Balancing Work and Home Takes Emotional Intelligence

high angle view of a businessman and two businesswomen working in an office

Organizations that ensure their employees balance work and family life are finding the result is financial and psychological well-being.

And those that fail to strike the balance pay a price. Linda Duxbury of Ottawa’s Carleton University and Chris Higgins with the Ivey Business School at the University of Toronto found that a lack of attention to family/work issues such as being torn between work and family demands, costs Canadian firms about $3 billion a year through absenteeism, poor productivity, lower commitment, lateness and distracted staff.

Yet despite this staggering cost, people persist in poor personal-balance. Why? It’s because they lack what’s come to be known as emotional-intelligence skills.

The term emotional intelligence was coined in 1990 by Peter Salovey of Yale University and John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire. Emotional intelligence went mainstream due to Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence”, published in 1995.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, refers to the ability to tap into, label and express feeling appropriately, respond empathically and use information about one’s own feelings and those of others to make decisions and choices.

In our practice, we have observed that there are four ways a lack of emotional intelligence hampers the ability to balance home and work life:

1. Lack of Self Awareness
Self-awareness refers to the ability for introspection, the capacity to recognize your own feelings. Without it, people will experience a significant lack of work/life balance.

Take Bill. He works in a medium-sized financial services organization in Atlanta. As a middle manager, he is charged with moving projects along in a timely fashion, assigning work, giving clear direction about tasks and following up on jobs.

His staff often complained about long hours, bringing work home and missing deadlines. Bill’s desire to impress his boss, driven by his feelings of inadequacy, caused him to take on too much work and create unrealistic timelines for staff.

But Bill was unaware of his need to please. When he became aware of these feelings through leadership training and coaching, things improved. He noticed that when he felt inadequate, he started micro-managing and when he felt hungry for the boss’s approval, he created unmanageable deadlines.

The new self-awareness helped him resist the urge to take on too much and micromanage. Instead he streamlined the workload, created realistic timelines and managed his boss’s expectations better. As a result, people in his department went home on time, stopped taking work home and came back to work fresh and committed.

2. Collaboration With Others
Difficulties establishing work/home balance can stem from poor social skills.

Diane was a product co-ordinator in shipping and receiving at a large import/export company in Memphis. Unfortunately, her productivity was plummeting even as her hours on the job soared.

Emotionally intelligent people are able to engage in constructive, collaborative interactions with others. Yet Diane had difficulty telling other people how she was feeling especially when she perceived a potential for conflict.

Diane was unable to engage in authentic relationships. She couldn’t discuss her workload with her boss or ask about easing a deadline.

When Diane learned to collaborate, with the help of a coaching psychologist, she began to talk to colleagues and her supervisor about her discomfort while she was experiencing it. She was able to say things like: “I’d like to take that on, but I’m not sure if you knew the other project is still outstanding.”

Diane began to express herself better. She’d say: “I feel bothered because I can’t do my best work when too many things arrive on my desk with rush stickers”.

Diane’s ability to have collaborative conversations about workload helped her feel a sense of control at work when she discussed timelines, workflow and deadlines with her colleagues and supervisor.

3. Self-Management
This refers to the ability to respond effectively to emotions as they arise by making constructive decisions.

Unfortunately, Bob, an engineer with a small design firm in Edmonton, had difficulty managing his stress. He’d yell at subordinates when under pressure. Bob noticed that when there was a deadline his fuse became short and he began barking orders, swearing and name-calling.

Bob was intimidating and a bully. He was ungrateful and unforgiving. But with the help of a coaching psychologist, he started examining his pattern of relating to others. He concluded that whenever he felt frustrated by circumstances out of his control, he lashed out.

He considered this to be his reaction to stress. Yet, by being demanding and shaming, he bullied people out of any semblance of work-life balance.

With help, Bob learned that his feelings of frustration at being thwarted were not going to change. But he could decide on a better course of action when he got angry.

Instead of striking out verbally Bob decided to go for a short walk, returning calmly to solve the problem. Bob’s ability to self-manage had a good effect on the office. The mood lightened, morale increased and Bob became more understanding and expressed more appreciation.

4. Empathy
Empathy is essential to being able to understand how we may be affecting our work-mates and our families. With empathy, people can work out work/family balance dilemmas, create sensitive family support programs and be flexible. Without empathy, leaders and staff will fail to respond adequately to work/home balance problems and performance will suffer.

Unempathic bosses, for instance, believe that since they work long hours, so should everyone else or their commitment is suspect. They believe that when staff raise a family or personal need, they’re being lazy.

When people learn to become more empathic they begin to understand how they affect others and see that staff’s needs for family time and personal time are healthy, not lazy excuses, and can actually improve productivity.

The role of emotional intelligence in balancing work and home or lifestyle needs is important. When we use emotional intelligence skills to accomplish this balancing act we can bolster our chances for success at work and at home.

Dr. Jennifer Newman is a registered psychologist and director of Newman Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development company.  Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.  Dr. Newman can be contacted at:

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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