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Can your managers manage work-life balance?

Whether it’s a strong career focus, a workplace crisis, or simply not wanting to go home at the end of the day… work-life balance is a tricky feat to pull off and there are plenty of factors pushing us to work more and harder. But sooner or later, that leads to burnout and the exact opposite of the benefits of a balanced work-life culture. As ever, your managers are influential (whether they like it or not) and should be role modelling the approach to work-life balance that you, as an employer, can benefit from.

What is work-life balance?

As a phrase, it’s so obvious on the surface that ‘work-life balance’ appears to need no explanation. Go home on time, take breaks, set aside time for family/friends/social activity as well as hard work… easy. And it’s certainly good for business. Employees with a healthy work-life balance tend to be more productive, absent less, and also less likely to be off sick.

But work-life balance is about more than just dividing the day between ‘work’ and ‘life’. In essence, it’s about flexibility. Rather than a timetable – eight hours at work, eight hours ‘at home’, and eight hours sleeping – it’s more of a dance, with sufficient freedom of movement to get the work stuff done (well) and still carving out time to have a satisfying personal life.

Tips to help managers focus on work-life balance

Healthy work-life balance depends on your managers. Policies are important building blocks (foundations, even) but it’s how they are applied in practice that creates a culture. The real test is how you approach the following issues:

  • Time management – It’s obvious perhaps, but how you support employees with time management has a direct impact on their work-life balance. Do your schedules or rotas help or hinder. How unexpected problems are handled (e.g. a colleague off sick with work to be covered)? Do they understand how to prioritise urgent and important elements of the job?
  • Play to people’s strengths – Nobody is good at everything, and while in an emergency everybody should muck in, there’s little profit in a policy of forcing square pegs into round holes. Understand the team’s strengths and organise accordingly. People doing what they enjoy and are good at not only gets a better job done, but they also have energy (and probably time) left for a personal life.
  • Physical surroundings – Is your office set up to make work easier, or more difficult. Office design, ergonomic furniture, and location of necessary resources… it all impacts on the quality of the work experience.
  • Encourage a more holistic approach - Encourage a more holistic approach – If work only addresses part of the employee then that part is all they’ll bring to work. Supportive policies and initiatives around stress management, health awareness, and financial management and so on all help employees with that elusive balance.
  • Technology – Communication is now so easy that we rarely think about stopping. Ease of emails and messaging means that more and more people are never actually switching off from work. Some clear policies around not sending work information (or expecting replies) out of hours draw a line in the sand; a line that can be crossed for urgent need but otherwise is respected.
  • Role modelling – Finally, whatever a manager says, people will look at what they do. If the boss is always the first to arrive and the last to leave, the message is clear: Do as I do. And no amount of sensitive flexibility will change that. Managers need to walk the walk on this one.

Of course, each person’s work-life balance will be different. But in addition to understanding individual wants and needs, there’s also the issue of consistency and fair treatment of the whole workforce, and ensuring employees know that what works for one may not for another. But that’s another balance…

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