Avoid being caught off balance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2008, 12:00am

I have always been a firm believer in work-life balance but, until recently, was a poor partaker of it myself. Let me explain how I finally came to be able to practise what I initially only believed in. In the final quarter of last year, the company I work for kicked off a number of exciting projects.

One by one, all the projects that we had been discussing with clients earlier in the year started coming in. At the beginning I was thrilled because I thrive on being busy.

But week after week of running around from meeting to meeting, working till late at the office on week days, weekends and travelling to a new city each week, the effects of having too much on my plate were starting to take its toll. Little things got missed, and it seemed that everything was supposed to have been done yesterday.

My mentor spotted trouble, so he took me aside and, armed with a flow chart, showed me the unforgiving cycle I had gotten myself into. He said that I needed help. He was right. I was miserable. Work I used to enjoy became more of a burden, and I was inefficient and unproductive.

I realised that my lack of work-life balance was a combination of circumstance and also my lack of self-control. I am ambitious, value flexibility and enjoy helping people. Combine these factors and you get a person who has a hard time saying 'no'.

I realised that just because I knew I could do something well, it was not sufficient justification to sign myself up for the task. So for the first time I started saying no, and would not feel guilty about it.

I started off this entry by alluding to now being a better practitioner of work-life balance. You should know that after the New Year holidays, I wrapped up my final project, put my out-of-office message on and went on a two-week break.

Before heading off, my friends and I had the opportunity to listen to a lady named Heidi Baker, a Christian missionary based in Mozambique, who, with her husband, heads a non-profit organisation called Iris Ministries. Heidi has seen her organisation grow from providing full-time care for just 350 orphaned children to 2,000 children. In a country prone to flooding, Iris Ministries has provided food and shelter to more than 100,000 people every day.

Heidi shared her story of her organisation and how, as a result of too much work during its growth phase, she ended up being burnt out from doing too much. One of the things she said that really stuck with me was that to truly grow, we all need to know something she calls 'the run, the rest and the release.'

What she said is applicable to all of us in Hong Kong. To work, and continue working, we also need to find the time to rest. Otherwise we will burn out and never finish what we set out to do.

In organisations seeking to maintain growth, it is obvious that there is a need to develop and train people to keep up with the increasing workload. What is more important is that once these people have been trained, they need to be allowed to work with less supervision. It is only in such a way that managers can delegate successfully, and avoid being burnt out by overworking. Ji-Ye Hwang is a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates, a global HR consulting and outsourcing company. She is the lead consultant for employee engagement for Hewitt in Greater China. Her views are not necessarily endorsed by Hewitt Associates.