Achieving the work-life balance: A shared responsibility
The work-life balance represents a utopian situation in which a person can equally prioritise the demand from his career and the demand from his personal life. In simpler words, you will invest the same amount of time and energy in both professional life (at work) and personal life (everywhere else).
The concept of work-life balance became increasingly important and widely discussed, especially during the last decade, where most of the business-related research and studies focused on upcoming generations’ preferences and needs. Students and young graduates may be only 20% of our population, but they are 100% of our future talented team members, and therefore, it is essential to consider how much they value this work-life balance.
With the millennial generation of workers projected to take up 75% of the workforce by 2025, many leaders think it’s time to redefine what work-life balance looks like.
Supporting team members in their work-life balance efforts. Can leadership go overbroad?
However, even though we are overwhelmed with discussions and motivational speeches on the topic, leaders and team managers still find it hard to achieve the golden mean to encourage and satisfy their personal and team members’ needs.
Let’s take a look at the biggest and most successful companies around the world. They benefit from their Big Data by getting familiar with today and future workforce preferences. This is why you see companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba putting a lot of resources and attention into establishing a nurturing work environment – to make it easier for their teams to achieve work-life balance.
But how do they do it?
For example, they are considering the requirement of their team members who are raising toddlers. The companies are arranging childcare facilities, kindergartens, and sports areas near their offices to provide easy access for the parents. This is enlightening and caring, but managers may get surprised by the team members’ adverse reaction. Such a level of inclusion may cause people to think:
“Okay, I will be spending even more time in the office now.”
On the other hand, is preserving the work-life balance only the managers’ responsibility? We need to look at things from a different angle and notice that it is also up to us as individuals and team members to reinforce our boundaries and design our balance.
Work-life balance, or life-work balance? What shall we prioritise higher
Have you ever thought about why the phrase is structured, mentioning first the work and afterwards the life? Why is it not a life-work balance? Life should come first because when your life is fulfilled, your work performance improves, right?
A Harvard professor Shawn Achor once shared an interesting observation which is called ‘the happiness advantage’. His studies prove that 75% of job success comes not from how smart or talented you are but from how happy you are. He proves that the happier the team members are, the more intelligent, creative, and productive they become.
The surprise comes with the fact that the happier you are, the more money you earn, and the longer you live.
In advance, you may know that ordinary optimistic people live longer than pessimists, but this is another topic to discuss.
To lead and build a strong team, you need to take care of your personal well-being first. The members of the team thrive alongside healthy managers, be it HR, department, general. Your workmates’ state of well-being is no exception. Put at the top of your list of priorities “maintaining awareness of personal work-personal life balance.”
Work-life harmony: The secret to finding fulfilment in your daily life
Jeff Bezos is a worldwide known visionary leader who may be perceived by people as a “workaholic” – spending all his time working in the office. However, this man is also mentoring, giving lectures, speeches, and has a personal life. And now you are asking, how Jeff Bezos does all of this when he is having the same 24-hour day as I have?
In an interview on the topic, he says: “I don’t want to phrase it like that. I would like to phrase it as work-life harmony. You should not view the two as a strict trade-off. It is a circle rather than a balancing act.” He advises doing what makes you happier and where you find yourself motivated and willing to invest energy.
Thus, it would help if you strived to be the designer of your own balance and achieve it led by your personal inner dictations. It is not about how much time you spend in your office, but how happy you are spending that much time in the office. A strong and dedicated person is able to pick up and inspire the people around him to exceed their wildest dreams.
Management is nothing more than motivating other people. Lee Iacocca
Why is work-life balance so important for today’s leaders and their teams?
The balance between the two extremes, especially between the two areas that depict everything in our lives (work and personal life), enhances physical and mental health. Not only do you feel happier in pursuing different opportunities and experiences, but you feel more satisfied from avoiding repetitive tasks and daily routines. This applies to everyone, but especially for new-age team members, generations value their free time and prefer different experiences rather than security and stability.
Happier and more satisfied team members develop as more content people from their personal life – you can build relationships of different kinds, explore different places, and tackle new opportunities. Being happier and more satisfied in work makes you a better performer and a collaborative colleague. This state of mind is key for establishing a high-performing and cohesive workplace dynamic driven by successful teams.
You, the manager (team member) – as the designer of your own balance
Peak performers should pay attention to extremes’ dark sides. People are different. Some are more relationship-oriented, while others are more focused on generating as much value for the business as possible, even if it means being a stand-alone performer. We can see various types of managerial grids explaining the management or the leadership style of a person depending on his focus. We can also get inspiration from the Motivational Factors Grid, identifying major drivers that motivate people and lead them in their life choices.
The Motivational Factors Grid for Work-Life Balance: The driver to learn
You are interested in acquiring and exploring new information, ideas, projects, etc.
The Motivational Factors Grid for Work-Life Balance: The driver to defend
Following your comfortable status quo position and not allowing anybody to enter your territory, meaning you are eager to refuse new ideas and opportunities.
The Motivational Factors Grid for Work-Life Balance: The drive to bond
Building relationships with people and working in a healthy environment is the highest priority for you.
The Motivational Factors Grid for Work-Life Balance: The driver to acquire
Status and particular high position in a company is your primary goal.
Going too extreme by being driven by only one exact motivational driver will negatively affect your performance. Hence, here we need to balance as well as in everything in our life. Balance is a key to happiness and prevents burnouts.
