A Work-Life Balance Reminder: Iowa Treks and Sacred Mounds

This past weekend I celebrated my birthday with my parents and sister. The four of us drove five hours away to Harpers Ferry, Iowa, home of the beautiful Effigy Mounds National Monument. We stayed overnight in a Decorah, Iowa, where dined at a pizza place right off a residential gravel road and had ice cream and wine in a lovely Airbnb.

For those of you who don’t know much about Effigy Mounds, it’s the beautiful brainchild of Eastern Woodland Indians. They began building these mounds, many in the shape of animals such as birds and bears, in 500 BC and continued until the early European contact period. These mounds today can be found in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois.

The hike to Hanging Rock view was 3.5 miles of steep stretches of downhill and uphill. Occasionally we’d come across a mound, which resemble a huge, raised garden bed in a unique shape. After a spontaneous burst of rain and a lot of exhaustion, we finally made it to the Hanging Rock, where we ate lunch and stared out at the beautiful view of the Mississippi River. I sat on a rock, ate and thought about how I haven’t seen much of the United States. That’s always been something I meant to do but never actually did.

Coincidentally, I’ve recently rediscovered my old notebook from when I was an intern. On the second-to-last page, I’d listed pieces of advice people had given me during my two post-collegiate internships and the first few months on this job. They included:

  1. Don’t overthink things.
  2. Take care of your health.
  3. Stop saying “ummm” and “I guess” in interviews.
  4. Don’t forget the parts of your job you love.
  5. Don’t underestimate your opinion.
  6. Keep your bigger-than-life dreams (*Like seeing more of the U.S.!*).
  7. You have to ask for what you want.
  8. Don’t over-promise.
  9. Not every piece of advice applies to you.

I mention all of this because A) birthdays are reflective, B) the main reason I compiled this list was to remind myself how to be productive and happy in both my work and personal lives, and C) a lot of what I see, hear and read in the business space is how companies struggle to engage employees or keep them happy.

Of course, there are both external (i.e., work environment, corporate culture, job stress) and individual reasons (i.e., medical issues, personal life stress) for employee dissatisfaction or disengagement. I tend to focus on the external side for this blog, but always with the assumption that people have agency on their own life.

From that external point of view, employers are increasingly focused on engagement in their workforce — at least from what I’ve seen and the dozens of surveys and case studies on the topic. The number of times a week me and my colleagues get a press release about employee engagement is laughable. A lot of companies are looking for solutions to keep employees from getting bored, unproductive or disinterested.

From my point of view, as an employee, work-life balance is a major part of job satisfaction. I know, I know, isn’t that novel? Still, I think it’s worth the reminder to employers that giving employees the opportunity to be satisfied in both their professional and personal lives goes a long way. Sometimes that balance will be more skewed to one side than the other. During busy season, an auditor is going to have to sacrifice a lot of personal time to get the job done, and that’s OK. During some personal crisis, an employee may need to have a few mental health days to get everything in order, and that’s OK. What does the whole picture look like, balancing out the extremes?

Maybe that means acknowledging the extra work an employee is doing in an especially busy work week. Yes, it’s their job to do that extra work, but even just saying a sincere “thanks” could go a long way in making an employee feel like their extra work has been noticed. Maybe that means making employees feel comfortable that they can take a lunch break instead of eating at their desk or that they can take time off to go to the doctor.

And maybe it means letting them know they can take a day off to hang out at sacred mounds that look like bears.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorComment below, or email at editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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