Work-life balance, work-life integration, work-life flow, work-life rhythm: Whatever you call it, it’s a challenge for many of us in today’s fast-paced and “always-on” world.
And if you’re in a leadership position, that challenge is multiplied not only by the people on your own team — but also by the other employees in your organization. Because, like it or not, employees throughout the organization are observing how you handle the challenges of prioritizing and managing your work, family and personal responsibilities – and they’re modeling their behaviors after yours.
As someone who is guilty of letting the work side of my life often dominate the personal and family side, I’ve spent years researching the best methods for not only taking charge of the issue personally, but also setting a better example for others that work with and for me than I have in the past. (I’m still a work in progress, BTW.)
my THREE SUGGESTIONS FOR MODELING GOOD WORK-LIFE BALANCE:
1. Take control of your schedule at work.
We tend to think about work-life balance in the context of managing our calendars to ensure that we are home by a certain time, or off on an important date to be with family. Meanwhile, our schedule during the workday is crammed full of meetings, leaving little time to actually work on the business or develop team members.
To ensure you’re able to be at your best, and also to set an example for your team, you’ve got to get your calendar under control.
Consider regularly blocking out “open” time on your work calendar that can be used for thinking strategically about the future, for reflecting upon the state of the business, for personal growth and development, or to just take a walk and clear your mind.
Think busy leaders or executives can’t do this? Not true.
After finding his schedule too crammed with meetings to actually work on improving the business and himself as a leader, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner began scheduling daily “blocks of nothing” on his calendar to allow time for proactive thinking – rather than constantly reacting to what was going on around him – and he protects this time in the same manner he would meetings with advisors or employees. In a blog post on LinkedIn, Weiner advises:
…don’t leave unscheduled moments to chance. The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself and [is] the single most important productivity tool I use.”
2. Set and communicate reasonable boundaries for work and “not work.”
Too often as leaders, we say that we value work-life balance for both ourselves and our employees, but then we’re the ones who stay late at the office to catch up on projects, send emails after hours, or call employees on the weekend to get a head start on the workweek. If we expect our employees to achieve a healthy work-life balance, it’s got to start with us.
My friend Dawn Burke, VP of people at Daxko — a leading provider of software and services for nonprofits nationwide – recently decided that she not only needed to take charge of her schedule to prevent personal burnout and remain fully engaged at work, but that she would go public with her commitment. One of the steps she has taken is to enable an after-hours email auto-response that reads as follows:
I hope you are having a great evening! Just a heads up: In order to achieve better work balance, I will not respond to emails after 6 p.m.
Many of us struggle with email burnout and overload. I’m trying an experiment that should be to your benefit. Unplugging at night should allow my brain to function at full capacity tomorrow.
I’ll do my best to respond tomorrow. In the meanwhile — have a wonderful evening.
Thank you for your flexibility!
By communicating her availability and commitment to being fully present during work hours to her co-workers and stakeholders, Dawn is setting an example for other executives and employees at her company, and living up to Daxko’s commitment to encouraging work-life balance for their employees.
3. Put systems in place so you can unplug when you’re away from work.
I once worked at a company where the prior CEO held a personal belief that no one should be able to take a two-week vacation, because if an employee could be gone for that length of time, they must not be needed. Not only did this unwritten policy foster fear and distrust, it fueled an environment where employees felt that they had to be present in order to prove their worth – rather than focus on performance and results.
Needless to say, as a leader it’s important that you set an example of what’s expected from your team, and that includes demonstrating that you can unplug by delegating responsibilities appropriately and having systems in place to ensure that things run smoothly when you leave work for the evening (or when you’re backpacking around Europe with your family for two weeks).
Contrary to my CEO friend above, I believe you’re actually not doing your job as a leader if you can’t be away from work without being completely plugged in — and you should expect the same from your team members.
As leaders and talent advisors, it’s important for us to recognize that work-life balance is not something a company can mandate through policies and procedures, because each individual’s circumstances and needs are different. However, by demonstrating empathy, setting an example, and communicating expectations, leaders can be the models for work-life balance in their organizations, and everyone will be better because of it.
Throughout the month of July, our resident talent advisors are discussing issues around work-life balance. Subscribe to Talent Advisor to stay on top of the latest blog posts and discussions around unlimited PTO, modeling good work-life behaviors as an employer, working from home, gender differences and PTO, maternity and paternity leave, and much more.