Work/Life Balance Is Dead. Long Live Work/Life Integration! | Greetly

Work/life and work/life integration are explored with Paul McGowan of PS Audio, a Baby Boomer, entrepreneur, business owner, family man and successful CEO.

Last week we wrote in detail about Millennials and their perception of work/life balance, touching on a handful of recurring themes we encountered as we interviewed Millennials in different industries and researched a number of changes that have taken place over the generations. It seems many of you were pickin' up what we were puttin' down, and had your own thoughts and builds on the subject, too.

With that, this week we thought it apt to interview a Baby Boomer on the topic of Work/Life Balance, and better understand a few of the differences (and similarities) that we’ve noticed, as well as highlight some potential approaches to meet the needs of the changing workforce. We’ve shot for the moon with this interview and had a chance to chat with Paul McGowan, Founder, and CEO of PS Audio. Originally founded in 1973 by Paul McGowan and Stan Warren, with a few evolutions and changes in leadership (and a 7-year stint outside of PS Audio), Paul has been captaining this ship for the better part of 40 years.

Greetly visitor registration interviews PS Audio CEO Paul-McGowan

Paul is not your average Boomer. As the founder (and very much still active CEO) of the renowned high-end audio equipment company PS Audio, his experience and thoughts on work/life balance may be a bit different than others. He probably has more in common with legendary Silicon Valley CEO Jack Dorsey than your father, but his entrepreneurial mindset and never-settle attitude are what attract us to his perspective. “My life is a combination—a blur really—of work and life. I am fortunate that my work is also my passion and if I were to be punching a clock I suppose my reaction would be very different... I want it all: family, travel, experiences, laughs, emotions, memories. To achieve those I 'work' 7-days a week, 365 days a year.”

While perhaps Paul’s view is different than some of his generational comrades, his view supports what we’ve seen as an ongoing theme: It’s not so much work/life balance as it is work/life integration. 

"My workday begins at 6 am and ends 13 to 14 hours later. Within those many hours are [squeezed] my life. The only consistency in workdays is the morning routine of answering mail, writing my daily blog, answering customer questions, and reaching out around the world to help people have fun with their stereo systems. That takes me a few hours, leaving the balance of the day open for whatever interests me: hiking, interacting with the engineers at the company, playing with my grandkids, working on projects, writing one of my two books in progress. Here’s the thing. I am equally happy working hard at solving a company problem as I am roughhousing with the kids, or reading an interesting book, or writing my daily blog."

While this daily schedule used to be only afforded to business owners such as Paul, we're seeing this flexibility in the day adopted by many work-at-homers, contract employees, and those who work from coworking spaces, no matter the generation, or the income. 

Technology as a Tool

When reflecting on the differences between how Millennials and Boomers view and manage Work/Life balance, Paul thought back to what he felt when he was growing up, and what he sees now at PS Audio. “When I was growing up I tended to think in pretty black and white terms. I observed two basic types of work habits: those that worked to support their outside interests and lives and those whose work and careers were their lives. I see the same today, though with a different twist. Millennials seem to blend the two black and whites of my youth better—into sort of an amalgam. They’ve managed to work just as hard, but into that work they’ve integrated parts of their lifestyle: listening to music as they work, leveraging technology to balance between the two tasks.”

Listening to music in the office is one of the many tactics we suggested for Staying Motivated through the Madness. Maybe the Millennials are on to something here?

(Shameless Greetly plug: Another way to use technology as a tool is to employ smart technology within the office, like reception management software, to reduce work interruptions and to use time wisely.)

Self-Preservation Through Prioritization

Perhaps it is through a skill that Stephanie O’Connell calls Ruthless Prioritization that (some) Millennials are able to prioritize and continue to refine that work/life integration. O’Connell said, “Every few weeks, my priorities change and I'm constantly reflecting to stay mindful of those shifts. When I notice a priority shift, I ruthlessly reprioritize - which essentially means I build my day around priority number one... That's not to say I don't tend to my non-number one priorities the rest of the time, it's just that I schedule my days around my top priority on any given day to make it non-negotiable." While we don't all have the ability to completely rearrange our workday, we do hold the key to our own happiness, so if that means some ruthless prioritization throughout the week, we're all for it. 

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Changing Viewpoints

One way Millennials manage that balance better (or rather, differently) than their predecessors that we also identified last week is a change in viewpoints. Paul says, “From a very small sampling of what I see at work and around me I would say the one big difference is an ability to turn off the work brain when away from the job. I didn’t see that much in my day and it seems we were a lot more anxious about climbing the success ladder and escaping our parent’s fate than today’s crop.” The evolution of the definition of Success is likely the underlying motivator here for Millennials. Expectations have shifted, and with that comes a drastic swing towards a desire to ‘work to live,’ rather than a ‘live to work’ mindset. 

It's not just a shift from Boomers to Millennials, it also goes back the experiences that Boomers had with their parents, the Silent Generation. Paul says, "My generation was the breakout bunch. Post war babies were the first to openly reject the values and work ethics of our parents. We threw out the notions of retirement as the goal, work as the burden we carried upon our collective shoulders, and the grave rest from weary toils needed to support family and country. I remember clearly when we mortgaged our home to fund a family vacation to Hawaii. My parents were stunned and horrified. They scrimped and saved every penny for the good of the family and as a hedge against the unknown—while we went into debt for the benefit of fun and lifelong memories. Our bank account goals were different: theirs monetary, ours for life experiences. Today that notion seems somewhat commonplace and accepted. I think that’s a good change."

Meeting the Needs of Your Employees

While a pension and health insurance used to be the cost of entry, the shift in employee needs also means a shift in how successful companies operate. Employers are starting to look deeper into what motivates the individual. On how PS Audio addresses these needs, Paul says, “Building a workplace that is safe and supportive of our team is first and foremost in our minds.… We look for good feelings amongst staff. Are they generally happy? Is their home life being challenged by work? What can we do to make life better, easier for them?" Human Resources at PS Audio is led by Terri McGowan, and she is known for using this employee-first mindset, which has kept their employee turnover at unheard of lows in today's age. Open to trying new things, PS Audio’s transition to the latest schedule, the Alternative Work Schedule, was Terri’s idea. While it has been tough to implement since they are a very customer-focused organization, they’re willing to watch and see if the pros outweigh the cons. As we heard last week, that type of schedule certainly does a ton to attract Millennials as they continue to desire flexibility and self-monitoring of their workload. 

So, is it really Millennials that are causing this shift from Work/Life Balance to Work/Life Integration, or is it just a broader reflection on the continuous change we can expect as each generation's life experiences influence our wants and needs? What better way to wrap this up than with a quote from Paul, (that, actually, is equally representative of both many of the Boomers and the Millennials that we interviewed), “In the end, it is more about integration than balance because, well, I want it all.”

If you enjoyed speaking with Paul as much as we did, head on over to his blog, and sign up for his daily posts. And be sure to drop us a line if you have any thoughts on this topic or others. We'd love to chat. 

--Dave at Greetly

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