Team members have the natural desire to be top performers and work hard to be recognised and experience fulfilment. Going too abroad means entering the so-called ‘dark side’ of the drive to acquire and learn. Employees may find themselves overwhelmed with work and new knowledge to a certain degree, where they are no longer efficient and productive. This usually results in:
- Losing track because of exhaustion;
- Missing things due to extreme focus on the details;
- Not able to explore different points of view.
Our brain is a learning machine, and you will learn a lot of new things without the need to be 24 hours in office. Spending all your energy in one single place will do the reverse of high performance. Consequently, think about the effects your “extremes” may have in the longer term. This is the so-called balance that is so important and valuable – because it is a long-term process, benefiting you as a person in the longer term.
Approach your balance in a balanced way. Do not fall into the trap: “This is the time when I need to work hard and differentiate as the best performer in the company or my team.” Or the most common defence when overworking:” I am going to have a life when I retire and cannot work anymore properly”. Every team member is the “boss” of their work-life balance – there is no plan to follow to achieve it.
Designing the work-life balance: Managers should lead by example
Managers have many responsibilities and people to care for and look after now more than ever. Hit by the pandemic situation, almost all companies reduce costs and try to survive this valley of death by cutting middle positions and laying people off.
But for how long can managers withstand this workload. As a manager, your teammates perceive you as the backbone of the team, the stable ground for your plans and vision. They expect you to envision future ideas, provide opportunities, and discuss plans, projects, results and set the rules, principles, and boundaries. They rely on you to build collaborative relationships between teammates and them to recognise people and reward their efforts. The list of responsibilities of managers can go even longer.
You can find success in transactional leadership – leading by example. Team leaders need to demonstrate how to achieve balance and take control over it.
Communication & Cooperation
Team members are affected by their manager’s behaviour. If they feel overwhelmed, they will behave similarly in terms of work-life balance.
Corporate leaders can be true superheroes, but they also have their healthy boundaries. Take care of your personal balance as a manager and pass on your knowledge to support others to do the same. Since it is unique – for you, as a manager, the balance may represent one schedule, but for your colleague, it may stand for a whole different thing – you need transparent communication and cooperation.
The team members are interconnected. When team members feel happy, supported, and understood, they can also bring the same behaviour back to their peers. Start with the inner approach of being a designer of your balance, then cooperate and support your teammates in their work to improve their “balance”. Train your people to stick to each other.
Have enough people on board and respect each personal life.
As a manager, you need to show care and empathy for your team members’ personal lives. You really should strive to help them feel happy and not overworked. Take a look at the statistic above, and you will understand that the company requires optimistic and content people onboard. They will perform efficiently, and they are most probably going to transfer their positive attitude to their workmates.
To sustain this attitude, set your mind towards supporting your team members through happy and harsh times so that they can build up their trust in you. People feel more motivated to outperform when they know that they will impress someone that they respect.
Designing the work-life balance: There is no such thing as a perfect balance!
An Australian, very well known for his creative pursuits – Nigel Marsh, inspired by his long corporate career, decided to dive deep down into the work-life balance topic. His TED talk speech is still one of the most popular ones, advising people to embrace life outside of the office.
He says: “It is very easy to balance work and life, but only if you don’t have a work.”
If you want to work towards a reasonable work-life balance, you really need to be honest with yourself and take full responsibility. Sometimes you should have the autonomy in designing our balance because your manager’s perception of work-life balance may be different from yours, meaning that you are not achieving it again.
Take responsibility and create some limits and boundaries which will reduce or/and increase some elements in both your personal life and professional one. Pay attention to prioritise and be flexible, also considering the changes happening in your company.
It is a process, not a result.
There is no perfect balance because it is not a result you achieve if you follow some guidelines. It is a process – you need to maintain, develop, improve, and adapt it.
If we value the gap between work and life and do not want one area to interfere with the other, keep in mind that we should always achieve this balance.
We all know that we cannot be the superhero on 2 ships – we are better on one and worse on the other, or we perform badly on both.
Why is work-life balance not a result? Because its existence affects aspects of your life that are continuous and require your attention over time. Every day you set a goal to achieve or even exceed someone’s expectations at work – yours and your team’s. At the same time, you know that someone is waiting for you at home.
Your family and friends rely on you and your presence. Every day we strive to contribute to the prosperity of each of the two places. This is not an obligation but a way of life – a process of personal development, improvement, and care.
How to manage and improve your work-life balance in a nutshell
Quick and practical ways to do it as a manager:
- Create your own priorities and design your balance.
- Lead by example
- Please communicate with your colleagues to understand their personal preferences.
- Support your teammates in designing their desired balance and always try to find a mutually beneficial solution (schedule)
- Show them that you really care about their well-being.
- Delegate responsibilities equally. Always have enough people on your board to avoid overworking only a few people.
- Genuinely care about their needs, priorities, and feedback – this will also help you build trust.
- Create your team’s boundaries and principles and inform your team/colleagues.
- Allow your team to go “dark” for some time, meaning let them tune off different platforms so they can have quality focus time.
- Encourage flexible schedules – online & offline working, and allow autonomy on work projects.
Quick and practical ways to do it as a team member
- Be self-aware of your strengths, weaknesses, values, and priorities.
- Please create your own personal balance and communicate it to your manager & peers.
- Apply fair time management based on your priorities.
- Always balance around your motivational drivers – do not allow yourself to fall into the dark side.
- Please do not go too extreme (I will have a life when I retire, VS I will have a whole life to work so that I will do nothing).
- Cooperate with and support your peers.