Young Market Researchers, Do You Want Good Work-Life-Balance? Don’t Earn Your Promotions “On Credit”
If you are a newly-hired market researcher at a CPG company, you will probably notice two things. The first is a burning suspicion that everyone expects you to be the last one out of the office everyday. The other is that your co-workers preach work-life-balance to you, while complaining they themselves don’t have it.
As a young-person, especially a young-person without a family, the imagined pressure to work late every night is a real issue. This is especially true if you are not a good time manager. Then, the pressure to work late probably isn’t imagined. Either way, when you go for your first promotion, the time you spend at the office after normal business hours will actually hurt you. That extra time after-hours is like a credit card of time. If you find yourself in too much time debt once you promote, you will struggle even more after your promotion.
Poor Work-Life-Balance is Not a Badge of Honor:
When I first started in shopper insights, I had a very enlightening conversation with my Sales Director. He said to me, “Anyone on my team who stays at the office after 6pm is an idiot. I don’t need them on my team.” You can imagine why we were having this conversation.
In my preceding consumer insights job, the culture of the headquarters made it a competition to see who could stay later. Staying late at the office appeared to be the sign of being on “the fast track.” I thought it demonstrated loyalty. I thought it showed what a hard worker I was. Apparently it showed people like this Sales Director that I was an idiot.
Unfortunately, I had gotten so used to needing to do my job from 8am-8pm to sustain my high-level of performance that I didn’t know how to cut-back time without hurting my performance. I had mortgaged my work-life-balance and had bought my promotion into shopper insights “on credit.” I wasn’t happy. I felt like an idiot. And the worst thing was, I didn’t know what to do next.
The “Hard Right” of Work-Life-Balance v. the “Easy Wrong” of Credit:
If you recognize yourself in my story, it’s OK. The good news is I figured out how to have a great work-life-balance as a market researcher, and you can too. That Sales Director put the right kind of pressure on me to get my work and my life priorities right.
As a result, I developed a few “hard” principles that I still follow to this day. Since applying these “work smarter not harder” approaches into my work routine, my performance ratings have gone up. I’ve reapplied them successfully at two very different companies. And I have won more awards for Market Research Excellence. All this is the result of spending LESS time in the office and achieving a better overall work-life-balance.
My Approach to Better Work-Life-Balance in Market Research:
Set Priorities Based on Importance and Urgency. Market researchers are great at turning data into a simple visual story. Do that with your to-do list. Make a cross-plot of Importance v. Urgency. Bucket your work into each of the quadrants. Important projects are the biggest, most mission-critical projects for your business. Everything else can be delayed, delegated, or deleted.
Lock Your Computer in Your Desk and Leave at 5pm. Try this for a month. You don’t get to work late. Anymore. Period. Adopting this technique was the single biggest game-changer in my career. It forced all of the wasted time out of my day. I had to complete my important and urgent priorities for that day by 5pm. By getting in this habit early in my career, I progressed in my career at a manageable pace and seamlessly kept a good work-life-balance even after my promotions.
Treat Email as if it Were for Your Convenience, Not Anyone Else’s. Email is the single greatest impediment to a good work-life-balance. In general, if I’m asked for my opinion in Email, I respond once to the chain. If that isn’t sufficient, I have a conversation. Talking to your co-workers is faster than Email. If you can’t write a clear response in Email in under 5 minutes, call them or go to their desk. Also, if the Email falls into my unimportant/un-urgent quadrant, I wait for a second Email on the subject before responding.
Don’t Be a People Pleaser, Be a Network-Builder. As a new-hire, it is very easy to be sucked-in to the belief you have to prove yourself. No matter how esoteric, difficult, or misplaced the request that appears in your inbox, you feel the need to be the one who delivers on it. Don’t. This is another trap that will tip your work-life-balance. The question I ask myself on every request I get is, “Am I the one who can add the best unique value to this answer?” If the answer is objectively “yes,” it gets on my to-do list. If the answer is “no,” I have found that the most business-building thing I can do is forward the request to someone who can answer it better than me. After all, I we all get a lot of misguided requests. Make sure it gets to the right person.
These are just a few of the tactics I use personally. If you want to read about others, check-out this article.
How This Work-Life-Balance Matters for Promotion:
OK. Let’s say you aren’t doing the things I recommend above. You are working 7am-9pm. Sometimes you take your work home with you after that. You complete everything that comes your way, even the less important, less urgent stuff. But the boss thinks you are rock-solid. You’ll probably promote at or ahead of your peers. What then?
If you have to do an entry-level assignment until 9pm, what happens when the work gets bigger and harder? How will you know what to delegate to your direct reports if you couldn’t delegate the misguided Email requests you received? What will happen when the projects become more urgent and more important and you still have bad prioritization skills? Will you ever achieve work-life-balance? Maybe that early promotion doesn’t sound so good.
Get your work-life-balance right. You will know you are ready to promote once you can come into work and the job is easy. You are not ready to promote if you are staying past 6pm because the job is hard. Your manager knows it too. She’s probably been there.
If you are making these mistakes in your current job, don’t worry, you aren’t an idiot. I did the same things. I hope by reading this blog post you understand that there is a better way. You CAN have work-life-balance in market research. Further, if you develop the skills needed for work-life-balance at the entry-level and stick with them, you can continue to have good work-life-balance as you progress in your career.