Balancing act: Temporary duties provide good work-life reminder

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 12 2013 3:15 p.m. MST

As we worked on recruiting a permanent leader for the team, I took on management duties for the seven team members while retaining my responsibilities for the 10 people I already managed.

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My six-week stint as a double manager ended Monday, and I have mixed feelings about its completion.

As I've mentioned in previous columns, my boss asked me about six weeks ago to serve as interim manager of an additional team in our department. He had been handling the team himself since its manager left for another job in the spring, but his schedule had grown too hectic for that arrangement to continue.

As we worked on recruiting a permanent leader for the team, I took on management duties for the seven team members while retaining my responsibilities for the 10 people I already managed.

I approached this interim job with some trepidation. I'm used to working with writers and editors like the members of the team I've managed since leaving my full-time career in journalism a couple of years ago. I haven't worked directly with product managers before. I wasn't sure I'd be a good fit with their group.

As it turns out, I've enjoyed my temporary duties. The product management team members were welcoming and kind, and I quickly learned that they were not only smart and talented, but that they also know how to make work fun. (For example, they've promised me that I'll continue to be invited to their frequent potluck lunches as "interim manager emeritus.")

At the same time, I gained a new perspective on several of our company's products and client-facing tools, and I've discovered ways that my writing team's work could complement these items. I may not have noticed such areas of potential synergy without my experience as a dual manager.

From these perspectives, I'll definitely miss working with my interim team.

However, adding seven direct reports also meant adding seven one-on-one meetings every other week, not to mention another weekly team meeting and several other activities that rapidly filled my schedule.

I discovered that I would have to spend six-plus hours in meetings two or three days a week to take care of everything I was supposed to do. And since I still had to do "real work" when the meetings were done, I found myself spending longer hours at the office and catching up on some things at home during the evening.

In other words, it almost felt like I was back in the journalism grind again. Almost.

In reality, I worked many, many more hours in my newspapering days. But getting out of that all-work-no-life situation was one of the reasons I changed careers in the first place, so gaining a brief reminder of that past was eye-opening to me.

Not to mention exhausting.

From that perspective, I'm glad we've hired a new leader for the product management team. I'm ready to be a one-team manager again. And, frankly, the product management team members are probably ready to have a leader who can focus entirely on what they're trying to do.

I'm also looking forward to committing myself once again to my quest for building better work-life balance. This latest experience reinforces what I learned in my former career: More time in the office doesn't necessarily equate to more productivity, and you don't have to put in a 50- or 60-hour workweek to be a valuable employee.

In fact, the ups and downs of the last few weeks reminded me of an infographic that was sent to my attention by BambooHR, a Provo-based HR software company that has an anti-workaholic policy.

According to the graphic, 24 percent of employees work six or more extra hours per week without pay, and that figure doubles for management. The BambooHR graphic also shows that 39 percent of people work more than 40 hours per week, and we're working an average of 11 hours more per week than people did in the 1970s.

With all of those extra hours, you'd think our productivity would be skyrocketing, but that's not necessarily the case. The BambooHR graphic cites a study that compared people who worked 55 or more hours a week to people who worked 40 hours a week. It found that those who worked 55 or more hours showed decreased problem-solving skills and worse short-term memory. They also were less creative and productive, and their quality of work suffered.

I hope my creativity and productivity didn't drop too much while I was leading two teams, but I'm sure my divided attention meant there were times I wasn't as efficient or effective as usual.

I also found that it was harder to make time for working out and resting during these last few weeks, and the BambooHR infographic confirms that people who are working all the time get less sleep and exercise than those who have a 40-hour workweek. Those 60-hours-a-week folks also tend to have much higher stress levels than their counterparts in the 40-hour club.

That's certainly held true for me. I still don't get enough sleep, for a variety of non-work reasons, but I do have significantly less stress these days than I did before I changed careers. I've also found the time and energy to make a renewed commitment to my physical health, and as a result, I've dropped more than 20 pounds in the last year and feel better on a daily basis.

The bottom line is that I'm glad I had my temporary dual-manager experience, but I'm ready to get back to my regular gig. And as I enjoy a return to better work-life balance, I'd be interested in your thoughts about this issue.

How many hours do you spend at work or working at home during an average week? Has that increased or decreased in the last five or 10 years? If it has increased, do you think your extra hours on the job have translated into higher productivity? In general, do you think Americans work too many or too few hours each week?

Please send me an email or leave a comment to share your ideas, and I'll use some of your responses in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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