Kevin Garber: [00:01] This week on "It's a Monkey" podcast.

Woman: [00:04] Really aligning what you're doing, your actions with your deeply held values is very much a successful strategy that you can adapt to lots of different types of tasks. Just as you've indicated, if you find it challenging to set aside the time to exercise but you can reframe that mentally, as you're actually serving the goals that you care about most. That's a great way to do it.

[00:33] [background music]

Kevin: [00:33] Good morning, good evening, good afternoon, wherever you are in the world. My name is Kevin Garber. It is Friday, the 24th of February. The month and the year is screaming past us. It's the It's a Monkey podcast, episode number 82. Thank you for joining us.

[00:55] As always, we got a fantastic show lined up for you. Before we get into the show, just want to welcome my regular co-host, Kate Frappell, who is the Design Lead at ManageFlitter. Thanks for joining us, Kate.

Kate Frappell: [01:08] Thanks for having me.

Kevin: [01:11] We're not Periscoping today, so it actually feels a little bit naked. I'm so used to Periscoping live and seeing the few people that pop up and the one or two comments. Not Periscoping today, because we're under a little time pressure. This is not our day job. We do this as a side effort and sometimes the real world gets in the way.

[01:34] Anyway, it's episode number 82, and we got a great show lined up for you. Later on in the show, I chat with Monique Valcour, who's an Executive Coach, Management Academic, Harvard Business Review contributor. I talked with Monique about work/life balance.

[01:50] It's this term that gets thrown around a lot. It is spoken about a lot in our industry, in the tech start-up world, and the professional world in general.

[01:58] Monique's actually done some research around this. She has worked for many years with people and organizations around the issue of work/life balance, around burnout, things like that. We're going to be chatting to her later on in the show. As usual, we talk about some of the goings-ons in our fantastic, fast-moving industry. We talk about a couple of news items.

[02:20] Kate, this week, WhatsApp is getting on the Snapchat Stories bandwagon. Snapchat Stories, Snapchat's been around for a while. Started out as the first ephemeral social media app, where you could send people a photo with some text that would disappear over a period of time.

[02:39] They rolled out a feature called Stories, where you could put one or many photos for all your Snapchat contacts. These Stories, so to speak, would last for 24 hours and then it would disappear.

[02:55] A lot of other social media networks have been copying the Stories' idea, namely Instagram copied them. I think even Facebook has some version that I haven't explored. Now WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has announced that they're launching something similar to Snapchat Stories called Status.

Kate: [03:17] The difference with WhatsApp is that it's also encrypted, same as their messages. They really stuck a beta version in November and now they've gone live and everyone's starting to use it.

Kevin: [03:30] They said they're rolling it out globally. We've tried to check if it's on our phones. You've got an iOS, it hasn't been sent to yours. I've got an android, it hasn't been sent to mine. They're obviously still busy rolling an item.

[03:44] We haven't had a chance to try it, unfortunately, but from the screen shots, it looks quite simple, quite straightforward. WhatsApp has got a huge user group across the world. It's going to be interesting to see the uptake of this feature.

Kate: [03:56] 1.2 billion users to be exact. Yeah, the interesting thing is that WhatsApp have users in parts of South America, Eastern Europe, and the developing world where Snapchat doesn't have traction yet. This will be the first time that they interact with the idea of ephemeral content and disappearing photos and stories.

Kevin: [04:19] It's going to be really interesting to see the uptake of that. Snapchat is going to be listing soon. They're under a lot of pressure.

[04:31] The consumer, social media, moves very fast. They all get inspiration and copy each other. It's going to be interesting to see who's going to be the last person standing at the end of the day. It's tricky when they start just copying each other so to speak.

[04:46] We mentioned in the last podcast, Snap's going to be OK if they don't get into this race, so to speak, of features and just keep on engaging with their users, building a brand, and seeing what they can offer, and trying to stay fresh and different. Differentiate themselves, not just cloning each other.

Kate: [05:09] The unfortunate thing for Snapchat is that they started this idea. They're one of the original people doing it. Facebook, and Instagram, and WhatsApp, which are all owned by Facebook, have essentially copied them. Now, they have to do the hard work to think of something that makes them different.

Kevin: [05:25] Yeah, interesting. I'm going to keep an eye on my WhatsApp and see if when we roll out that feature, we'll report back here.

[05:34] Another quite a fun story, Nokia. For those of us old enough to predate the iPhone era of 2007, most of us at some stage, had a Nokia, right?

[05:48] Nokia announced that they're going to be relaunching the iconic 3310, which is that famous and little LCD screen palm-sized Nokia that we all had. I think I had many. They lasted forever. Later on this month is the annual Mobile World Congress or Conference.

[06:15] I think it happens in Spain, in Barcelona. A lot of these companies use this as an opportunity to launch new products and new initiatives. This 3310 is going to be relaunched at Mobile World this month.

