Monthly Archives: August 2015

Serving tea with a smile — or not

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

Well, it was well intended, if not perfectly received.

I’m talking about the email that Howard Schultz sent on Monday to every Starbucks employee, calling out the recent volatility on Wall Street and “great political uncertainty both at home and abroad…” While emphasizing confidence in Starbucks’ present and future, Schultz also urged employees to show empathy for customers who may be feeling anxious in today’s uncertain economic and political environments.

“Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations,” Schultz wrote.

Perhaps she didn’t get the mail, but shiver, that was a cold glare from the barista who served my afternoon tea that same day!

But never mind my barista’s mood. And never mind that since Monday, the turmoil on Wall Street has largely subsided. I still love that Schultz considered the potential impact on Starbucks’ customers and sent an appeal to his employees to be aware — and just be kind.

Even in the middle of the turmoil on Monday I didn’t feel particularly anxious about either the stock market or the political environment. And considering I’ve heard more talk about soccer and back-to-school over the past week, nor do my friends and colleagues seem urgently worried.

But whether we’re closely watching our portfolios or hanging on every political soundbite is really beside the point. And Schultz gets this. He used a current situation to say what every good leader needs to say clearly and often: Your behavior has an impact. Be aware and make it a positive impact.

Whether we’re serving tea to a customer or discussing strategy with a colleague, it’s no stretch to recognize that doing so with a warm smile or an active, collaborative approach has far more positive impact – and likely greater success. It’s a message worth calling out, no matter the swings on Wall Street.


Work-life balance is up to us

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

Wow, what a week it’s been for the topic of work-life balance. For me, it started with a report in my inbox titled, “Why work-life balance is dead.” It’s not about balance, but rather integration, asserts the report, which was co-created by the corporate wellness company Limeaid and Dr. Tracy Brower.

Its key message: The effort to balance work and life can be an exercise in trade-offs, where either work or life gains the upper hand. Shift the mindset to integration and we see the potential to blend work with life. In other words, you can bring who you are and what you need in life to work.

I shared this report with my colleague and founder of Simple Intentions, Jae Ellard, who jumped at the opportunity to share her wisdom in a blog post, “Can we stop talking about what to call work-life balance?

Ellard’s message: There’s no such thing as work-life balance – because balance means something different to each one of us. What’s more important is waking up to our own definitions of balance and making choices that support it.

Three days later, the bomb to level any and all conversations of work-life balance fell. Of course I’m talking about the New York Times exposé of Amazon and its reportedly punishing workplace culture that “stoke[s] [employees’] willingness to erode work-life boundaries” and at times drove employees to tears and worse.

Coming out of this work-life whirlwind I’m reminded of the classic TedxSydney talk by Nigel Marsh, How to make work-life balance work. Considering Marsh delivered this talk five years ago, the effort remains an ongoing battle.

What’s ominous is that corporations are leading the charge while we – the employees and individuals – sit on the sidelines enduring the fall out. Marsh states quite clearly: “Never put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation.” For they are “inherently designed to get as much out of you as they can get away with.”

The message is clear, but let’s make it louder: Work-life balance is up to us. We need to make the choice, set the boundaries, take the accountability for what work-life balance means, looks and feels to us as individuals. We cannot argue that imbalance yields innovation or success. All of life thrives on balance, and it’s up to us to define and claim it, both in work and life.


Can we stop talking about what to call work-life balance?

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

It doesn’t matter what we call “work-life balance” because there is no such thing. Call it work-life harmony, integration, flexibility, flow, work-life fill-in-the-blank. What I’ve learned after eight years of talking about this topic with thousands of people in more than 50 countries is that most people share a simple and similar desire to create easy joy and meaningful engagement between the interconnected roles, relationships and responsibilities that make up their lives. And this is what they mean when they talk about work-life balance.

While the desire is similar, there are as many ways as there are people on the planet to describe a balanced life. When it comes to balance, we all have our own idea of what is comfortable, tolerable and acceptable. Our secret power is recognizing and accepting that what we need now – in this very moment – to create balance is different than what we will need in 12 months or 2, 5, 7, or 10 years from now. Once we accept that our definition of balance will change, it then becomes about knowing our needs for creating balance, making choices that support those needs and communicating our needs with the important people in our lives. We are dynamic beings, living in a dynamic world and part of dynamic work environments. What we need today will change and shift, and we have to be willing to redefine what we need again and again.

Work-life balance also has nothing to do with work. It doesn’t matter the type of work we do, our level on the corporate ladder, the hours we put in, or even whether or not we are paid for our work. We all have responsibilities that can be considered work – whether our “title” is corporate VP, director, student, volunteer, or household manager. Moreover, balance has nothing to do with gender, family structure, religion, education, income, or geographic location. Work-life balance is not about any of these things specifically. But it is about the conversations we have – or avoid having – about these things and how we feel about how these things impact our lives.

Most of the issues we attribute to being “out of balance” at work or at home can be tracked to (and resolved with) a conversation – and specifically, an authentic conversation. (You know, the kind where you say what you REALLY mean.) What gets us in trouble and keeps us disengaged are the conversations we are NOT having with our managers, business partners, customers, friends, significant others, children, and – most important – ourselves.

It’s possible that 99% of the time the conversations we’re not having are about triggers that cause imbalance in our lives. These triggers often boil down to values and boundaries (or lack of boundaries) that support and honor our values in all our relationships: our relationships with work, people in and out of work, and ourselves.

It’s your choice to define what balance means to you.

It’s your choice to accept there will be times of greater imbalance.

It’s your choice to own and authentically express your yeses and nos.

Some days you’ll make choices that support your definition of balance. Other days your choices will sabotage the balance you seek. The magic is that every single day, it’s your choice to make again and again.