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Managing Work-Life Balance: How You Can Walk the Tightrope

Dec17
The concept of work-life balance is obsolete. There. I said it.

Not because life is less important than work. It’s because “life” and “work” as two distinct things which can be separated and weighed on a scale no longer exist. Mobile devices, remote-access email, and cross-continental meetings keep people tethered to both their jobs and their personal lives 24-7. The good news for managers and executives is that your employees are always on. The bad news? They’re always on.

A Double-Edged Sword

Work-life balance is more like a work-life tightrope. If employees (and their employers) aren’t careful, they risk stress and burnout.

But “always on” is also one of the most empowering trends in business. More so than ever before, employees have the freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere. This concept is known as “work-life effectiveness.” That, not an illusory balance, is the real goal.

Harnessing the Power of “Always On”

How can companies help their people achieve work-life effectiveness? By investing in programs that cultivate the strengths, and minimize the weaknesses, of “always on.”

Companies must support work styles that serve employees at all ends of the spectrum. Workaholics are predisposed to 17 hour workdays; they need to feel external pressure before they’ll take time off. And procrastinators? Without enough structure, they’ll fall through the cracks.

Your company needs to make sure that everybody is happy, healthy, and performing optimally. Here are some pointers to get started:

1. Build a Culture of Trust

It’s tough for employees to be motivated when they feel as if they’re under a microscope. They may be uncomfortable taking time off, and scared to work from home — even if they’re spending late (and possibly unproductive) nights at the office.

To keep employees from confusing productivity with logging time at a desk, encourage them to spend some of that time working in an alternative environment where they can be efficient. Avoid the appearance of favoritism by establishing a formal company policy regarding remote working. Ask managers to keep a pulse on stress (and sleep) levels and ensure that their people are taking time off occasionally to rest and recharge.

2. Embrace Fun at the Office

The concept of work-life balance assumes that people aren’t happy and fulfilled at work. That’s a problem. Study after study links employee morale with profitability. If your employees aren’t happy, your business is in serious trouble.

According to GeekWire.com, workplace happiness is driven more by co-workers than managers. Understanding this trend, leadership teams should aim to create a sense of community within the workplace with regular lunches, happy hours, and off-site events.

More importantly, companies need to put serious thought into their hiring decisions. Build a community of people who mesh well with each other and have fun together. It’s much more enjoyable to spend 40+ hours a week with coworkers that you’ll enjoy being around.

If you’re not sure where to start, start by talking with your employees and getting a good understanding of what they perceive as lacking. It may be easier to use a simple office poll so people can remain anonymous. You may be surprised at how eager your employees are to share their “ideal” workplace. Take these findings and start to incorporate them on a weekly basis.

3. Give Employees Their Space

Managers, keep those midnight emails to a minimum. Even if you’re a night owl, many of your employees aren’t. An evening email can put unnecessary pressure on team members to compulsively check their smartphones — even if you don’t expect a response. It’s unnecessary stress.

Save your messages as drafts, and wait until the next morning to send them. If your employees see their managers online late at night, they may feel pressured to be available rather than resting and recharging.

Learning to Manage Less

It may sound counterintuitive, but organizations can encourage work-life effectiveness by managing their employees less. Encourage team members to self-regulate their time in the office and workloads. Focus on empowering them with the resources to succeed, and measure performance based on results and outcomes. Micro-managing will take you nowhere. Additionally, employees and teams who are given autonomy to manage their projects as they see fit will appreciate the ability to self-start and self-organize. Hire good people that you trust and then get out of the way.