responses.

It made me wonder what you think of this real life experience (only the names have been changed):

Sebastian is a highly competent, upwardly mobile executive and your boss. He works 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and is a very detailed person. He proofreads everything, making copious corrections and is also studying for his second master's degree.

You have found the best time to approach Sebastian to discuss anything is after 8 p.m. when the office is quiet and he is working on his studies. In fact, at this time of night he seems to appreciate a brief chat.

The problem is you have a "life" outside of the office and feel 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is a very fair day's work.

How would you approach building rapport with Sebastian to allow the discussion of important project issues and enhance your career prospects without waiting until after 8 p.m.?

I will review all comments and based on your feedback I will suggest some solutions in my next post.
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 05, 2010 11:24 AM | Permalink

Comments (44)

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Chris Walters
I'd personally be worried working for Sebastian in that his life doesn't appear to have much balance, and he will need to be an exceptional individual to recognise and respect that different individuals have different "business cases" for working hours. It's no good being a permanent superhero if in the long-term you can't sustain that level.

However to make the relationship work on my terms, I'd suggest a lunchtime "walk'n'talk" or sandwiches in the park which give a number of benefits - it will get Sebastian away from the detail he seems to be trapped in (how many really successful executives can stay at that detail level, and with the right breadth), give him a bit of fresh air to energise him, and also "trap" him for a bit of quality time.

Maybe explain to him that you don't really function effectively after 6pm and so any conversations had then you would be distracted thinking about the kids bathtime or whatever. Tell him you value his time and want to use it effectively. If you're an older worker, you may be able to have the discussion about sustainable leadership, based upon your own life experience.

Also you need to recognise that whatever your personal WLB tolerance, project management is a "peaky" job in terms of effort, so you need to be very careful to demonstrate commitment to the cause when it will really have an impact to the outcomes.

As for enhancing career prospects, let your behaviours and results do the talking rather than your brown-nosing.

I have, unfortunately, lived this scenario... or at least one very similar. I found myself picking one day per week to work extended hours to bring my manager up to speed on the important issues. It worked for me.

Maureen Gan
Some situations require management and bosses to be busy like these. For me, I like to ring him and tell him what requires his attention.

Alternatively, if he suggests a convenient time within his work hours to meet and discuss, then, I would be there with the required preparations.

Maureen Gan

Akinwale Akinola
Interestingly, I was in a situation like this until my last job which ended December 2009. My own Sebastian had the habit of sending for you if he knows you're in the building, even before work commencement which is 8am. He was a quintessential workaholic. Anytime I needed to have an audience with him for project related reasons, I get to work before him and accost him before he launches into his schedule. I also wait to close late in case there is any feedback from him. Such a day is an out of balance day for me as far as Work-life Balance is concerned. I see it as the cost I had to pay for working with him.

Rajkumar Subash
How about an office hour every day. A small window for which Sabastian sure available for any issues. Besides this, Sabastian anyway should work on plan to balance his work and life. He can't do this all the time, which will bring down his efficiency.

Christian Bryant
Everyone has different approaches to this issue, it seems, but few actually accept that there is a need in some fields for that 6AM-10PM person. After thirteen years in the software industry, generally in the area of development or service support, I've come to understand that 60-70 hour work weeks are often a requirement, not a choice. I work in the healthcare industry now, though still within IT, and nothing's changed - in fact I've pulled a few 80 hour work weeks during a hospital transition, and during a data center outtage. I know what you're thinking: As a PM or Engineer? Well, as a PM... I think the phase of your career where hours are really analyzed carefully is prior to entering into a new job, when you look at the landscape and norms of the industry you're in. Your choices are often to take a lower paying job knowing you'll get to work 40 hours a week, or accept that you are going to make sacrifices for your paycheck. I believe good work requires such sacrifices. My bargain with my wife has always been, I work at home when I can, and in the evening when she and the baby are asleep. Tough, but so far so good. Cheers.

Anton van Rooyen
One of the biggest issues in any company is that of company culture, it works top down. Having a boss that has no balance and no respect for the aspect of quality-work-life of the people that work for him, is very difficult in a time of scarcity of jobs.

I also have a Sebastian that I work for and it is all about “Sebastian” god in himself, who wants to show the rest of the world he is the great "Sebastian". If you don’t respect your own family life you will never be able to respect other people’s family lives.

How do you deal with it? You make an appointment within normal company work hours, (get a few time slots from his secretary), or if he likes to deal with it himself then you tell him that you have the following times that you can discuss it the issues with him. Give him an agenda of what you want to discuss and the time that you will need for the discussion. Should he insist on having the meeting after hours then you have to subtly indicate to him that it will impact on your family time and that you normally help your kids with homework during that time.

Scott Nobel
In this scenario, I would make a point to catch Sebastian first thing in the morning before his work day started to review his issues. Additionally, I would attempt to schedule a time to review his comments as I turned in the associated work.

In today's work environment with BlackBerrys and 24/7 computer access to work, it seems as the work day is non stop.

Scott Nobel, PMP

O. Nicholas
In such and similar scenarios I would set up an appointment on his/her calendar - just like any other meeting to discuss shop-talk. If this works then I would make it repetitive practice. Else, I would find that '8 PM' time slot on select occasions and have a heart-to-heart conversation about balancing work-life activities.

Anil Kumar T B
As others have mentioned, this is a tough scenario and a strange BOSS. But, as far as my working relationship with him is considered, I would say since I am managing key projects within the company, and he is the owner of the projects, I would be valuable to him like any other customer and having focused meetings is imperative to keep the projects healthy.

