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Defining Life-Work Balance (for a reason)

Ryan Barton, CEO

In 2006, Mainstay metamorphosized from just me, to a team of 5. My solo production had become an ensemble, and suddenly I was a “leader.”

I didn’t know much, but I knew that I didn’t want my authority to come from my “position” or my ability to sign paychecks. “Because I said so” has always struck me as a travesty and a farce.

Earning my authority, each day, from each of my teammates was my pursuit. To earn it based on how I showed up. Trust in my leadership directly commensurate to my genuine care, increasing competence, open humility, and eagerness to serve. I saw my job as being the servant of my teammates, who served the clients.

So far so good! I hold those truths today.

But one thing wasn’t good. One of my beliefs had real, tangible, negative consequences in the lives of those around me. And it necessitated a significant change.

This one belief I came to regret.

At that time, I believed that a great leader also worked longer hours than anyone else. You get in at 8am? I’ll start at 7. You start at 7? I’ll login by 6. The heart behind it was a desire to never take someone for granted, and never relax on the hard work of others. That’s a wonderful intent.

But the result wasn’t wonderful. Unintentionally, I created an environment that rewarded long hours. Made late nights a badge of honor, even.

As we grew, I witnessed a father regularly at the office while his wife put the kids to bed at home. I saw an all-in teammate cancel her vacations to support our growth. And I noticed the collective dimming of outside interests as work shone brighter. And while I rejoiced at seeing careers rise in success, I was troubled by the accompanying rise of priority these careers took in the lives of my teammates.

And if I was honest with myself, not just theirs. Mine, too. I loved leading Mainstay then and I love it now. But my early career success came at the cost of what had once been important to me. Work became more important than music, than art, than volunteer opportunities, than extra family time.

Work had become too important to us all.

Mainstay needed a truer foundation. We needed to change. I needed to change.

The reason Mainstay exists is to support the flourishing of people. Our clients, our team, and our community. We see profit as a tool in the pursuit of real happiness and meaning in life. Money is a means, not an end. People are the end. This has always been our intent.

And it was clear, working 50-60 hours a week, no matter how “normal” that is in IT, does not lend itself to flourishing.

And so, we came to be fervent, ardent, evangelistic believers in life-work balance. Not “work-life balance” as it’s often stated. Life is the pie, work the piece. Work does not come first.

Good work is wonderful. We were each made to work, to grow as we work, to change the world in work! But work must serve the whole. Life is about pursuing meaning, loving others, growing one’s self, and finding joy. Work that doesn’t further that adventure is wrong.

Today, we expect our teammates to each work 40 hours. 40 great, focused, creative, connected hours. We monitor timesheets and when a teammate is regularly putting in more than 40 hours, we work with them, adjust capacity, and set clear expectations.

We give generous PTO and regular sabbaticals and we expect our team to take 100% of their time off. We have purposefully not done “unlimited vacations” because the data shows that most people with supposedly unlimited vacations end up taking less time, with the latent pressure of unclear expectations.

We expect our team to be off when they are off. We rotate on-call schedules so that the load is as light as possible and all vacations are sacrosanct – no carrying a work phone, regardless of the length of vacation.

We maximize schedule flexibility, balance schedules after especially long days, and bonus for off-hours work while limiting it. We encourage teammates to set a personal, intentional balance of work-from-home versus work-from-the-office. And we love it when they travel and use remote work and time off to maximize their opportunities.

And we partner with each teammate on her/his/their growth goals and resource them with training opportunities.

We believe work, done right, is a life-giving force. That it furthers our adventures for the very meaning of life: it helps us to improve ourselves, to connect with others, to fuel flourishing lives of abundance, and to change the world for better.

But compelling work also has a way of taking precedence. Of demanding more and still more of us.

That is why we have come to prize our guardrails. We defend them. We strategically plan within them. We define our very success by them.

There is no success worth having if it results in long hours, on-call vacations, and a crowding out of other priorities. So, we will continue to define and monitor success measures around the place work has in each of our lives.

My own included. I’ll work hard today. From home. And at 5:00pm, you’ll find me outside, playing with my kids.

Ryan Barton is the founder and CEO of Mainstay Technologies. Mainstay serves its clients as their IT and Information Security departments, with a focus on both deep expertise and on warm personal relationships. Mainstay follows the tenets of Conscious Capitalism and measures success by the degree it furthers the flourishing of its clients, team, company, and community. It has received multiple awards, including Best Companies to Work For, Business of the Year, Inc 5000, Business Excellence, and the Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. Ryan is a devoted husband, father of three (ages 3, 4, and 5), and an insatiable reader, which gives him a vocabulary that tends towards annoying.

May your work assume
A proper space in your life;
Instead of owning or using you,
May it challenge and refine you,
Bringing you every day further
Into the wonder of your heart

– John O’Donohue