Does anyone believe that work/life balance is possible in the military? Surely that kind of even-stephen life is only for couples who work 9 to 5 and live near the grandparents and never, never move. Balance isn’t for people like us. Or is it?
I called on Mike Auzenne of Manager Tools, a firm that provides consultancy and training to managers in Fortune 1000 companies around the world. Mike and his business partner Mark Horstman are both graduates of West Point who served in the Army before making the jump to the corporate world.
I figured that unlike so many corporate types, the Manager Tools guys would be able to outline the steps of work/life balance in the real world military. Check out Mike’s specific suggestion for military members then listen to their work/life podcast here.
1. Compare your family to a yellow M&M. According to Manager Tools dogma, your family is the sun. Your work (even your work in the military, folks) is a yellow M&M. Both are yellow. Both are round. And that is where the comparison ends. FAMILY IS FIRST. When every living person in the military forgets you, your family will remember what you did, what you said, and what it meant to have a life with you. Your contribution to the military can’t touch the eternity of your place in your own family.
2. Balanced does not mean equal. Many people think of work/life balance as two sides of a scale. The amount of time that goes into the military should exactly equal the amount of time spent at home, right? That ain’t gonna happen in military life. Instead you need to think of balance as a tool of the ninja, constantly shifting in order to take on any foe from a position of power.
3. Military needs WILL trump family needs. “There is no question that the needs of the service outweigh everything else,” Mike told me. “When they call, you come.” Not only is this a good idea when it comes to getting promoted, it is dictated by law. Understanding that FAMILY IS FIRST at the same time you drop everything to respond to the military is hard to do. But it is one of those confusing ninja skills you must learn if you plan to have both a long military career and a long happy marriage.
4. Go home now. “There are times your boss or the military can legitimately demand your presence,” said Mike. “That means that you must then protect family time when you are not being deployed.” Mike says this means that you aim to leave the ship or the office or the battalion on time every day. Or you arrange to stay late some days and leave early on other days. “Everyone I know who performs at high level sees themselves as needing to get work done now so they can go home,” said Mike.
5. You must earn your spouse’s trust. “There is a certain amount of time your spouse needs from you in order to be healthy and whole,” notes Mike. If your beloved trusts that you really are trying to get home on time, then the nights that you do need to stay late are no big deal. You have to go home in order to gain the trust it takes to stay late.
6. Golden Hours at home are between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you have a young family, the early evening hours are the most crucial. Hungry little people are cranky little people. Two sets of hands working together as dinner is prepared and homework is done and baths are given makes a huge difference. If you come home late, you miss the whole thing. Be there when it counts.
7. Golden Hours for work are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. All the important stuff at work really happens in the early part of the day (unless you are a military recruiter.) As the day gets longer, people become less efficient at their work. Then work e-x-p-a-n-d-s to fill the time allotted. Learn what you need to do to focus and get your work done so everyone can go home on time.
8. Assess your risk accurately. There is an unwritten rule in the military that you don’t leave until the boss leaves. That’s ludicrous, according to Mike Auzenne. “There are thousands who put family first. What do they do on the day that when it is quiet? They go home. They know they are taking a slight risk in going home before the colonel goes home. They do it because they accurately assess that on most days the real risk is from losing your home life.”
9.Get off the electronic leash. Too many military members are tied to work through constantly checking their texts and emails. Mike says you have to learn trust in the hierarchy of communications. “If they really want you, they will call you,” said Mike. “If you put family first when you are home, if you stay off your email, if you are really present when you are home, when you do get a call the family will be good with that.”
10. Send the young folks home. Once you are in charge of the whole shebang, do your guys a favor and send them home for the Golden Hours. Set an expectation that you will all run fast and focused during work hours so that everyone can get home when it counts most. You will need these servicemembers and their families to be at their best when they deploy. So teach them the skills they need to achieve for success in the military and in life.