Fairy tales… faraway lands… work-life balance? So many companies aspire to it, but so few ever get there. You have to admit, it sounds pretty darn good on that Our Values poster. But is it really possible?
While we may be inclined to lump the concept of balancing our work and play in with other fantasies and myths, it can be a reality. Really. But like all of the other responsibilities you face (we know, we know), it’s on you to make it so.
The good news is that it’s really not that hard. And the benefits almost always outweigh any discomfort. Here are five ways you can take the fantasy out of work-life balance and make it a very real part of your culture.
Lead by example
Some people live to work, while others work to live. Which type are you? What example do you set personally?
If you’re the type who’s at work by 7:00, and you’re the last one out every day, you’re setting a precedent for those around you. And if you’re sending emails to staff at 10:00 at night or on the weekends, that also sends the message that you’re always working so they should be too.
Your employees look to you to set the tone. Even if you don’t expect your employees to work as hard or as much as you do, they may feel the pressure to do so to stay in your good graces. And you don’t want them to get burnt out (or leave entirely) simply because they’re trying to mimic your own work ethic.
Sound all too familiar? Then take steps to relax your own work habits first. You, as much as anyone, need free time and space to truly be the leader of your business. Make a conscientious effort to take breaks to work on your business instead of in it. And when you do need to put in long hours, consider doing so only occasionally or from home.
Be prepared for time off
When you get employee time off requests, it can send you into a tailspin. With so much important stuff happening every day, how will you manage while Steve or Sally takes two weeks off to sun in the Bahamas?
Wishing for more work-life balance won’t cut it. You need to prioritize and plan for it. And your employees deserve that preparation.
If they’re going to be out anyway, you want them to relax, rejuvenate and return to work even more productive than before. And if you’ve ever experienced it yourself, you know that working on vacation or worrying about work email while you’re hanging out on the beach doesn’t have quite the same restorative effect.
Do your part to help an employee feel that she can truly take time off. Help find a solution for any work that will happen while she’s gone. Can someone take on her responsibilities while she’s out? Can she let clients know she’s unavailable until her return? Communication here is key. You want to encourage your employees to leave work behind, not feel compelled to take it with them either mentally or physically.
The same goes for sick days. Your company will survive without an employee for a day or two if you have a plan in place. Being prepared will put your mind at ease. And it will go a long way with your team if your messaging to a sick staff member is focused on getting well, not worrying about how the work will get done.
Bring fun into the office
You know the saying about all work and no play. Your employees work hard, and they deserve a little fun reward. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate event. In fact, simpler and more frequent rewards and recognition are often more effective for team-building and employee engagement.
What “fun” looks like is completely up to you, but it should be driven by what is most meaningful to your team. Ask and get them involved in making it happen. Maybe it’s installing an espresso machine or a foosball table in the breakroom. Or instituting a weekly happy hour at the brewery around the corner.
Your company culture sets the tone for how employees view working for you. It’s also what attracts top talent when you’re hiring. Creating an appealing culture often centers on the little perks that make your employees feel appreciated. And this has a direct link to them feeling happy and balanced.
Keep the work at work
If you’re now bought in that work-life balance is a priority you want to push, why not take a stronger stand?
If you provide laptops or smartphones to your employees, discourage their use outside of the office. Not only does this reduce your liability and risk of accident or theft, but it puts a stake in the ground about your commitment to supporting work-life balance.
You could also consider implementing a “no email after hours” policy. This sends a clear message that, as a company, you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is when it comes to protecting personal time.
Don’t wait until a problem presents itself
Even if you’re convinced that your type A team is so driven and dedicated that they’re unfazed by working ‘til the wee hours, consider the consequences that maintaining a fast and furious pace can create. Burnout can happen to the best of us. An employee gives his all, and then one day, he’s got nothing left. Or it could happen to you.
Monitor the mood in your work environment frequently. Check in with your managers to assess their emotional wellbeing and stress levels and train them to do the same with their reports.
If you see warning signs (snappiness, missing deadlines, unexplained absences), get in front of them. Express your concern, ask questions and intervene as needed. Then consider what changes might be needed, revisiting the four we mentioned here.
Work-life balance is as real—and as important—as you make it. If you’re willing to set the right tone and model the work-life balance credo, then your people will, too. And if you could reeeeally use a vacation, then don’t waste another minute.