On Work, Love & Play: An Interview with Brigid Schulte

October 13, 2015 Sarah Payne

Americans work the longest and most “extreme” hours of any industrialized country in the world. So that means we get a lot done, right? Not exactly. Countries like Norway, where people work shorter hours, are actually more productive per hour than the U.S. Instead of making us more productive, the pressure to prioritize work before everything else has made us really bad at time management.

WorkHuman 2015 speaker Brigid Schulte explores this idea of time pressure in her New York Times bestselling book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play When No One Has the Time. A former award-winning journalist for The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine, Brigid now serves as the founding director of The Good Life Initiative at New America, and director of the Breadwinning and Caregiving program.

Brigid was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about “the good life” and how recognition can help create a less overwhelming workplace. She also shared some really helpful time management tips.


  1. What does a human workplace look like to you and how does it play into “the good life”?

To me, a human workplace is one that not only allows, but also encourages people to be authentic. To bring their whole selves to work. What that means is that workplaces recognize that work—good, hard, meaningful, purposeful work—is important, and giving workers the opportunity for autonomy, mastery and purpose are important keys to motivation at work.

But managers, executives and colleagues recognize that work is only one dimension of a rich and full life. You recognize that human beings need love, that human beings need time to care for their families, that human beings need time to rest, recharge, and to feel fully alive. And you see that a well-rounded, authentic employee is of higher value to the workplace because they’ll have the mental, physical and emotional energy to be efficient and productive, to forge trusting relationships with other workers and communicate clearly for better teamwork, and, by being exposed to the wider world outside of work, perhaps they’ll bring fresh ideas, new perspectives and have greater opportunity for insight.

  1. Based on your research, can work, love, and play blend together or is it best to keep them separate? Why?

Honestly, blending or separating is very much a function of your own style and your own life circumstances. Some people thrive blending work, love and play, or leisure – what some sociologists have taken to calling “weisure.” Others prefer brighter lines, firmer boundaries between work and life. The researcher Ellen Ernst-Kossek has a wonderful book, CEO of Me, where she helps people figure out their own work-life “flex styles” to come up with solutions that work best for them.

Me? I’m a fusion lover. I’m more introverted, so I love working out of my home office. I’m incredibly self-directed and have a fierce work ethic. I call myself a recovering workaholic. What’s great about that is that I’ve been able to take a breath in the morning and map out my priorities for the day, week and longer-term, work in focused, concentrated stretches of time, and then take a break when my kids have come home from school and check in with them about their day. When they were younger, that was precious, precious time. Now that they’re teens, they actually ask me why I don’t go to my office more, hint, hint.

And that’s important, too – to have time to build relationships and networks at workplaces, to bounce ideas off others, to bump into someone, to take advantage of serendipity and the bursts of unexpected imagination and creativity that can result. The down side of being a fusion lover is, sometimes, without a brighter line distinguishing work from home, I’ve tended to work late, come to dinner late, returned to work late, and been distracted with my family because my brain is still in “work” mode.

So I think it’s important to know your style so you can do you best work, feel you have time to live your best life, to know where you can get tripped up, and, as much as you can, create structures, schedules and systems to help get you back on track—at both work and home.

Interview with #workhuman speaker @brigidschulte
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And don’t forget to check out Workhuman Live 2016, May 9 – 11 at the World Center Marriott in Orlando.


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