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  • Writer's pictureKelly Walsh

Teeter Totter of Work Life Balance

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

The article can also be read on CEO Magazine. (

The never-ending struggle of reconciling a professional life with, well, any other kind of life, is often considered as a question of balance. How do I balance personal relationships and professional ambitions? How can I juggle the demands of my job and my family? Amid all this talk of balancing and juggling, I’d like to throw in my two cents and say that I find the best, most apt metaphor for work-life harmony to be that of a teeter-totter.

Yes, that oddly named fixture of playgrounds everywhere is the best visual guide I can give you to thinking about your professional and personal relationships, because, on a teeter-totter, as in all relationships, it takes two to make the thing function properly. If you dig your feet in and refuse to budge on your end of the teeter-totter, you’ll have your counterpart held hostage up in the air. If the other person decides to up and leave without warning, you’ll be sent crashing to the ground for one painful landing. These push-and-pull dynamics are more than simple physics: they’re the principles that govern our interpersonal exchanges on an emotional and intellectual level.

Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed with the amount of responsibilities that you feel are on you, remind yourself that, while you certainly do have commitments and obligations to honor, the expectations surrounding them are a two-way street. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a little quid-pro-quo in your professional (and personal) relationships. I’ve compiled a few simple suggestions to help set you on the path to valuing your own worth and getting the most out of your business interactions.

Communication. We’re talking about the Golden Rule of work-life balance. Being honest, direct, and realistic is the best policy whether you’re an employer or an employee. If you’re in a position to do so, make your expectations of staff members explicit—no hidden tests or misleading understatements—and if you’re on the receiving end of those expectations, be upfront about your own abilities, so as to play to your strengths and interests and help your employer understand how to most efficiently organize his or her team. More generally speaking, also be sure to build relationships on a positive foundation, even if it’s something as simple as a shared enthusiasm for the Food Network, because no one wants to be known as a favor-seeker or a perpetual bearer of bad news.

Flexibility. This goes for all parties: try your best to be accommodating, within reason. Not every “Jump!” should be met with a “How high?” but a willingness to be understanding or to learn a new skill will go a long way. Stick to the lines you’ve drawn (if you’ve made it clear that you only allow a two-day grace period for late work, go right ahead and enforce it), but be reasonable in considering what’s negotiable and what’s not.

Responsibility.Take ownership of your past actions and acknowledge your intention to do so for future ones. If you’ve made a mistake, as we all do, claim it, explain it, and correct it without any buck-passing. People will generally respond much more favorably to an honest acknowledgement of a shortcoming than to a barrage of excuses. You’re only human, and there’s no point in shirking ownership of that particular fact.

Attitude. Delivery is everything. “Positive attitude” is a phrase that probably graces the pages of every code of conduct ever written, but it’s persistent for a reason. If you’re able to leave your employer or employee with a sense of positivity, you’ll quickly become someone he or she will want to deal with more. There’s a difference between being a yes-man and being a positive presence: the one disingenuously alters truths and the other simply maintains a good outlook. You can respectfully disagree with someone and still be pleasant about it—and so you should.

There’s no quick fix or easy answer to any question involving individual ambitions and desires, but by being reasonable, approachable, and affable, you’ll certainly smooth the way towards equitable solutions to many a problem. Being on a teeter-totter may, if you’ll excuse the pun, have its ups and downs, but it’s only with full cooperation from both sides that everything stays in motion and makes for a fun ride. --Kelly Walsh



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