The myth of the work-life balance: make your small business “bloom” — Dan Pontefract

Dan Pontefract joins The Small Business Show to dispel the myth of the work-life balance and share leadership tips for small business owners.

It is common wisdom that a work-life balance is needed to be happy at work, but what if there was another way for small business owners and teams to find happiness and stability? On this episode of The Small Business Show, host Jim Fitzpatrick is joined by renowned author, speaker and consultant Dan Pontefract to discuss important lessons from his new book “Work Life Bloom—How to Nurture a Team that Flourishes.” Pontefract has been featured in Forbes, Harvard Business Review and Entrepreneur.

Pontefract explains that the motivation behind his book was to disprove the popular myth of the work-life balance. Rather than being independent parts of one’s life, he argues that one’s career and personal life are inextricably linked. “What I’m trying to do is to say look, let’s start from a better place so that we understand work and life and the factors that allow us to perhaps bloom in both…” His goal is to push small business owners and organizations to treat their employees right so that teams can be motivated to succeed.

While writing his book, Pontefract discovered six key work and life factors impacting employees based on research conducted in 11 countries. Each of these variables contributes to happiness, productivity and performance. The factors are as follows:

  • Trust
  • Authentic, consistent behavior
  • A sense of belonging
  • Feeling valued
  • An understanding of the company’s purpose
  • Familiarity with the business strategy
  • Operational norms

Small business owners do not necessarily need to ensure all of these factors are in place. “What we found is that you don’t need all of them, but you need 83% of them, so that means five or six of those work factors have to be felt positively by the team member for them to have a chance of blooming, at least at work.” Pontefract also notes that there are some differences in how employees prioritize these values based on characteristics such as generation, gender, ethnicity and career. However, this is simply due to the variations in how people interpret their work and personal lives. “No one team member can be treated the same as the other,” he warns, “we have to look into those nuances if we want to create that flourishing team at work.”

Another myth leading small business owners and their employees astray is that of employee engagement. “We’ve been using this term for 25 plus years,” observes Pontefract. “Organizations…have been telling us that the entire world is essentially only 30% engaged…so what we set out to do is dispel the [notion] of employee engagement.” The point of leadership, he continues, is not to make team members feel engaged but rather to identify what their work and life circumstances are with the intent of helping them succeed in both.

Pontefract describes four personas that exist in the workplace to help both employees and small business owners keep better track of their personal happiness. It is possible for one to fall into multiple categories.

  • Blooming: this persona is held by people who are happy in their personal lives and at work.
  • Budding: this describes an individual who is happy with their job but struggling to navigate their personal life.
  • Stunted: this persona is someone who feels happy at home but finds work difficult due to a missing factor, such as strategy or purpose.
  • Renewal: this last individual is someone who is facing havoc both at home and at their job and must put effort into reorganizing their life so as to regain stability and happiness.

Small business owners may feel tempted to dismiss the needs of their employees, given the immense work they put into their companies. However, not only does this perspective make the lives of team members worse, but it also costs the enterprise money in the long run. “This is not about being touchy-feely with employees,” remarks Pontefract. He encourages CEOs and entrepreneurs to view the work factors impacting their staff as variables in an equation. By increasing the value of their work lives, employees will feel happier in their personal lives, bringing greater motivation, commitment and motivation to their job. “It’s about treating them like people so that they’re better served to hit those EBITDA targets. That’s why the balance of people and profit makes more sense to me than a work-life balance.”