In the above situation, I would fix up a brief 15-minute meeting with him on his calendar, say on a Tuesday and Thursday morning. So,this would be on his calendar like any other meetings, it's short and I would make sure it is crisp as well and this would ensure that both of us get the necessary face-time to discuss project issues. This would be my approach if I am working with such a BOSS.
Thank you. Cheers :)

Janet Carlton
I lived this situation and found that there was no good alternative to waiting for the evening opening for conversation. I used email to ask urgent questions that needed a quick answer, or placed a quick phone call to "Sebastian" during the day for that purpose. He would respond to those.

For the times I just had to wait, I would stop working on "work" at a reasonable time and do something personal while I waited such as reading a book, making a personal phone call, or taking a walk.

As a project manager, you are likely to have to be somewhat flexible with your time, especially if you support geographically dispersed teams. You could try setting up weekly one-on-one meetings with "Sebastian" and see if that helps to get you an audience during regular working hours.

I have always heard and tried to follow that without God you are nothing, without health you are not effective, without family you have no support and without a job you have no way to provide. Keep you priorities straight from the top down.

I would talk to him , moment such delays on his part becomes a routine thing. If he still continues to show disregard towards my time I will discuss the issue with my next superior. If company has 360 degree appraisal policy such behaviour of the bosses come to the notice of the superiors.

Practically I often had chance of working such bosses and my strategy had been to make it amply clear in the beginning itself both in words and action that I will not like to discuss after working hours except in exceptional cases.



Hi Lynda,

Thank you for your entry, I had the exact situation with one of my managers, she was a consultant so she had to put in her 11-12 hours during her on site time and she would only want to chat after 6 or 7 pm which is what needed to be done if you wanted to build a good rapport with her.

The way I approached it was, I would chose one day in a week, not necessarily the same day every week, when I would come in a little late (if possible) or take an extended lunch break to get some errands done (or cooking) and then stay back till 9 or 10 pm that one day.

I didn't go looking for her, but she instead started looking for someone to chat with, or I would stop by later in the evening to make small talk.

It worked like a charm!

Good luck, Pranjal

Oshodi Abiodun
I am still working under this same situation. My Sebastian works 6 am till 9 pm and sometimes he expects you to work at the same rate. Fortunately I have a lot of access to him and as such am able to interrupt his day as I will. The downside is that he forgets sometimes what we have discussed during such interruptions. So I email him a summary of our discussions immediately we have them.

Also if a favorable and immediate response from him is required I usually join him in the morning or wait till late to discuss this issue.

Tom G, Philadelphia, PA
The subordinate has ENABLED his manager's behavior and has NOT effectively managed upwards.

My approach to this would be to introduce the topic of work-life balance in the next 1 on 1 meeting with Sebastian. (If the subordinate doesn't have periodic 1 on 1 sessions with his boss then that is it's own problem.) Start off with questions, i.e., his definition of WL balance for himself, for others, etc. Then surface the behaviors that are problematic and identify the associated negative repercussions for you. Then get into the grist of the discussion with an open conversation about how best to address the behaviors and set the appropriate expectations for both of you.

Do not preclude the opportunity to identify areas of delegation, i.e., your boss gets more time and you get new interesting tasks that clearly have value.

Working for Trump
Just because Sebastian decides to sacrifice his work life balance doesn't mean you need to as well.

Your best opportunity is to get Sebastian out for lunch. It's a breather he doesn't normally get. If you can get him to shut off his Blackberry you have his undivided attention. A word to the wise though, record everything discussed in a follow up email to protect yourself. Also agree to go dutch treat. My Sebastian stuck me with the bill!

You may even find he looks forward to your periodic lunch dates.

Bilal Farooq
My previous job had a 'Sebastian' (and surprisingly the description given almost matches his work routine) who was as diligent as anything when it came to work. There were times when he was difficult to approach, even after 8 pm.

Initially, it bothered me a lot since I was newly inducted into the organization and was not quite familiar with the working life-style, especially Sebastian's. It however, became vivid as the days rolled by that it was not his eternal love for his job nor his esteemed devotion to his career, rather it was out of necessity that he set up an example, at least for me. It was then that I learned that when it comes to work, official or non-official, diligence, accuracy and thoroughness should be taken care of even if it requires you putting up those extras hours in.

During his 'after-hours' (after 6 pm) I often had a chat with him and I still remember him saying once: "... putting in an hour now is easier than putting in two tomorrow!"

Almost all my managers have been Sebastian's. Each one had a different style therefore I had a different approach. My last manager was easy to catch with a text message letting him know what was going on. If he required further details, he would contact me. Most managers prefer email. I would capture everything in a very detailed email and let them know I was available to discuss when and if they felt it was necessary. I usually would receive a response around midnight.

I have also been known to schedule weekly one-to-one's but then use the time to give a project updates. Managers are hesitant to cancel one-to-ones as they will lunches. I'm sure I have used other tactics but they elude me at the moment.

Steve Dunn
I lived that for 20 years. Following the advice that to get ahead you needed to get there before the boss and leave after him. Yeah, sometimes it was necessary to stay no matter what to finish something. BUT, in retrospect, all you do is get old sooner and lose out on your relationships. I would guess only 2 of the dozens of plus 16 hour days were truly needed and perhaps 10% of the plus 11 hour days. Face it, after 10 hours unless the adrenalin is running hard you aren't doing much but getting in face time anyway. At least after 40. LOL. I don't know that many companies or bosses appreciate the absurd effort. Good luck.

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