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Dr. Matt Grawitch: May 2009 Archives

Sometimes you have to wonder what the popular press is thinking when they run goofy stories. In the case of CNN, you have to wonder what the news organization was thinking when it created a special section called Having it all: Work-life balance. Nothing like inappropriately setting people’s expectations! In fact, a sociologist is trying to convince people that some phenomenon called “weisure” (combining work and leisure) actually exists.

In reality, “weisure” as defined by the sociologist that coined it, is nothing more than taking time out of one’s personal life to use social media and other technology to interact with work life. We’re not talking about having fun at work! We’re talking about working when we’re at home. Guess what, working at home is called telecommuting, and it doesn’t involve slacking off and playing with the kids while simultaneously getting work accomplished. It should mean that we have the flexibility to interact with work demands and non-work demands at the times when each needs attention. Hence, people should have the ability to shift more easily back and forth between work and life through the use of technology.

Yet, millions of Americans are going to be duped into believing that they are experiencing work-life balance or “weisure.” In reality, what happens all too often is that people work a full day and then engage in flexible work practices at night. This phenomenon takes away from our personal time rather than contributing to it. That is not what it means to be “Having it all,” as CNN would have us believe.

This special section also tries to convince us that we should be looking for jobs that require fewer than 40 hours per week, as if that is the gold standard for work-life balance. Newsflash CNN! Millions of people love their jobs! They actually work more than 40 hours per week, not because they have to, but because they want to. Individuals who identify with their job as a “career” or “calling” work for more than the financial support; they use work as a medium to meet personal needs, goals, and fulfillment.
Lastly, CNN provides some tips for achieving your career resolutions. These “resolutions” are in fact nothing more than effective time management skills that you can and should apply on a daily basis. Achieving career success, life success, and work-life balance success is not about time management. Sure, time management is important to ensure you get the things done that need to be done, but this does not get at the core of achieving overall work-life balance and satisfaction.

Instead of the five tips provided in the story, I would suggest that you first need to set a career resolution that isn’t about just about the work you perform. Your career resolution should be to:

  1. Find a field of work that interests you;
  2. Find a field of work that builds on your strengths;
  3. Find a context (an organization) that permits you to apply your strengths in a way that makes you happy;
  4. Prioritize your life (both work and life together); and
  5. Continually look for ways to add meaning to your life.

Then, on a daily basis, you can set goals, manage your time, and be a success!

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a job that I feel good waking up for every day (regardless of the actual number of hours I work) than one where I am paid well but am counting down the hours until I can leave!

I recently read some interesting articles on goal setting in the Academy of Management Perspectives. The first article discussed “Goals Gone Wild” and focused on all the ways that goal setting can go awry: it can kill intrinsic motivation, it can increase risk-taking behavior, it can lead to ethical problems, and a variety of other unintended outcomes. The response from the goal setting “gods” is that the research is clearly unrepresentative, and those who find problems with goal setting have “abandoned good scholarship.” Of course, their research, mostly conducted on undergraduate students in laboratories, is hardly the epitome of scientific research that translates well into real-world management settings..

Although it may sound like I am disregarding goal setting, that is not true. Goal setting does serve a purpose in certain circumstances. Engaging in an effective goal-setting process can result in greater performance, especially if mechanisms are in place to monitor goal progress and make necessary adjustments. However, goal setting is only effective when it meets the situational and individual difference constraints that exist for a particular goal.

Though goal setting researchers would like us to believe that goal setting is one of those situational forces that are so powerful as to produce universal effects (kind of like Milgram’s authority studies), the reality is that some individual differences, like one’s personality and intrinsic motivation levels, have to be considered during any sort of goal setting process. Moreover, contextual aspects such as, type of feedback, group versus individual settings, and even leadership style may affect the impact of goal-setting on performance. Interestingly, goal-setting has its weakest effects with tasks that are more complex and have no clear progress cues, which pretty much describes most real-world tasks!

The assumption that there is one right way to set goals, make progress toward goals, and successfully achieve one’s goals, seems to be a faulty assumption, especially considering the complexity of (1) the individuals involved in goal setting and (2) the context within which that goal setting occurs. We need to consider the possible alterations that may need to be made when working with employees to set goals. Remember, if you believe that there is one right way to set goals, then you will see all performance opportunities as a way to apply faulty “universal principles.” Don’t be surprised, though, when your goal setting hammer doesn’t produce the desired result on people who don’t respond well to “universal principles.”