Kate: [06:32] Yes. There's been a leak by someone called Evan Blass. He said that, yeah, they're introducing the 3310 alongside some new Android-based smartphones, so Nokia 3, 6 and 5. I can't help but think it's a marketing ploy. At the same time, there's plenty of older markets that would enjoy a simple phone, I think.

Kevin: [06:57] I think some people even, there's been a bit of a backlash towards simplicity. Some people might even just want a phone just to text, maybe. I don't see the younger generations really because people don't call anymore and they don't even text anymore.

[07:14] For a lot of people, it will be pretty useless unless they really only use it for calling or maybe someone very young. A kid for safety purposes...

Kate: [07:27] I saw this. They used to market particular phones for kids so they couldn't rack up ridiculous bills and stuff.

Kevin: [07:37] Have one button or two buttons just to call home or call the police or something like that.

Kate: [07:41] Exactly. Now in the age of smart phones, the Nokia is sort of that phone now. They're afraid of their kids racking up their bill on data. Now you could you could give them one that make calls and send text. Give them $30 prepaid and that's it. It's not really going to cost them much.

Kevin: [08:02] I saw such a young kid on the train yesterday or the day before, trying to work out how young, and it's hard for me to judge if this kid was seven, eight, nine or 10. He was chatting away on his fancy phone. It looked a little bit...I was quite surprised that someone that young...What age do kids get phones these days?

Kate: [08:21] I don't know. I got my first Nokia, actually, when I started year seven, so the beginning of high school.

Kevin: [08:27] Right. Year seven's about 12, 13.

Kate: [08:29] Yes, I was about 13 at the time. It was probably the first color screen Nokia. It was my first phone. This one, the 3310, was probably the version before it because I know my parents had it.

Kevin: [08:45] My first mobile phone was the Motorola with the flip bottom but it was a brick. This was in the 90s.

Kate: [08:57] I do recall that.

Kevin: [08:59] Before that even, my father in South Africa was one of the first to have a car phone before mobile phones. It was so novel that people used to walk past his car and see the phone, and it was mounted.

[09:13] They would stop and they would look inside and they'd call their friends. It's hard to believe now. It sounds like a lifetime away but people were incredibly intrigued by the fact that you had a phone in a car.

Kate: [09:24] Yeah, I think I my dad had one too.

Kevin: [09:26] Yeah?

Kate: [09:26] I remember it. It's a big, big, black chunky thing with one of those spirally cords.

Kevin: [09:31] It had to be installed properly and it was better, but for people that were on the go a lot, even though the calls were very expensive, it was quite useful for people that would work from the car. It's come a long way.

Kate: [09:47] The only thing the 3310 would have to do at the stage is make it compatible with the modern SIM card, connect it to the 4G network and possibly come up to speed with some modern messaging standards. Otherwise, it's really selling itself on the durability and battery life.

Kevin: [10:08] Battery life, of course. Everyone's so critical of battery life and everyone thinks that battery life's so bad now, but it's not at all.

[10:15] Battery life's fantastic. It's just these things that we have, full screens and all sorts of functionalities. If you would use a modern Android or iPhone battery with one of those old Nokias, it would probably last for a year. I'm not even exaggerating. It would be interesting to see.

[10:37] If you keep your phone on airline mode, it basically just keeps on going. I've tried it even when my Android's on one percent, and you put it on airplane mode. It would just go for hours. The battery's life is actually really good. The consumption is just incredibly huge with our screens, and the Wi-Fi, and the strong 4G networks, and the processor that generates heat, and things like that.

Kate: [11:02] It's true. Someone might have commented to that the [laughs] benefit of the Nokias back in the day too was that everyone had basically the same phone. You could take the battery out, so you could pack multiple batteries. You could borrow your friend's battery, and then message from there or use your phone if you ran out of juice. Now, there's no way you can do that.

Kevin: [11:25] They're all glued in. Even some of the early Android phones, you could swap batteries. Even with my HTC, a few years ago, you could carry multiple batteries and charge them up. Now, they don't. Maybe, for water, if they seal the phone, it makes it more watertight and things don't move around. I don't know any phones now these days where you can change the battery. A few years ago, even you could so.

[11:55] The phones were much simpler back then. My favorite phone was still the Siemens sl35, I think it was called. It was a tiny phone, robust as all hell. It was one of the first phones that could play an MP3. I used to impress my friends by just saying, "Come over here. Put these headphones on."

[12:17] They were like, "Is your phone playing music?" It was not that long ago. I know it sounds like a dinosaur talking about these things. I was checking email on there before anyone else. People out would say, "Yeah, checking email on the ferry." By the time, I get into the office, I've checked my emails.

[12:35] I enjoyed the utility that these technologies brought. You could almost see the wave coming. The UIs were pretty basic. You had to be a little bit of a tech-head to navigate through them. Of course, the iPhone came and just blew it out of the water because anyone could use this.

