In this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds and Olivia Schmitt talk about the challenge of finding and maintaining work-life balance in the insurance industry. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- How the perception of work-life balance is changing
- What the agency can do to assist the work-life balance of its employees, and why it’s in the agency’s best interest to do so
- How a few key principles of operational excellence apply to work-life balance as well
How often do you get to pull into your driveway without having to think about work at all until the next day?
If you work at an insurance agency, probably never. Most insurance work is “knowledge work,” meaning that wherever your brain goes, your work follows. This is useful in some ways: you can do your work from almost anywhere, firing off an email or catching up on paperwork at home so that you don’t have to worry about it at the office the next day.
In other ways, it’s detrimental. The ability to work from anywhere is accompanied by the pressure to work from anywhere. When are you supposed to take a break and focus on the rest of your life: family, friends, avocations, and time to yourself? Mobile devices have exacerbated the problem, pinging us constantly about unfinished work and demolishing what was left of boundaries that were loose, to begin with. All that’s left is the perennial challenge of finding and maintaining a so-called work-life balance.
Even that term is questionable if you ask Olivia. It suggests the existence of a line neatly dividing two separate domains. There is no such line, and the domains are never entirely separate. People who work in insurance are acutely aware of this. They tend to be older and thus more likely to be married and/or with children and other familial obligations. Throw in the ubiquitous quality of insurance work, and there’s a steady tug for attention from all sides.
How have Ryan and Olivia done it? You know them better as insurance superheroes, but did you know that each of them is also married with children? It wasn’t easy to balance a career with raising a family, and yet, they pulled it off—but only by sticking to the principles that they discuss in this episode.
First, let’s get some work-life misconceptions out of the way. One of them is that work-life balance is exclusively the concern of the employee—if the agency had its way, it would keep the employee at work forever. The reality is quite different. Very often, the employee is the one who resists leaving work, against the agency’s wishes.
This has been Olivia’s experience. Though a dedicated wife and mother, she is passionate about her work and would routinely stay at the office after 6pm. Finally, her boss had to start telling her to go home—politely at first, then more or less kicking her out. Olivia is lucky to work at a family-owned agency that takes certain values seriously. But the perception of work-life balance is changing across the board. Wise principals are aware that employees who lack balance will burn out. Assisting the work-life balance of employees is in the agency’s best interest.
Still, it is not the agency’s responsibility to figure out your work-life balance for you. You must set your own priorities and manage your life accordingly. It is daunting—the absence of ready-made boundaries means an infinity of possibilities, and because everyone’s priorities are different, there is not a single primer that can help everyone. But you do have a resource.
Have you been paying attention to the Digital Broker? One of the things we tell you to do most often is to define what success looks like. We’re usually talking about your agency, but there is no reason why the same principle shouldn’t apply to your life as well. Success at life is a lot like success at work; at the very least, if you apply similar strategies to both domains, you’ll be in a better position to manage each interchangeably. In work as in life, try to think like a COO: define what success looks like, monitor your progress, and involve the right people.
What’s your idea of success and happiness? Are you serious about taking care of a family? Or are you so passionate about your work that you don’t mind working long hours practically every day? It’s okay to choose either one, but not both. You simply cannot work 80-hour work weeks if you’re serious about watching your kids grow. You’ll need to find a job with more agreeable hours, preferably at an agency run by family-minded people. Work-life balance is about accepting those tradeoffs, big and small. Olivia wishes that her house were clean more often, but she works full time, and so does her husband, meaning that the kids have the run of the house most of the time, and they disfigure it accordingly. This used to bother Olivia, but she has since made peace with it. Make peace with your own compromises.
As with any project you would undertake at an agency, do not expect everything to work out right away. Things won’t go to plan. You will miscalculate how much time you thought you could invest in life or in work and fall behind on either, or both. That’s okay. Study what went wrong, learn from it, and keep it in mind for next time. Did you overestimate the amount of time you thought you’d have? Did you fail to commit ahead of time to leaving work early? Did you open up your laptop at home and start answering emails even though you’d promised you wouldn’t? Situations such as those are unpleasant—over time, however, they give you a better idea of what you really value.
No conception of work-life balance is going to work without the right people to power it. At work, you need to make sure you are around people who understand and respect your life outside the office, so you can depend on them if you need to take time off to be with your family or deal with an emergency. At home, it makes all the difference in the world to have a spouse or partner who understands and respects how much you care about your job and who will, therefore, tolerate you missing a game or dinner once in a while.
But the best thing about involving the right people is that they often make work-life decisions for you. Olivia appreciates her boss nudging her away from work, but nothing gets her out of the office more dependably than hearing her six-year-old daughter on the phone asking her when Mommy is going to be home for dinner.
What’s your work-life balance like? Have you struggled with it before? What did you learn? Can you come to tell us about it in the Digital Broker LinkedIn group? Both Ryan and Olivia are members, and they’d love to hear from you. Just make sure you check on the kiddies first.
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