The Juggling Act: Work-life Balance and the Leader’s Role
We see them, under the big top, precariously balancing the porcelain plates that are spinning atop a spire. Yes, it’s the jugglers who amaze us time and time again with their uncanny expertise in making their skill look effortless. Most organizations today are cognizant of the challenge that juggling the various aspects of life creates, and they are aware of how work seeps into personal time and vice versa. From caring for aging parents to locating a substitute baby-sitter, the impact of life issues can affect an individual’s job performance every day. But creating the needed balance is a major concern for today’s top leaders.
More than ever, the organizations they lead depend on talented individuals who yearn for careers which allow them to live life with a sense of equilibrium between inside and outside the work environment. Although the Age of the Internet, and the host of wireless communications readily available has provided employees with more flexibility, still they increasingly require a fresh approach to occupational responsibility and its impact on their personal lives
What are some of the workplace issues that leaders must deal with in helping employees achieve that sought-after balance? The first might be effectively managing organizational expectations for the workforce. It can sometimes be a challenge to prevail on employees to let go of issues or projects they are passionate about which are not a current work priority. Doing this means running the risk of undermining job enthusiasm and morale, creating an attitude that tilts the work-life equilibrium. Another factor that can lead to imbalance is placing an employee in a position which that person cannot handle. The difficulty might be their personal skills, or it could be the circumstances or structure of the job. However, the impact is often not just on that employee, but on the leader as well who must manage the situation.
A third issue that can impact work-life balance is an employee’s perception or feeling that his or her work is not valued, appreciated, or is invisible. When this occurs, the result is not only disengagement but frustration as well, both of which can negatively impact the employee outside of the workplace. This discontent can damage the sense of work-life equilibrium as much as, sometimes even more than, the actual hours worked.
A further complication for top leaders who are challenged to create a productive balance is that developing and maintaining their own work-life balance is not always easy; certain inherent difficulties stem from issues such as commitment to the organization and personal loyalty to colleagues. The following are some personal strategies that can help.
- Be deliberate in your attitude toward work, particularly about keeping a sense of humor.
- Manage your day. Set aside blocks of time designed to combat pressure, such as exercising, meeting your partner or children for lunch, or even just quiet reflection.
- Schedule holidays and make sure you take them.
- Monitor and respond to your own stress. Those in senior positions often are immune to its early signals. Enlist a close family member or friend to help gauge the signs.
- Negotiate reasonable deadlines for yourself. Be realistic and honest about what is and what is not possible.
Personal strategy aside, how can leaders cope with the work-life challenges in their organizations? What can they do to transform the environment into one that allows employees a more balanced life while still achieving optimum results? There are two basic dimensions which leaders can focus on: the organizational framework wherein corporate and individual work-life balance decisions are made, and the culture that influences policies and system practices which impact that balance. The suggestions that follow cut across framework as well as culture.
Communicate. As a leader, it is important to talk about the issue of work-life balance with your staff. This can be accomplished through either direct communication on an individual basis, or by weaving it into other issues and casual conversations.
Model the Behavior. Both executives and senior managers need to be aware of the impact of their own actions toward work-life balance. By modeling some of the behaviors mentioned above, we encourage the same balance for our staff.
Acknowledge Families and Friends
Recognizing family and friends by inviting them to some workplace social occasions can make both the staff member and those close to that person feel valued.
As well as being proactive about work-life balance, executives and managers also need to scrutinize those they lead and be reactive. Indicators such as consistently long hours, vacation that is not taken, a decrease in the quality of work, and obvious personal stress need to be responded to.
Although boundaries between work and people’s home lives are ultimately personal and individual, leaders can help employees protect these margins by encouraging them to make time for family after, particularly busy periods. Care should be taken not to contact individuals about work issues during out-of-work hours unless absolutely essential. Also, ensure that appropriate arrangements are made to minimize the need to contact employees who are on vacation. Lastly, schedule casual Friday afternoon debriefs as the “week in review”, and encourage people to leave work behind them when they depart for the weekend.
In summary, as our work lives increasingly mesh with our personal lives, it becomes apparent that work-life balance is top of mind for organizational leadership. The role the leader plays in promoting balance between work and home can increase the enthusiasm, loyalty, and productivity of their employee population and foster growth in the organization. By implementing some of the suggestions discussed, the balance between our ever-growing complex worlds can be somewhat stabilized, thus creating a resultant sense of calm and equilibrium.