Employee work-life balance and boundaries start at the top

By Amy Mosher, Chief People Officer, isolved
With burnout rampant, Amy Mosher, Chief People Officer at isolved shares strategies leaders can take to help employees create work-life boundaries

The sun. The surf. The Slack messages?

It’s summer which means people everywhere are trying to scoot out the door, close down early and cash in on those paid time-off hours.

When you are a senior or executive leader, however, it can feel like uninterrupted time off is a dream – unattainable at best. Not to mention everyday life – reasonable working hours, work-free weekends and so on.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Shouldn’t be, really. Particularly because what you do – or don’t do – has a direct impact on what employees do, not to mention your own mental and physical health impacts your ability to perform optimally. By prioritising your work-life balance and boundaries, you can help your employees do the same.

The fact is, rising to the top professionally often takes measured choices on where your finite time is spent. It can often feel like you are sacrificing your personal time and your employees will take note of your behaviours, potentially emulating them.

Leaders do not get to where they are by taking the easy route. But work-free time is equally critical for your success as it is for your employees.

As the Chief People Officer of a 2,000-plus employee organisation with decades of experience, I believe effective leaders manage their time to their own individual standards and are motivated by their choices, however, if they believe they need to create more work-life balance and set more effective boundaries, there are few key strategies for success.

1. Balance Is not an even split – prioritising matters

Some days are going to be harder to 'balance' than others. Stress about work-life balance can be reduced by simply realising it’s never going to be an even split and leaders supporting that message too. It’s about rebalancing and reprioritising to give your best at work and at home based on what is currently in front of you.

How you prioritise your time is your choice. You choose whether to work or not. Your choices have consequences, but you still own your choice. Owning how you spend your time as a conscious choice is paramount to feeling you are prioritising your time in a way that is the most rewarding to you, and that is what best defines balance for you as an individual. For example, your kid’s high school graduation. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. The activities surrounding this graduation are going to be plentiful. If it is important to you, leaders can and should soak in the activities, push any non-timely work projects and take the time off they need – and encourage your employees to do the same.

On the flip side, consider a product launch. It will devote more time and energy than a normal workweek, and the balance between that and home life is going to shift. It will never be an even split and that’s OK. Teach your employees that. Show it to them too. Help your employees feel that they are creating a balance by prioritising what is important in the moment, on the day and what will contribute most directly to their goals in life by doing it yourself and communicating how you did it. Learning how others achieved an understanding of what creates balance for them can provide a reference for others as well.

2. Remember to delegate – create a culture that prioritises learning

One key piece of advice I give to every new manager – and remind tenured managers about – is delegating. Sure, it’s been suggested before but so many of us don’t lean on our teams the way we should, to both ensure balance for ourselves and also contribute to a culture that prioritises learning and development for your team. If our managers never gave us stretch assignments or never trusted us to get a project done for them, would we be where we are today? Probably not.

Remember that delegating is as good for you as it is for your team. Building trust in your ability to effectively delegate and obtain high-quality results starts with setting clear standards of execution and explaining the 'why.' In addition, as a leader, you can avoid cultural issues across the team believing that they 'have to do all the work' or are 'getting the grunt work' when you delegate by setting expectations that align with the growth and career development associated with the assignment of tasks.

As well as ensuring you are recognising those who achieve high standards, deliver on commitments and are aware of individuals' bandwidth prior to delegating. The first few times might take more feedback, but they’ll get the hang of it, and you’ll know who you can go to for what so you can enjoy the moments that matter or go on to your next initiative. If you’ve rewarded leaders taking on everything, then shake it up. By delegating, you are helping employees do the same.

3. Take your time off, really

People do themselves a disservice when they request time off, say they are going to be offline and then really are not – they’ve broken a key work-life boundary. If you have chosen to take time off and that means you are preferring to truly disconnect, then meet your own expectations. Do not martyr yourself with your own choices to get back online if you would prefer not to be working in that moment. Do not feel guilty that you have not taken all of your PTO if you are truly feeling that you are refreshed.

There is no optimal overall amount of time away from work that suits everyone’s needs. But when you chose not to work, do not work. Are there times you absolutely have to 'pop in' while on a disconnected vacation? Yes. But those should be very rare exceptions rather than what many companies and leaders normalise. It can actually be disruptive to teams, who think their boss is on PTO, to continue to pop in when it is more valuable as a leader to show your team that they are trusted, well trained, capable and can serve you while you are gone.

It shows strength in leadership when you are able to truly take time off. Even better, it’s often when your best ideas come to life – when you are free of the everyday grunt. By taking your time off, however much time you believe suits you best, you are teaching employees to do the same.

4. Calendar = time optimisation tool at your fingertips

You know that calendar that seemingly runs your life, use it to your advantage by leveraging that technology to assist you to prioritise what is important and keep you accountable for how you prioritise your time. Enable your team to take meetings, decline meetings you or your leaders are on (why do you both need to be on?), and block your calendar for work time, strategic time and competitive research time.

No one owns your calendar but you, use it to your advantage by setting block boundaries. Tell your employees to do the same. Give them autonomy over their calendars. Prioritising time to plan will save you time on suboptimal tasks in the long run. You will be a more effective leader if you give yourself space to think, and your employees will perform at a higher level if they have time to make their projects the best they can be. Back-to-back meetings – all day every day – won’t allow anyone to take their business or team to the next level – nor will it promote work-life balance and boundaries for any employee. Using the best practice built into your scheduling tool and building your own best practices for how you allow it to govern your time can make a big difference in achieving more by doing the things that matter most to you.

5. Set a good example

You’re a leader which means people are watching what you do, but also how you do it. Set a good example by owning how you spend your time, taking your time off, blocking your calendar, providing stretch assignments and more.

When my company surveyed over 2,000 full-time employees in the U.S., 69% said they have experienced burnout over the last year. This has led to a quarter (26%) of employees saying they perform their required responsibilities but nothing more. Burnout is a problem, and it starts at the top – prioritise time off, time to think and plan and time to develop others. Without owning and prioritising your own wellness, employees won’t either.

Summer, Spring, Fall or Winter, everyone deserves uninterrupted time from work. Take your time off, if that is what you chose, to come back recharged and allow your employees to do the same. For the day-to-day, keep on re-prioritising because work-life balance will never be fifty-fifty – the scales will always be tipped, but own it consciously and make sure your teams know that too.

If 80-20 is what it will take to achieve your goals on one day, own that it will likely weigh differently the next. Keep communication channels open so employees can communicate what that balance looks like for them, allowing you to support it in all the ways you can.

Remember, work-life balance is truly a pendulum that is always moving, but leveraging that understanding into what you perceive as success, starts at the top as does teaching your team strategies to create their own perception of success as they navigate their own individual time prioritisation goals.


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