Kate: [12:56] It's interesting. There is even if you think about all the friends that you've had over your life, the actual physical design and shape of that foreign changes quite significantly, like I went from a brick to a sliding one. My friends had flip phones. As soon as the iPhone came along, it hasn't changed all that much. It's one big screen and that's it.

Kevin: [13:18] Hardly. They've got them bigger.

Kate: [13:20] Yes.

Kevin: [13:19] They've gotten bigger, but the science that they haven't changed at all.

Kate: [13:24] Yes, in terms of compartments stuff like...the same shape and style has stayed.

Kevin: [13:30] It's almost like the innovation is a step graph. It lineally always exponentially goes up, and then it plateaus, and plateaus, and then it waits for the next Steve Jobs to come through with some breakthrough. It steps up and everyone copies and gets on the bandwagon, goes and then it's...It's even like airplanes.

[13:48] The jet plane, the 747 was released in 1969, hasn't changed that much. There's a bit more efficiency and things, but it's not air travel. The times are pretty similar. Their limitations are pretty similar. Over 40 years later, not much has changed, but yet until when the Wright Brothers, whenever that was, in 1969, the innovation was incredibly fast.

[14:16] From biplanes to, props, to turbojets, and jets. It's interesting that an innovative forces. It's really interesting to see the velocity and the rights have changed. Now, some things get stuck, and others don't.

Kate: [14:34] The one thing I miss the most there is snake.

Kevin: [14:37] [laughs] Snake. I am sure you can play PAC-MAN on Facebook messenger. It's the absolute [inaudible]. It's exactly the same.

Kate: [14:47] It wouldn't be the same, colored version or the older super graphics would not be the same as that little dotted line that went around. Do you remember the old snake?

Kevin: [14:59] I do.

Kate: [15:00] Nothing's going to beat that. I would buy the new 3310 just for snake. [laughs]

Kevin: [15:06] The Nokia snake, took about games and phones, right?

Kate: [15:09] Yes.

Kevin: [15:09] Anyway, you're listening to Kevin Garber, I'm the CEO of ManageFlitter and Kate Frappell, who's the Design Lead at ManageFlitter.

[15:18] We enjoyed putting this podcast together for you. I hope you're enjoying the show. You can always email us at You can tweet us @MonkeyPodcast. Someone tweeted us about the Phil Libin episode, Kate, and said she really enjoyed it. She's a huge user of Evernote.

[15:39] If you want to listen to previous podcast episodes, go to Got some fantastic previous episodes including our record-breaking interview with David Heinemeier Hansson, where the stats have just have just gone nuts.

Kate: [15:54] Through the roof.

Kevin: [15:55] Through the roof, breaking all of our records. I'd love to have David on again and talk more about leadership and their products, and things like that. Maybe I'll be able to twist this. We've got some great interviews coming up in the next few weeks as well, which will be revealed as they happen in the pipeline. We're going to take a short break.

[16:15] After we come back from the break, we're going to be talking about work-life balance with Monique Valcour, who's done some research in the area. She's a Harvard Business Review Contributor. She's an academic. She's an Executive Coach, and does all sorts of exciting bits and pieces relating to the area of work-life balance.

[16:35] Stay with us. We'll be back shortly.

Dave: [16:37] Hi. This is Dave with ManageFlitter. ManageFlitter is a tool that helps you work smarter and faster on Twitter. With ManageFlitter, you can clean up and grow your Twitter account. You will also get useful Twitter analytics, social content scheduling, and much more.

[16:51] Go to and start your free trial today.

Kevin: [16:57] You're back with It's a Monkey podcast. We talk about everything related to tech, economy, entrepreneurship. Our industry is famous for working hard, and needing to work hard, and to escape, and to get what we call escape velocity and product market fits.

[17:14] Unfortunately or fortunately, we all humans as well which means that this limits to what our physical bodies, our psyche can manage on a day-to-day basis. I thought on this week on the podcast, we'll actually talk about how we get hold of this thing called work-life balance, whether it's your own business, or whether it's your career.

[17:36] How do we manage these aspects of our career for the long haul? I was lucky enough that a tweet popped up on my timeline. I realized I follow an expert in the field. I'm very excited to say with me on my Skype call today is Monique Valcour, who is an Executive Coach, Management Academic, Harvard Business Review Contributor to talk about this very relevant topic.

[18:01] Monique, thank you very much for joining us all the way from France, I believe.

Monique Valcour: [18:05] That's right. Thank you, Kevin. I'm happy to be here.

Kevin: [18:08] Monique, work-life balance. We've heard about it a lot. I guess, a lot of industries including finance and tech talk about it. Every year, there seem to be more and more ramblings and there seem to be a lot of pressure within companies right through the ranks to create a culture and address this thing on the organizational level called work-life balance.

