Life Is Context to WorkAs leaders, we catch glimpses of people’s lives. There are challenges of all sorts going on in people’s lives. Every now and then, we catch a glance as the whale of life appears above the surface. We know it happens, as we know life is imperfect. We want perfect, but that only happens in the very old TV shows.

Life is the context. Work is an enabler.

This is one of the most overlooked leadership issues in the workplace today. Our life is a context in which we work. It is not the other way around. Our work is not the context in which we live. We need work to enable what we do with our life, and work is an essential part of life.

Work sustains our families. Work stretches us. Work engages us. Yet work is wrapped in life.

As we work, we hold our after-work life at bay. It is challenging to do at times.

For leaders, it is not to pry or judge. It is to be present when needed and understanding when necessary.

As team members, it is not to overwhelm work with life, being completely distracted and providing too much information. It is to be open when life’s challenges become too great, seeking understanding and help when needed.

Six Consideration Points

Leaders have a responsibility to remember life is the context.

For leaders:

Point 1: Listen for the signals. It’s not about prying into lives, but noticing when something seems to be weighing down a person on our team or in our organization. It is about listening and showing empathy. If the time isn’t right, the individual will let you know. When the time is right, both will know it. A conversation will unfold. Respectfully listen. Ask questions where appropriate.

Point 2: Understand and frame approach forward. During the conversation or shortly after, the time will arrive to determine how to adjust work to care for the life situation. It is building framework on how work can continue while freeing up responsibilities. The objective is to give the individual time to think and act on whatever life event needs to be addressed.

Point 3: Give latitude while holding accountable. With the balance shifted, the individual can take care of life while continuing to contribute as fully as possible. From a leader viewpoint, it is about giving some latitude with accountability mixed in. Work still needs to be done, just shifted in focus somewhat.

Team members have a work responsibility to maintain within life’s context.

For individuals:

Point 4: Seek guidance when life invades work rapidly. As a team member, we feel the boundaries between life and work, and we try to maintain them. We may feel more safety within our work boundaries, so we may even raise them up more. The reality is we may need to lower them so our life situation can be addressed more effectively. We need to raise our hand and engage the right leader to determine how to move forward with both interests in mind.

Point 5: Do as much as we can when we can. After a plan is devised, our responsibility is to not take advantage of what has been given but do a little more if we can. The first priority is to address the life situation so that the balance can shift to the normal levels when ready. As our life context stabilizes, some extra effort may need to be applied to regain the work ground lost.

Point 6: Update as necessary, especially life milestones. Keeping the right leader informed of progress is essential. Complete details don’t have to be given, just milestones. The mix of our business and personal relationships will set the stage for how much life details are exchanged. Respect each other.

It is more than the separation of work and life. It is about the human condition at the intersection of life and work.

We put up our guard at times, so as not to be taken advantage of. This is an important thing to do, because there are some who will. However, we cannot be an impenetrable shell. This is true for leaders and team members alike.

The vital point to remember is relationships are at the foundation of leadership and teams. Working together with humility, trust, and respect enables progress, just as empathy and responsibility keep life in perspective of work.

Life happens. Work happens. Keep the context in mind.

How do you handle work when life invades and upsets the “normal” balance? How do you lead?