The side effects of “seamless” work life integration

The smart people that I listen to have been saying for some time that I should think about the issue of “work life balance” more as work – life integration and it will be easier to make sense that way .

Their infinite wisdom was that I will find a lot of useful things that I can take from work to life and vice versa . Also – it’s easier to perfect one behavior and then use it seamlessly all the time instead of the constant context switching between my two phases of existence . What’s not to like ?

I have been giving this whole seamless integration thing a shot since I was a trainee at TCS . I was born and raised in Trivandrum and my training was in Mumbai – which was two days away by train , or a month’s salary by plane . Phone calls were so darn expensive too for my trainee salary . So before I left home – my mom told me to write letters instead of phone calls .

In a couple of weeks time, TCS drilled into me that communication should be crisp and concise . I tried it on Amma

My letters looked like this

Dear Amma and Achan

Pls note the following

1. I have been eating and sleeping well

2. Hope my dog is coping with my absence . Tell him I love him

3. Training is going great . I am learning a lot

Love

Your son

It took about three such letters before my loving mother strictly forbade me from writing anymore letters . Apparently “crisp concise bullets” and “restricting the note to three main things” are not what the communication with mom is supposed to follow as a template . Who knew ?

It’s a good thing that phone calls became cheaper over time . Otherwise my parents might have disowned me a few decades ago . I write very few letters, much to everyone’s relief – but my letters (and post cards and Xmas greetings and …) all still have bullet points . I have made peace with it since my use of written communication is mostly for work purposes 🙂

As I progressed through my career – I gained an invaluable survival skill . I can go back and forth with anyone with whom I have a disagreement without becoming emotional about it . I don’t raise my voice . I just stick to logic and data and I don’t tire easily . If the other party makes a good point – I quickly stand corrected with no drama . Occasionally I have had to break some glass – metaphorically speaking . At some point I also learned that humor helps make some points easier as well .

This skill had been honed over a couple of decades and in the spirit of work life integration – I of course try it liberally outside work too . If you haven’t tried it yet – take my advice . DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME !

With friends and family, it turns out that raising your voice and being an emotional wreck is absolutely the expected way to express your disagreement . Apparently humor is the least effective tactics of all . If you want to be a real pro – you need to curse and swear , and at least minimally be capable of breaking glass physically . Metaphors are like humor – don’t bother . And last but not least – outside work , you are an absolute weirdo and/or psycho if you concede your point without a major fight .

Again – it’s a good thing that most of my arguments are on the work front . So once again – I just stick to one behavior and gracefully accept my weirdo status outside of it .

It’s not as if I haven’t taken some lessons from outside work and tried it at work .

My parents are both super charitable people . My mom has often taken on debt to help people who were in distress . My dad has helped hundreds of people with no expectation of getting anything in return . My grand father was also wired this way and he was a big influence on me when I was growing up . Having seen them all operate this way throughout my formative years – I have this tendency deep inside me that when I see someone at work who is stressed out – I often jump in and try to help . Most of the time I make their problems into my problems , in the process of solving it .

My own mentors have warned me several times that I should be a lot more careful about this . And while I have largely ignored them on this piece of advice – they have been proven more right than wrong about this . In the work place – if you don’t do this “let me help you” thing very thoughtfully , all that you do is to create a belief in those people you help that they should lean on me again the next time they are in trouble .

I still believe that helping someone of the right thing to do , so despite the first hand experience of its side effects – I still do it . I have a feeling that I have started to do more of “here is some fish , but let me also give you a few tips on fishing” . I also have a feeling that my mentors still think I am at best a work in progress on this front 🙂 . I also firmly believe that a lot of people have helped me when they had no real reason to bother .

You would often hear from very successful business leaders that you learn more from failure than from success . Intuitively that feels right . Like every other sales leader – I have done my fair share of “loss reviews”.

But there is one thing I absolutely won’t do – if I lose a deal , I will never open that proposal deck again . I don’t delete it – but it will never see the light of day again .

This means that I often have to recreate content from scratch – even if it’s much easier to take the good slides from those decks that I had put in the “never open again” folders .

It’s certainly not an efficient way of working when you are under time pressure – and I won’t blame anyone for calling me superstitious . In my defense, I generally have won more pursuits than I have lost . So I haven’t had a lot of incentive to change so far 🙂

This habit was triggered by my parental grandfather when I was a teenager . He was a history professor . I did poorly in a social studies exam in high school and when I came home – he went through my answer sheet in great detail . There was one essay that I did an excellent job and the rest of my answers were pretty mediocre . My history teacher had told me to save that essay since there is a good chance that I will need it again for the final exams .

My grandfather had some very different advice . He asked me to throw the whole answer sheet in the dust bin and start learning from scratch – and don’t even bother saving the two pages with the essay . His theory was that the answer sheet will just rekindle negativity in my mind – and however great the essay was , it will always be associated with failure . I agreed with him then , and I still agree with him today !

So yeah – work life integration seems like a fine theory . But it sure would help if the experts had some concrete advice on better templates to write letters to mom !

(Cross-posted @ Vijay's thoughts on all things big and small)

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General Manager of AI,Analytics,IOT and Watson Health for North America in IBM GBS . Proud Alum of University of Kerala . Geek, Engineer , Blogger and dog lover . Previously senior executive at SAP and MongoDB.

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