Monique: [18:37] As you mentioned in your intro, these things like escape velocity and so forth. I'm sure that your listeners are very familiar with the demands of being constantly connected to their businesses and to the world of technology needing to be always taking in new information and staying on top of the latest developments.

[18:59] Especially, if you're in the startup world, the demands of getting your business up and running can mean that you are continuously on. That's something that more and more people are experiencing as a sense of, sometimes, overwhelm.

[19:16] Even if you love what you're doing, you may find that you're not able to take care of yourself physically the way that you'd like to, or you don't have time to invest in relationships or activities outside of work like you'd like to, or that you're really hooked to your technology and you have a hard time putting it down.

[19:34] Between that and between the fact that many of us are working across multiple time zones, and that we feel that we really just can't afford to stop at all, it means that a lot of us are really getting overwhelmed.

[19:49] That's what I'm trying to push back against and to help people find that right fit of being able to really invest in your success, in your business, and then in your career, and also, really thrive as a person.

Kevin: [20:05] Also, a lot of people that are attracted to startups are what's used to be called a type A personality. I don't know if that's a term that's still used. In my understanding, it's people that are very driven, are very outcomes-focused.

[20:21] Their value system is very much about achievement and moving forward. Someone once gave me a great tip where I said, "When I've got so much work to do, I struggle to make time for myself or for exercise or things like that."

[20:39] This person said, "Well, you need to trick your mind. Instead of saying that you're going for a run to exercise, you need to actually say you're going for a run to actually work on your business, because if you're more well-rested and your system's in better shape, you're going to actually be able to do better work."

[20:59] You're actually tricking your mind according to your own value system which tends to suits type A personalities, which is if their value system is achievement and if they are very aspirational. Are those type of techniques or approaches good ways for people to, in a way, trick themselves to achieve a balanced state which is much more sustainable?

Monique: [21:25] Absolutely. That's a great piece of advice. I wouldn't necessarily frame it as tricking yourself. I would say frame it as making a choice to do what you care about most. What you said about really aligning what you're doing, your actions with your deeply-held values is very much a successful strategy that you can adapt to lots of different types of tasks.

[21:55] Just as you've indicated, if you find it challenging to set aside the time to exercise but you can re-frame that mentally as you're actually serving the goals that you care about most, that's a great way to do it. You're mentioning that there is a prevalence of type A people who are very achievement-oriented, who thrive on a high level of activity in the tech world than the startup world.

[22:20] You also, of course, have a lot of people who are getting into startups because they really want to be determining their own way of life and maybe they're coming out of a large company where they have been working for a while and finding that they don't want to be in that type of organizational system.

[22:39] They wanted to find for themselves a firm that's going to have a culture that matches them, that's going to allow them to structure their life where they want to. That's another set of motivations and that's another set of values that you can use to invoke and to align with the activities that you really want to devote time to. In gen, as the principle, that's a fantastic way to proceed.

Kevin: [23:02] Monique, what does the latest research show as a company, is the best way to approach a work-life balance? Is it to have a strict nine to five and create that almost as a policy so that people go home, rest up, and at least do one full day of work? Is it best to give them a lot of flexibility and let them determine?

[23:25] There's so many schools of thoughts. Some companies, deprive themselves on the...Even industries, like investment banking where they pride themselves on working till late at night, who knows? One thing that sometimes people forget is productivity.

[23:43] I don't know how productive some of these extreme work cultures actually are. Is there any research around productivity and verse, actually? As a business owner, what we're looking at achieving is enabling people to do their best work for the long haul in a way that doesn't burn them out.

Monique: [24:05] Yeah, there is a ton of research on how you can best support employees to have high job performance and well-being. I've done some of that research myself. A lot more of it has been done by colleagues and is continuing to be done.

[24:22] I would say that the most important takeaway, to my mind from that research, is that regardless of what policies you put in place, what truly determines how well people are and how well people perform is not the external policies or benefits.

[24:43] It's really the underlying management culture, because what happens is you may have an organization that has put in place, "Oh, we have flex time," or "We have a child care center for employees who have children," and then, "You have the ability to take a sabbatical, etc."

[25:01] If there's an underlying culture as, for example, in investment banking, one of the fields you referenced that says, "The only people who take advantage of these things are people who are not serious about their careers." What that does is it really negates the potential impact of having those policies in place.

[25:25] Really, the most important thing is how does the founder, how do the senior leaders...What's their basic philosophy in terms of human motivation? How do they see their employees? How do they treat their employees? To my mind, I've spent about 20 years looking at these questions and also working with different companies.

[25:47] While it is pretty beneficial to think through what kinds of policies can we put in place to support our workforce and help them to thrive and perform, I end up doing a lot of work with leaders to really dig down and get at how to help them be more emphatically connected to their employees and understand at a more visceral level, what kind of energy they're pumping into their employees.

