Knowing Your Flexstyle: The Good and Bad Ways We Manage Relationships Between Work and Personal Life
- I don’t really have big walls around either of them (work and family). If something big is going on, one tends to bleed over into the other. That’s just the way my life is.
- “Haley,” Infocom employee
Flexstyles: The Good and Bad Ways We Manage Relationships Between Work and Personal Life
Whether you know it or not, you already have a strategy for handling your life. But is it a conscious strategy? Do you feel in control of your life? Do you have a meaningful understanding of what is driving your work and life relationships and how this feeds into day-to-day well-being for yourself and those with whom you regularly live and interact?
Or maybe you are like Haley. You know that you experience ongoing tension between your job and personal life, but you’re not sure what the root causes of these tensions are. You just know they exist and are always there. You didn’t know that there is any other way of living.
Although you probably have access to some work-family or flexibility policies offered by your employer, they don’t seem to be helping you make your work and family demands mesh better. They aren’t meeting your needs. Sure, you may have a great job—on paper at least. Maybe even a graduate degree and a house with a picket fence (or a cool rent-free apartment with an imaginary one). You have a partner you love living with, a pet, and maybe even a child or two. Or if you are single, you may yearn for this kind of family some day. But why aren’t you happy? Why are you always feeling stressed and overloaded? Why isn’t your life the way you dreamed it would be? Why can’t you stop thinking about work when you are supposed to be relaxing? And why are you always bombarded with nonwork stuff to handle when you actually want to be focusing on your job? Why do you feel like you lack control over your life?
The answer, for many of us, is perhaps you haven’t understood that you have developed a flexstyle. If you are like most people, your current approach just evolved over time through a series of ad hoc (and sometimes not optimal) choices. Would you like to know whether there is a better way?
In this chapter, we reveal two main ideas to help you begin to take control to be the CEO of your life. The first idea is that we all have a flexstyle—the psychological and physical ways we manage relationships between our job and personal life. We will share with you what a flexstyle is, why it is important, and some examples of how people get into flexstyle routines, through making a number of unconscious or conscious decisions. It is only when people understand their patterns of flexstyle behaviors and how their flexstyle works within the structures of their current work and family environment that they will be able to make changes to be more in control and create healthier work-life relationships.
The second thing to learn is that there are three main types of flexstyles, and under each type is a good and bad way of feeling about how we use flexibility. Under each flexstyle, there is one subgroup where people feel in control and happy with their lives. Under the other subgroup, people are unhappy and feel out of control. So, on the surface, under each flexstyle type, people can look like they are managing work and life relationships the same way. But why is it that one individual is totally miserable and the other is at peace? Why is it that what works well for one person can be horrible for the other?
The answer to this question is that what matters most is
- Whether you feel in control of these relationships
- The degree that you perceive alignment between your flexstyle and values for how you would prefer to allocate the life buckets described in Chapter One, “Are You the CEO of Your Working Life?”
When you perceive a fit between your values and your flexstyle, your work and personal life can even enrich or complement each other. At a minimum, they are a neutral influence on the other. But when you don’t perceive a fit, your work and personal life usually compete and are at odds. They deplete resources from each other because you are expending extra energy constantly managing conflicting pressures. So when your flexstyle isn’t working for you, it isn’t fitting with your preferences and identity for how you want to allocate your time and energy across your many life interests. Then your stress increases and your personal effectiveness plummets, whether at the office, at home, or within your community. You often feel tired by managing competing tensions and needing to expend extraordinary resources just to hold things together. If you feel you are beginning to lack control over parts of your life that matter to you, identifying your style will be an important first step before attempting some of the change tactics suggested in the last half of this book. It is also important to note that you can change your flexstyle as you go through your life, as your priorities, job, and personal life circumstances change. You can also change your definition of what is a “workable life”—a life that is working for you. So you may align or realign how you enact your flexstyle as your life buckets shift and evolve as you go through personal changes over your life span—as you leave school, get a job, develop your career, find a new partner, have kids, or move to a new city. Your flexstyle also could change at different times of the year, particularly if you have major shifts in job or family demands that are seasonal. An example might be a ski instructor who works a different job in the off season or a noncustodial parent who has a child live with them during the summer. But for any typical week of our life, most of us have a dominant flexstyle that best describes our approach for managing personal and work relationships.