By working at different jobs across the country and in different fields, I realized how difficult it is to find a balance between my job and my life. I’ve had many managers, and even taken on the role myself. It’s become clear to me that the attitude and style of leadership in any given work environment has the largest impact on the entire team’s ability to find a balance between personal and professional responsibilities. These are the key actions any leader can take to work towards a healthier balance for themselves and employees.
Lead by example
Nobody wants to be that person who leaves before the boss. Set reasonable working hours for staff- and stick to them yourself. Deadlines may make the occasional late stay necessary, but it shouldn’t be the norm. If you leave at a regular time, it encourages employees to form a stable schedule. Having a stable schedule improves quality of life for both you and your people by allowing everyone to account for personal needs.
Leaving at a reasonable hour may seem like an unreasonable feat. Without clearly set and stated priorities, it’s easy to get distracted by lesser tasks. Priorities may shift as work develops, but there should always be a hierarchy of what is most pressing. Don’t get bogged down by minor details that are low on the priority list.
Communication is the single most important aspect of any functional office, and not just when it comes to creating a work-life balance. Regularly schedule brief meetings to go over priorities and any current problems or concerns for employees. Show your willingness to assist and make yourself available for employees to approach for any questions that may arise.
Empower your people
In most work settings, there are two extremes in management style- the micromanager who wants to oversee every task, and the totally hands-off manager who assumes everything will get done without any direction. Neither management style tends to work. Ideally, a good manager will assign tasks with deadlines, and be available for questions along the way. They might also check on the progress of projects prior to deadlines to make sure staff members are on schedule, but will do so without hovering. It’s a fine line, but the best practice is to trust employees are capable unless they give you reason not to.
There’s a scene in Office Space where Peter, the film’s hero, just knows his boss Lumbergh is going to ask him to work over the weekend. He can sense it from the start of the week, and even devises a plot to leave 15 minutes early on Friday so that Lumbergh won’t have the chance to ask. Unfortunately Lumbergh catches Peter on Friday just before his escape. This situation should never happen. Anytime additional work arises, you need to communicate it to staff as early as possible. By also prioritizing and keeping open lines of communication, it will keep staff informed and avoid additional work surprises.
Enable your staff to communicate with family
Just as you need to manage expectations with staff, employees need to manage expectations at home. This doesn’t mean employees should spend hours on the phone during the day, but occasional calls, texts or emails allow workers the freedom to check in with family and keep them informed of any changes to schedule, or even current working mood.
Don’t expect employees to always be on call.
To have a work life balance, there needs to be a separation between home life and the office. Nobody can be expected to be on call at all hours. Set boundaries between office hours and working hours. This is another great example of where to lead by example. If you’re answering emails at 2am, they’ll feel obliged to do the same. If you as a manager decide to check your emails at night, unless it’s incredibly time-sensitive, save responses as draft emails and send out first thing in the morning.
Inject some fun into the work environment
It’s called work for a reason. Except for the select few, most people would rather not be in the office during the day. It’s helpful to recognize this with the occasional team lunch or optional drink after work to show your appreciation.