[26:13] Conversely, if they're de-energizing their employees that something that is a big factor for burning employees out.

Kevin: [26:21] Is there any research or discussion around, perhaps a mix of the two scenarios where you go through periods where people perhaps enjoy burning the midnight oil, and there's a special project? On the flip side, then there's a great release and going into cruise mode for a while?

[26:43] It's something I think about a lot because I look at nature. Nature has...I think of it sine wave cycles. You have storms and then calms, a calm before the storm, a calm after the storm, but you have the storms.

[26:56] I'm wondering if some way in the middle where people, particularly aspirational people, do enjoy buckling down and being hyper focused and hyper-committed. Afterwards, they actually need a period to re-energize before the next wave comes along.

Monique: [27:13] That's a great observation, Kevin. It's very true both in terms of the fact that people do need to re-energize, renew, and then they're ready for another sprint. Also, that if you look at things on a longer term basis over the course of a person's working life, we go through different stages in our careers.

[27:35] It's very typical, the dominant way to be working when you're in your 20s and early 30s is in this mode of really achievement-centered work looking to learn as much as possible to advance, to build. Oftentimes, people are invested most heavily in their career at that stage in time.

[27:59] As people are in their late 30s, 40s, people are having children. They're building families. They might also be engaging in their larger community or with their larger families, etc. People who often look, and they've established a certain level of mastery, a certain level of achievement in their careers, they tend to be looking for more of a sense of integration and balance.

[28:24] When you look at people who are in the later years of their career, what often becomes most important is to have a sense of doing work that's really meaningful, and that maybe people are mentoring younger people.

[28:37] They're really trying to influence the development of new leaders in their technology or in their industry. They may be serving in leadership roles or on boards to help to shape the vision of future technologies.

[28:53] They may be looking at solidifying a sense of legacy of what they have done. People do tend to move through this progression of achievement and learning to balance an integration to a sense of meaning and purpose so that those sine waves are...They occur on different frequencies, essentially.

[29:16] You can have people say, "OK, I'm going to really sprint for the next nine months while we take this company public. Then, I'm going to try and step back a little bit, go out into nature, or run a marathon or something, and then come back in strong."

Kevin: [29:32] That's what people in the industry...They get the one part right where we do have to be very committed to get this escape velocity. If you don't fill yourself up on the other ends, burnout is just...It's almost just a given and then it's all over.

[29:51] That's what I say to some of my friends. I just say, "You have to replenish yourself somehow no matter what you're going through. If the outcome you want is productivity in getting somewhere, somehow at some time, you have to fill yourself up back a little bit. It's a law of physics in a way.

Monique: [30:11] There's a lot of different ways to fill yourself up. One of the things that I work with a lot with my clients is to look at your energy resources as a human being and where is it that you need to reinvest.

[30:28] For some people, you can burn out because you're just working too many hours. You're just not getting enough sleep, you're not getting out of the office, you're not eating well, you're not taking care of your body, etc.

[30:41] For other people, it can be that you are not having enough powerful social connections. There are people who are OK in terms of their stamina, but they may find that they have lost their sense of mission or that their work doesn't have the same motivational potential as it did before.

[31:03] At that stage, it may be not so much a question of taking a break and going away but of refocusing on how to bring back into your work what it was that got you feeling excited about it in the first place, or shifting a little bit what your focus is, putting yourself perhaps into more direct contact with your end user so that you can really re-appreciate, to a greater extent, what kind of an impact you're having.

[31:35] There are different ways in which people's energy can get run down. Depending upon what your profile is, what sort of stress you might be experiencing, there are different remedies for really bringing yourself back to peak performance and peak motivation. 
Kevin: [31:53] People like to talk about anecdotally the different attitudes and approaches in different countries, Australia versus the US versus Europe versus China, etc. Do you find there is a difference on a cultural level, or it's something that every culture perhaps likes to think that they're the most hardworking culture? [laughs]

[32:15] I do find that a little bit, in Australia, we're likely to have people from all sorts of countries and a lot of people say, "We in X, Y, Z country, we're known for our hard workers." [laughs] I hear that from a lot of different nationalities.

Monique: [32:30] There are absolutely important national cultural differences that have a big impact on the kind of work habits that get established, essentially where people draw meaning.

[32:48] As with many Anglo countries, Australia, the US, Canada, the UK, to a certain extent, are countries that tend to be fairly individualistic in nature, where achievement is valued, where you have a sense of, "Everybody can make it or fail on their own merits," whereas other countries have much more of a collectivist orientation.

[33:12] Their identity is drawn much more from the group that you belong to, the organization that you belong to, and what you are accomplishing collectively. There's also a real difference across countries and the extent to which people are very much focused on achievement versus focused on building the collective groups.

[33:33] You look at, say, the Nordic countries, where there's much less of a culture of long work hours. That's less the case in Europe generally than in Anglo countries, but it really varies within Europe quite a bit as well.

