“Treat people like they are adults,” he said with a smile.

My client, Tom, was describing the policies of his new employer. “Employees don’t have vacation or sick time.  When they need time off whether it’s one day or two weeks, they talk it over with their boss and make the necessary arrangements, let colleagues know and take the time. It’s the “Treat people like they are adults” policy.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?”

We were both smiling.  I knew Tom had found a work environment that seemed to value the employee’s interests, as they defined them, with policies that  supported mutuality… that is, a concern that both employer and employee interests are addressed and a part of the conversation.

Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between job satisfaction and a healthy work-life balance.  This chapter focuses on a newer approach to  the work-life balance which is work-life harmony. I think you will see how this newer mindset tweaks the best from healthy work-life balance and contributes to maintaining purpose, joy and fulfillment, cornerstones of meaningful work.  Ideas for creating work-life harmony …even when the work setting isn’t into it so much will be offered too.

Now back to Tom’s story and why he’s smiling today…

Tom is the same client who, 6 months ago, was working in a job he grew to hate. Among resentments he was experiencing was his manager’s punitive approach to strict starting times, even when there wasn’t anything scheduled.  Tom dreaded every day he had to go to work. His productivity was solid.  In a lot of ways he was a STAR contributor.  Yet he was often late and that “lateness” to his boss became the focus.

Tom had reasons for his lateness which he explained to his manager. As a husband and father with an active preschooler and a wife who was having a very difficult pregnancy while maintaining an equally demanding full time job herself, mornings were challenging and often unpredictable.

Plus,  their  commute to work  took over 1 ½ hours. That’s right, since Tom and his wife worked for the same organization, they had decided to drive one car and choose a day care that was near their work with hopes that the long commute to and from work would provide more family time.

It was like Tom was on the balance beam attempting to balance, but falling on one side with demands from his employer, trying again and falling on the other side with the challenges at home.  Balancing work and home wasn’t happening.

He was miserable and spent a lot of energy thinking of ways to avoid his boss, worrying that his future in the company would be adversely impacted due to the clash of personalities and work styles. At the same time, Tom felt angry, demoralized and set up to fail.

No doubt Tom had joined the disengaged employee group. The battle between work and personal/family interests was waged. And Tom became clear. If it came down to choosing, his family & personal life would take priority over work.

This is not to say that the strict accountability for punctual starting times by Tom’s boss was wrong or entirely unreasonable. Who knows, that could have been from the manager’s best efforts to support Tom’s career.

Certainly, the meaning Tom attributed to the messages by his boss was anything BUT supportive.

From my vantage point, both employer/boss and employee were losing…badly.

And you already know that Tom is now working for a different company. He’s happier and feels hopeful about his future.

I think Tom’s work examples illustrate the differences, although subtle, between work-life balancing and work-life harmonizing.  Let’s explore together…

One of the best ways to talk about the concept, work-life harmony is to look at the definitions of balance and harmony.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, balance means an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady: she lost her balance and fell; a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

Harmony is defined as the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole: delightful cities where old and new blend in harmony; the state of being in agreement or concord: man and machine in perfect harmony.

You might be like Tom, very clear that work is not equal to family in value, so balancing them evenly was not a realistic goal. Yet, being able to do the work he loves to do outside of the home was deeply satisfying and of course financially critical to his lifestyle.

The work-life harmony approach captures the importance of both work/career and personal/family interests with the emphasis on interdependence, pleasing, and agreement between parts.

Moreover, all the aspects of life including work/career, personal/family, social, financial, spiritual, purpose/values are somehow interconnected and dependent on each other to achieve harmony vs. being separate from the other and often in competition with the balancing approach.

Here’s where Cole Porter’s, “You’re the Top!” comes in and the fascinating series on “what makes great music great,” a conversation between PBS Newshour reporter Jeffrey Brown and composer and musicologist Rob Kapilow.  The program is called, “Why Cole Porter’s Melodies and Lyrics Produce Musical Magic.”

It’s a beautiful example of what I imagine the interdependence of the harmony approach to life, including work interests achieves.

Watch it here or read the highlight below that speaks to the meaningful and yes, somewhat magical results when important parts combine in a great song; kind of like what happens when there’s a harmonious approach to work and personal interests:


“In a great song”, says Kapilow, “once words and music combine, they become a new, completely interdependent element. Words cease to have a purely literary meaning and music ceases to have a purely musical meaning. Though it’s true, these are enormously sophisticated lyrics, without the music, they would never work…”

Work-life harmony….and here’s some down to earth ways to make your own harmony…

1)   Strive to craft your purpose and passion.

If you own your own company or work for someone else, seek out that part, no matter how small, that connects for you, that excites you or makes your day brighter and brings out your best.

Be intentional about your contributions. Look at the mission statement and values posted on the break room walls.  Make them come alive for you. Use your strengths.

2)    Be a stickler for making good on sacrifices others make for you.

We do our best to keep family commitments, but there are times work schedules have to take priority. So, “making good” is about giving back in a way that is recognizing the sacrifice and maybe a little more.

So, if you have to miss your child’s orchestra concert, you make it up by taking an afternoon or whole day off to listen to her play or go to her orchestra practice and listen or have someone record the concert and sit with her and listen while enjoying an ice cream float.

Co-workers who cover for you so you can accept your partner’s invitation to take a long weekend away need recognition too. Certainly a thank-you or a lunch they love would be a good start.

3)    Be brave and share your needs with your boss/manager.

If there are some personal needs and some ideas to help that involve some adjustments at work talk them over with your boss/manager. Often hesitancy to ask is about not wanting to appear “weak” or “needy” but would definitely bring more harmony between work and personal lives.

For example, maybe leaving the office 10 minutes earlier in the evening would allow you to get a seat on the bus that often fills up before you can get there.  You can then be home in time to take your son to his French Horn lesson or enjoy your own voice lesson without rushing.

Certainly, negotiating may be possible and who knows, maybe the boss was looking for someone who could come in earlier or cover over the lunch hour.

Ask for what you want, notice what you get and be grateful for the no.  If you don’t ask, no one will know.

4)    Keep your promises to yourself.

Write your activities in your calendar in ink or highlight them in RED.  Your interests are important too. Too often our workout, quiet time reading or another dinner gets bumped off, erased and/or deleted because something or someone asks us to be available.

Remember, harmony is about a “pleasing and consistent whole” which you are definitely a part.  Be your own best advocate and protect your part.

5)   Work with friends.  Be friendly.

So, what could be better than to get some of those social needs met by enjoying a laugh or sharing thoughts and ideas to advance a new program with a friend at work.  Whether you make friends with the people already at work or you and your friends are able to find work together, what a neat way to combine important parts of a harmonious life.

Here’s an idea if you work at home. Go to the local coffee shop on a semi-regular basis and meet friendly people who are probably doing the same… changing scenery and being around other adults.   Maybe the library (I think if you talk quietly, you won’t hear… shh! from the librarian :))

So, the take away is best said by Rob Kapilow when talking about Cole Porter’s genius…

What makes a great song is not the great words and it’s not the great music. It’s the combination of the two.  Words mean nothing by themselves.  Music means nothing by themselves.  The two reinforce themselves and become a new unit that cannot be understood separately…”

Work-life harmony.  Music to my ears…yours too:)  

I’d love to know, How are you creating harmony between your work and personal life?