Top Ten Ways To be a Military Work-Life Balance Ninja

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(John Dwyer/DVIDS)

Does anyone believe that work-life balance is possible in the military? Surely that kind of even-steven life is only for couples who work 9 to 5 and live near the grandparents and never, ever move. Balance isn't for people like us. Or is it?

I called on Mike Auzenne of Manager Tools, a firm that consults and trains managers in Fortune 1000 companies around the world. Auzenne and his business partner Mark Horstman are both West Point grads who served in the Army before making the transition to the corporate world.

I figured that unlike so many corporate types, the Manager Tools guys would be able to outline the steps of work-life balance in the real world military. Check out Auzenne's specific suggestion for military members then listen to their work-life podcast here.

1. Compare your family to a yellow M&M. According to Manager Tools dogma, your family is the sun. Your work (even your work in the military, folks) is a yellow M&M. Both are yellow. Both are round. And that is where the comparison ends. FAMILY IS FIRST. When every living person in the military forgets you, your family will remember what you did, what you said and what it meant to have a life with you. Your contribution to the military can't touch your place in your family.

2. Balanced does not mean equal. Many people think of work-life balance as two sides of a scale. The amount of time that goes into the military should equal the amount of time spent at home, right? That just isn’t going happen in military life. Instead, think of balance as a continual shift. Sometimes more time is spent on work and other times, more time is spent on family.

3. Military needs will come before family needs. "There is no question that the needs of the service outweigh everything else," Auzenne told me. "When they call, you come." Not only is this a good idea when it comes to getting promoted, it is dictated by law. Living family first while dropping everything to respond to the military is hard. But it is one of the skills you must learn if you plan to have both a long military career and a long, happy marriage.

4. Go home now. "There are times your boss or the military can legitimately demand your presence," said Auzenne. "That means that you must then protect family time when you are not being deployed." Auzenne says this means you aim to leave the ship, the office or the battalion on time every day. Or you arrange to stay late some days and leave early on other days. "Everyone I know who performs at high level sees themselves as needing to get work done now so they can go home," said Auzenne.

5. You must earn your spouse's trust. "There is a certain amount of time your spouse needs from you in order to be healthy and whole," Auzenne notes. If your spouse trusts that you really are trying to get home on time, then the nights that you stay late are no big deal. You have to go home in order to gain the trust it takes to stay late.

6. Golden Hours at home are between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you have a young family, the early evening hours are the most crucial. Hungry little people are cranky little people. Two sets of hands working together as dinner is prepared, homework is done and baths are given makes a huge difference. If you come home late, you miss the whole thing. Be there when it counts.

7. Golden Hours for work are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. All the important stuff at work happens in the early part of the day (unless you are a military recruiter.) As the day gets longer, people become less efficient at their work. Then work seems to fill the time allotted. Hence those long, unproductive, late afternoon meetings. Learn what you need to do to focus and get your work done so everyone can go home on time.

8. Assess your risk accurately. There is an unwritten rule in the military that you don't leave until the boss leaves. That's ludicrous, according to Auzenne. "There are thousands who put family first. What do they do on the day that when it is quiet? They go home. They know they are taking a slight risk in going home before the colonel goes home. They do it because they accurately assess that on most days the real risk is from losing your home life."

9. Get off your phone. Too many military members are tied to work by constantly checking their texts and emails. Auzenne says you have to learn trust in the hierarchy of communications. "If they really want you, they will call you. If you put family first when you are home, if you stay off your email, if you are really present when you are home, when you do get a call the family will be good with that."

10. Send them home. Once you are in charge of the whole shebang, do your team a favor and send them home for the Golden Hours. Set an expectation that you will all run fast and focused during work hours so that everyone can get home when it counts most. You will need these service members and their families to be at their best when they deploy. So teach them the skills they need to achieve success in the military and life.

Work-life balance in the military is possible. Remember that balance doesn’t mean equal and that leaders lead by example. Make sure your priorities are known by your team and follow-through with them. You spend enough time at work, make the family time count by being present and be home whenever possible.

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