[33:48] You look to the Nordic countries. They do take very seriously the idea that, "No, we're going to keep the hours to a reasonable level." There aren't that many people who are pulling the crazy hours you would see in New York or probably in Sydney.

Kevin: [34:04] I believe, in Japan, you can't leave the office if your superior is still in the office. There's a culture there of working extremely late. I'm not sure how productive it is, but definitely, they work too long hours. You definitely can't leave until your direct manager above you has left the office.

Monique: [34:27] That's right. In fact, they have that term that you have probably heard before, Karoshi, which is death by overwork. There's a lot of Japanese salarymen who are putting in incredibly long hours. You might have a social obligation to go out and drink or go to karaoke with your boss [laughs] at the end of the day. It can be completely all-consuming work environment.

Kevin: [34:56] Death by overwork is a thing, right? There's been a couple of cases in New York, where young investment bankers have actually literally passed away. I don't know if it's from a heart attack or just from sheer exhaustion. There's a few cases there which have forced some policy changes in those companies.

Monique: [35:16] Absolutely. There was a pretty high-profile one in London a few years ago as well, this intern in investment banking who died after pulling several all-nighters.

[35:29] Those types of things, yeah, you look at something like investment banking or, say, surgery, in medicine, where there really is an occupational culture of you're expected to be almost super-human and doing that work, going day after day after day with very little sleep.

[35:50] It becomes really part of your identity. Unfortunately, occupational identity isn't enough to overcome the realities of your physiology. We do see plenty of examples in those extreme-work-hour occupations of people running into serious medical problems.

Kevin: [36:12] I grew up in South Africa. The medical profession there was just like in a lot of countries. The training process was very rigorous. There was a case where a young medical intern was leaving from an overnight shift on the way home from a hospital and actually fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident and died. That caused a big debate there.

[36:39] This type of thing is real. Even in our industry, in the tech industry, developers have to be really fresh-minded, on top of their game. It really trickles down to productivity. What we always have to ask ourselves is, "Are we being productive?"

[36:57] The trap of being busy and feeling busy or looking like we're busy, but are we actually being productive? We really have to be honest with ourselves because sometimes, when we're tired or we're pushing ourselves, we're better off just leaving it until the next day.

[37:14] It's hard to do sometimes, particularly if you're in, I wouldn't say crisis, but if there's a lot of pressure to deliver or get something out the door. It's really hard to leave it and come back to it tomorrow. Even if you know in some level that that is the better thing to do, there's this human drive to just keep at it and try and make progress on it.

Monique: [37:39] For sure, yeah. There's a real culture, too, of busyness. I'm American, as you can tell from my accent. I've been living in France since 2009. I can remember living in the US that when you would say to somebody, "Hello. How are you?" it would be more likely that they would say, "Oh, I'm so busy," instead of, "I'm well." [laughs]

[38:03] It becomes, a lot of times, like a badge of honor, that people draw a sense of their own meaning or their identity from just how many plates they're spinning at the same time. Sometimes, having that frenetic phase, partly it can become quite insidious. Everybody else is doing it. It seems like, "Oh, this is just how we operate."

[38:24] Some companies get into the mode of actually operating that way. There are some companies that just run in continual crisis mode. It's like people get an adrenaline buzz off of it. It's true that it is not very sustainable over the long run, particularly when you're working with a team that you really work well with.

[38:48] You enjoy your team members. You enjoy your work. You're intellectually excited by it. It's very easy to push it too hard. There has to be both individuals being in touch with, "How am I doing? Where is my energy? How well am I performing? What do I need to do to maintain that?"

[39:11] Sometimes, that means stepping back a little bit and slowing down. Also, in companies, part of what you need to do if you're a leader is to be taking the pulse of the energy level in your firm and make sure that you're not burning people out because it's easy to really run the engine too hot.

Kevin: [39:34] It is. As an owner-entrepreneur, I'm definitely aware that that temptation is...I wouldn't say temptation, but particularly times of challenge, where you want to get over some humps, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture.

[39:51] We've got a term in Australia where people -- I don't know if it's used in America -- but a lot of time when you ask people, "How are you doing?" they'll say, "Flat out." [laughs] We hear that a lot.

[40:05] One of the points you brought up that a lot of people do enjoy working with teams in the projects that they are in, I do think actually in the Western world, particularly in a lot of white-collar jobs, a lot of people do actually enjoy what they do. They actually do get meaning from it. They may take that a little bit too far at the price of some other aspects of their life.

Monique: [40:27] For sure. Also, if everybody else around you is doing the same thing, it can seem as though there actually is no choice, that this is just the way of the world. As you mentioned at the outset, my primary activity at this point in time is as a coach, but I spent about 15 years working as a management professor on the tenure track and tenured.

