The shift towards flexibility in the workplace is a by-product of our increasingly busy lives and technology-based working environments. And it is one of the strategies Judy Reynolds embraces as part of a whole-of-life approach to business that she calls “intentional imbalance”.
“When I use the words work/life balance, people’s eyes glaze over and they think it’s impossible,” Judy Reynolds says with an affirming smile.
“Work/life balance is so unrealistic, it talks about balance, what is that? Work is part of life, it’s what facilitates and enables life, so how can work and life balance? It makes no sense.
“When we don’t have work/life balance we carry a sense of guilt and it causes a whole lot of downstream issues around our productivity, our health and our happiness because we’re striving for this impossible outcome.
“But when I talk about intentional imbalance, it means there’s intention and there’s imbalance.”
Part of achieving said imbalance is creating a plan to live an extraordinary life, thinking about how that looks decade by decade, setting intentions for yourself and using this knowledge as the point of reference when deciding where you need to put your attention.
“Until we’ve done that work we don’t have a valid point of reference to decide what we should or shouldn’t do, or how life should or shouldn’t be,” she says.
“If for instance, in this decade you’re going to build your career and in order to do that, your time and energy is going to be imbalanced towards work and career then that’s perfectly okay, breathe. All of a sudden you have given yourself permission to be imbalanced because it works in the context of your whole of life plan and it’s perfectly valid.
“Then when we are young mums and say, ‘In this time I’m giving myself permission to nurture and grow these beautiful little human beings and my energy and time will be committed and imbalanced towards that’, again that’s perfectly okay.
“When you have that permission it all makes sense, it puts today in context and people are happier, they’re more fulfilled, they’re excited about life. As I always say, ‘Don’t go into battle every day, go into dance’.”
While Judy has her life perfectly imbalanced now, it hasn’t always been this way. For 20-odd years, she owned a large accounting firm in central Queensland and admits she did “all of the wrong things”.
“I handed my life over to my business and as a consequence I lost in life to win in business,” she says.
But while at a conference in Queenstown, New Zealand, Judy had an epiphany that she did not have to live this life anymore – it was her choice. Upon returning home, she interviewed numerous business owners and leaders, identifying those who enjoyed a win-win story.
“There were the ‘haves’, who appeared to have it all together, they had really profitable, amazing businesses and extraordinary lives and then there was my tribe, those who had wonderful businesses, but no life,” she says.
“There was one subtle, yet powerful distinction and it was the point of reference in decision making – when ‘those who had it together’ made a strategic decision in business, their first point of reference was, ‘How will this impact the plan I have for my life?’ Whereas my tribe would say, ‘How will this progress my business? Without any reference to my life. We were left with the crumbs.”
Judy says the first step to having an extraordinary life is designing the life we desire, and then determining the extent of the wealth we need to fund that life. Then she looks at the business, what does it need to look like, what profit must it generate, to fund the wealth plan, to enable the life plan.
“We cannot focus on the business in isolation, leaving life outcomes to chance – we need to switch it up – life first, wealth second and then business. For years the accounting profession has been doing it back to front,” she admits.
In 2012, Judy founded Opening Gates and relocated to the Sunshine Coast – fulfilling a business and personal achievement on her way towards achieving an extraordinary life.
“I chose to design my business this way because I wanted to live a different, more purposeful life and be able to work anywhere,” she says.
“We have embraced technology, all of my team are remote, no one lives here, they’re all over Australia and when I’m overseas, I still have access to everything I need all of the time – I can work anywhere.”
Work/life balance is so unrealistic… Work is part of life, it’s what facilitates and enables life, so how can work and life balance? It makes no sense.”
Judy says offering a flexible workplace is no longer a soft touch approach, rather it’s a serious and compelling strategy for business leaders to attract the best candidates and achieve optimum productivity.
“There are so many benefits stemming from flexibility in the workplace – lowered absenteeism and turnover rates, improved workforce health, and increased productivity,” she says.
“We talk about the importance of knowing our customer, but we need to get to know our people as well. Money doesn’t seem to be as important if our human needs are being met. Those human needs are; having certainty about our job and our KPIs, experiencing variety to sustain our interest; feeling connected and a part of something meaningful; knowing that we are significant; needing to grow and wanting to make contribution beyond ourselves.
“If we meet these human needs at a high level as an organisation, money is less important and it’s harder for people to leave than it is to stay.
“In large organisations, I’ve noticed that the purpose of the business is often tightly held at an executive level and not effectively shared, and that’s why people leave, there’s no connection with purpose or they can’t connect with the heart of the organisation, because it’s not articulated, it’s not transparent enough.
“People don’t know they’re building a wonderful cathedral, they think they’re just building a wall, isolated from the bigger picture.”
Given everyone’s goals are unique, Judy says there is no better way to find out what someone needs, than to have a conversation about it – ‘Where would you like to be and how can I help you get there? What’s important to you?’
“Work means different things to different people, there is no right or wrong. For some, work is a job and in that case often money is important because it’s the money that enables their personal purpose outside of work,” she says.
“Other people see work as a career, so they have a plan to be in a particular position or place, they want support and they might feel they need to hop from one job or company to another to achieve that.
“Then there are people whose work feels like a calling or fulfilment, it’s core to who they are and may represent their life’s purpose. Knowing this enables organisations to design cultures that nurture the uniqueness of the individual.
“It’s critical you have the right people who come together as a team working towards a common vision, aligned to the organisational purpose, the power of that is extraordinary – having this amazing opportunity to collaborate and grow people, that’s what we need to see in more organisations.”
Make a plan
“Without a plan, opportunities come and we don’t recognise them as opportunities for us if we don’t have the context of a bigger picture, or clarity around our future wants or needs. Having a life plan brings relevance and meaning to business. The integration of life and business plans is often the missing link to overall success. I take the energy of living an extraordinary life into daily business activity to really ramp things up.”