Finding Balance With Time On Your Hands

Rhonda Spencer
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There is peril in working at a job you love. 

As I approach 50, the act of staying in balance as a wife, mom and leader at work has changed. That became very evident recently when I returned home after a four-day business trip through six countries.

As we began the final day, one of my colleagues exclaimed with glee, “We could work 24 hours today!!” We had met in Germany in the morning, got on the plane to come home and then started a meeting to discuss outcomes of the trip. That final meeting lasted six hours. 

You would think that it would be easier to find balance with more time, but in fact it’s easier to get out of balance

I love my job but sometimes it seems that my colleagues are IN LOVE with working.

I’m the Chief People Officer of Barry-Wehmiller Companies a $2.5 billion company headquartered in St. Louis that has grown through a strategic combination of acquisition and organic growth initiatives to become a leading provider of manufacturing technology and engineering consulting solutions to a global customer base. I lead a team responsible for the traditional human resources function, leadership development and learning, and Continuous Improvement. In addition, my team leads BW Leadership Institute .

Our CEO Bob Chapman is 71 and he has a running theme on how he needs to “de-Bob” the business, in other words transfer his leadership impact to a broader group of people.  He claims he is getting old.  After going to six countries in four days with him, I can attest that he’s just fine.  He has the boundless energy that comes from doing something about which he is passionate.

Needing Flexibilty and Finding Balance in my 30s:

At the age of 30, I asked to leave my role and take a more flexible one.  Then I left the office and went to a nearby mall to walk in circles, thinking I might throw up.

I had amazing opportunities very early in my career at Barry-Wehmiller, and had the role of Vice President of Sales for North America in my late 20’s.  When my daughter, Isabelle was a baby, my husband Mike and I realized that we weren’t living the life we had imagined for our family.  Both of us on the road all the time.

work and life choice

work and life balance

We were so fortunate to have my mom as our fulltime childcare, but it still didn’t feel right.  At the age of 30, I asked to leave my role and take a more flexible one.  Then I left the office and went to a nearby mall to walk in circles, thinking I might throw up. It was scary.

Ultimately, that flexible role was the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life.  It put me in a position to help shape the BW culture that we wrote about in the book, Everybody Matters. I was able to build a team of 18 amazing people while still working a flexible schedule.  I finally came back “full time” three years ago to take the role of Chief People Officer, at the request of our Board of Directors.

Finding Balance Now:

I was so proud of the way I orchestrated and achieved balance during my kids’ critical years.  I made some significant career choices to step back from a VP role so that I had more time to be present for my husband and children.  The result was terrific: I moved toward an area of strength and passion and was able to evolve into an incredibly meaningful role.

With one child in college now and the other in high school, the demands on the home front aren’t so immediate. rhonda-with-familyThe pace at work is accelerating as our company continues to grow.  I find that it is very easy to spend more and more of my waking hours working.

You would think that it would be easier to find balance with more time, but in fact it’s easier to get out of balance.  At 49 years old, I am in a position of greater impact in a company I love.

Like my colleague said on the plane — I could work 24 hours a day.

My husband, friends and hobbies don’t demand attention the way young children do.  When the kids were young, I fought hard for those hours to exercise as a release from constantly being needed and time to just be alone.  Now, when I can leave the house and go for a run anytime I want to, I actually exercise less!

One Saturday morning recently, I was up early, sitting in a chair with a huge cup of coffee and my laptop.  When my husband Mike joined me, he said, “What are you doing, working?”

“Yes, just cleaning up my email inbox,” I replied.

“But,” he pointed out, “you are filling everyone else’s inbox at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning.”

I told him that I didn’t expect them to answer and he said, “Do they know that?”

His question gave me pause. So the following Monday, I took a quick poll of the team, and most said, yes, they would feel that they had to respond to me over the weekend.

I have tried to modify my behavior: not that I don’t do Saturday morning emails, but I do try to use delayed send.

These experiences have led me to realize that as we approach 50, life and life balance changes.  We’re in roles of greater influence and impact.  As such, the challenge of leadership is greater in every way.  Are we the model that we want our teams to follow in every way?  Are we sending an unintended message that the expectation is to work 24 hours a day?

I’m proud of the balance I had to work so hard to achieve when my children were younger. I’m grateful for that path those difficult choices led me to on my career and how those choices showed me the importance of balance in life and made me a better leader.

It is my goal to continue to apply those experiences and knowledge to help others recognize the importance of balance and to make sure I continue to keep balance a priority, even though sometimes – because my stage in life will allow it — I’ll probably give 24-hours to this job I really love.

Barry-Wehmiller’s cultural journey is chronicled in Everybody Matters, a Wall Street Journal Best Seller, released October 2015.


 About Everybody Matters:

Coauthors Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia show how any organization can reject the traumatic consequences of rolling layoffs, dehumanizing rules, and hypercompetitive cultures. Once you stop treating people like functions or costs, disengaged workers begin to share their gifts and talents toward a shared future. Uninspired workers stop feeling that their jobs have no meaning. Frustrated workers stop taking their bad days out on their spouses and kids. And everyone stops counting the minutes until it’s time to go home.

This book chronicles Chapman’s journey to find his true calling, going behind the scenes as the Barry-Wehmiller team tackles real-world challenges with caring, empathy, and inspiration. It also provides clear steps to transform your own workplace, whether you lead two people or two hundred thousand. While the Barry-Wehmiller way isn’t easy, it is simple. As the authors put it:

“Everyone wants to do better. Trust them. Leaders are everywhere. Find them. People achieve good things, big and small, every day. Celebrate them. Some people wish things were different. Listen to them. Everybody matters. Show them.”

Click here to purchase Everybody Matters, the Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People



About Rhonda Spencer

RHONDA SPENCER is convinced she has the best job in the world. As Barry-Wehmiller’s Chief People Officer, Spencer leads a team of professionals whose central role is sustaining the organization’s vision of measuring success by the way they touch the lives of people. To that end, Spencer’s team focuses on inspiring personal growth of the
organization’s 11,000 team members, cultivating leaders from all corners of the global firm, and fostering the dynamic people-centric culture found within the company’s eleven global operating companies. Spencer began her journey with Barry-Wehmiller in 1991 as an engineer within the firm’s consulting group but was quickly promoted to Vice President of Sales for one of its operating companies. In 1999, Barry-Wehmiller’s visionary CEO Bob Chapman tapped Spencer to create a team to help transform the traditional manufacturing firm’s culture. Under Spencer’s leadership, the Organizational Empowerment Team initiated innovative continuous improvement and sales motivation
programs as well as the organization’s successful leadership development institute, Barry-Wehmiller University. Spencer assumed the newly created leadership role of CPO in June 2014 as the organization merged Culture and People Development (traditionally
known as HR) and Organizational Empowerment to harmonize cultural initiatives and fully engage the global talents of both teams. Barry-Wehmiller’s cultural journey is chronicled in Everybody Matters, a Wall Street Journal Best Seller, released October 2015.

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