[40:52] In that world, in academia, there is just this constant pressure to anytime you're not dealing with teaching or meeting or meeting with students, etc. that you have to be working on your research because you've got to publish, publish, publish, keep publishing. It's really easy to fall into a trap where you feel like you just can't ever stop working on that.

[41:16] I realized, once I stepped back a little bit from that particular culture, that I truly hadn't even had a real weekend where I wasn't either going off and spending a couple of hours doing email or doing a little bit of edits or taking care of some tasks.

[41:34] I just constantly had it on my mind as well. I really was never able to let go of work. It's been really liberating to learn how to do that better in my career currently.

Kevin: [41:48] Despite the physical impacts that you spoke about, there's obviously mental health impacts. In the startup world, a few years ago in LA and San Francisco, there was a real spate of suicides in our industry, terribly tragic, mostly young or youngish people, not that it makes any difference.

[42:12] There was a lot of discussion about the work pressure, the expectations, even the fact that you have to be showing success to your staff, your investors, the press, no matter what's going on, working crazy hours.

[42:29] That deteriorates the mental health or it can do. If people are not checking in with themselves or being self-aware to replenish themselves to balance that, it can be a train wreck.

Monique: [42:40] Absolutely. It's funny, now that you emphasized that there were suicides among young people because there's also...particularly Silicon Valley in LA, the West Coast of the US, it is a real culture of youth as well.

[42:56] I've even heard of men in their early 30s, who are feeling like they need to have some cosmetic surgery because they're afraid that they're starting to be seen as over the hill, not as vibrant as they previously were, as their younger colleagues. It's crazy how that culture can take over.

Kevin: [43:21] I know what helps me is the word, perspective. It's thrown around a bit, but it really does help. Particularly if it's your own business or you're working in a startup, it's so easy to start feeling like your entire existence and meaning and you're defined by this thing.

[43:39] If you actually spend time with people on the weekend in other industries or do charity work or lucky enough to travel to other places or go camping, you actually do get this wonderful perspective that no matter what happens in the business, in the professional life, the good or the bad that happens, life is going to go on.

[43:58] I've got other options. Just as important as it is, I need to maintain perspective that it isn't a life-and-death situation, even though it may feel like that sometimes.

Monique: [44:12] For sure. What you're saying, going out into nature, camping or something like that, you really do get reminded that, "Yeah, this planet is turning independently of you personally." [laughs] You could vanish tomorrow. The larger world would remain as it is. It is good to be able to step back a little bit and have a different view on your activity.

Kevin: [44:35] The sun always rises. One day it won't, in 10 billion years or something, [laughs] but at the moment, we can be rest assured that no matter...whether we launch the product or not, the new product, the sun is always going to rise.

Monique: [44:49] Right, exactly.

Kevin: [44:51] Monique Valcour, Executive Coach, Management Academic and Harvard Business Review Contributor, I really appreciate you staying up late at night for us. A great chat, important topic. Thank you for joining us in the podcast.

Monique: [45:04] It's my pleasure. Thank you so much, Kevin.

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Kevin: [45:45] Kate, do you and your friends talk about work-life balance, or when you guys were at university, did you factor that in a lot? Was it a discussion?

Kate: [45:54] Not particularly. It comes up now, now that around we've got full-time jobs and working away. Some people are in jobs they don't necessarily like. Part of the reason they don't like it is because it dominates your life so much.

[46:11] They feel like they have to get into work really, really early and stay super-late. They don't have time to do the things that they want to do. Yeah, it comes into play later. You don't think about it when you're studying.

Kevin: [46:28] I was trying to think back. I did [inaudible] a long time ago. Admittedly, I was with the group of type A people. It's not really representative. I can't remember ever talking about the work-life balance.

[46:47] Things were also different in South Africa, where people just want to crack on and get ahead. It was more like America, where you're either at the bottom or you're more towards the top. The middle ground was very thin there. No healthcare, no public transport. There were quite a lot of expenses that you initially had to cover.

[47:11] Those are a lot of pressure, whereas in Australia, you got healthcare covered. You got transport covered. I love Australia. It's probably one of the best countries to be middle class, for lack of a better word.

[47:27] It's not such a bad option when some other countries, there is not much of a middle class. It didn't seem to come on our radar much.

[47:36] That being said, today, as we spoke about in the interview, it is very relevant, even just for sustainability. I'm sure some of your friends perhaps think about leaving just at some stage because they get burnt out, right?

Kate: [47:51] Yeah, I think so. A lot of it, too, is just not feeling appreciated. Needed is another cool one. Some people seem to like that, the 9:00 to 5:00. It's just a job. They live for the weekend, but a lot of people still want to find purpose in what they're doing.

Kevin: [48:13] Most people do, even more so in the West these days, where there's a breakdown of community. There's a lot of individualism. Even the things such as a nuclear family and religion and all of that, it's so unusual that a lot of people get their meaning through work.

[48:33] Maybe in the old days, they'd go to church in the weekend. Maybe some people do, but it's become more rare. Maybe that was communities.

[48:40] These days, people get a lot of their worth out of work. If their work isn't lining up, they look at changing that. Part of that is to have that sweet spot of work-life balance.

[48:54] I believe humans enjoy working hard in areas that they enjoy and they feel they can make progress at. I really believe that they all enjoy it, but there's a sweet spot. Beyond that sweet spot, it becomes a grind. When it heads into that grind, that's when the problem starts.

Kate: [49:14] Monique made a point, too, that motivation changes, depending on how old you are. When you're younger, I do feel that people get a lot more out of their job because it's more important to them.

[49:29] It's a bigger aspect of their life than, say, someone who works part-time and looks after their children. They work part-time. Their children obviously take a huge percent of their motivation and what they care about. Their values are higher for a family than they are for work.

Kevin: [49:46] It definitely impacts the phase of life. Some companies, big companies, it's changing, but traditionally, they have exploited that, some big corporates, where they bring in tons of young people and work them to their bone for a year so that they can get the brand on their resume, and then bring in another batch. [laughs]

[50:12] [crosstalk]

Kevin: [50:12] and burn them out.

Kate: [50:14] We talk about this a lot lately, actually, people working for big companies and not necessarily getting paid what they're worth. They just use their name and the fact that you've worked for that particular brand as the leverage.

Kevin: [50:29] I went for an interview many, many, many years ago for an Internet company, one of the first ones. I will not mention names. I was having a chat with a guy. He took me into this cool office. We were sitting on bean bags.

[50:48] He proudly declared, he said, "We don't pay market-rate salaries. We pay below market rate because we believe this is a cool place to work." It was very, very strange. This was in the heady days of the dotcom as well. This is where the laws of physics were going crazy.

[51:10] I found that was a very strange statement to make. The industry has matured since then, where people aren't stupid. Gimmicks don't work. The ping pong table is not going to make up for the lack of challenging projects or good team members.

[51:24] Those are all nice to have. It's fantastic that Google has great food. I've been to the campus in Mountain View. They've got a beach volleyball thing there and it's really nice there, but it's not going to...

[51:40] At the end of the day, most of the time, you're sitting working. You're working with your peers and you're doing interesting project. By the way, it wasn't Google, that company.

[51:53] Just to put it out there, it wasn't Google. I don't think Google would do something as silly as that. Gimmicks don't give you meaning as well.

Kate: [51:59] No. They probably work as a lure for a lot of people. They think, "Oh, it's nice." Even if you just go for your interview and you see these things, you think, "Oh, this is an impressive place to be. I want to be in this space," but are they the type of things that are going to keep someone around? Probably not.

Kevin: [52:17] Yeah, people, especially in our industry, but in general in our industry, people are smart. They can see through BS. That stuff is nice but I think the job is very much around the people you work with, the projects that you have and a place that you can do your best work. I try to create a culture and environment and the projects where people can do their best work.

[52:48] I believe that's what everyone wants to some degrees, to be able to do their best work. Creating cultures, it's tough. It's a very slippery thing. Humans are not cookie cutter and culture's a product of the CEO, and it's also a product of everyone else in there as well.

Kate: [53:09] Yeah, it's a mix.

Kevin: [53:11] It's a mix and it's feedback loops everywhere. It's quite tricky to create that, and some companies really get it right and some not so much. It's a work-in-progress.

[53:25] I know that Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson's company, they very much say, "We're strictly nine to five." I like that. They're at a very mature part of their evolution as [inaudible].

[53:37] I think when you're trying to achieve escape velocity, sometimes it's all hands on deck. We're trying to compress time and sometimes that means longer hours. Sometimes it can be fun to a certain degree, as I spoke about it in the interview, as long as there's a rejuvenation period.

[53:55] It is quite nice to have that as a policy and you don't get this funny situation where people are just staying late to look good.

Kate: [54:09] I think you mentioned in the interview was Japanese?

Kevin: [54:14] Yes, Japanese culture.

Kate: [54:15] They can't leave before their...

Kevin: [54:17] Superior.

Kate: [54:17] Direct manager?

Kevin: [54:18] Yeah. There are big cultural reasons for that.

[54:26] You've been listening to episode number 82. Thank you very much for joining us, hope you've enjoyed the show. You can tweet us. You can email us. We love hearing from you.

[54:35] Please check back every Friday or Saturday. We get these podcasts out. Remember, you can subscribe with iTunes, you can subscribe on Stitcher, you can use your podcast app on Android.

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[54:54] Why don't you do that? You can go to to get links to all the stories and even comments on the show. We'll be back next week with another podcast episode. Thanks, as always, to Kate for being my co-host, and we'll see you next week.

Kate: [55:09] See you.

[55:10] [music]