Creating a balanced life for yourself can be a daunting enough task, but when you are in a position of leadership, you need to make sure that you’re providing opportunities for the people you lead to do so as well.
Happy and healthy employees are more productive. They’ll miss less time due to illness. They are more willing to stay with your organization long-term. Increased productivity and reduced turnover means more money saved and earned.
While everyone has different ways of creating balance in their lives, here are a few ideas to help establish a workplace that everyone can thrive in.
1) Be Flexible
One of the biggest things you can do to help your employees have balance in their lives is to be flexible. Nowadays, many people want options when it comes to how they work. Organizations that offer more flexibility are attracting top talent away from other companies who refuse to change with the times.
Working from home can be a huge benefit to a lot of people, even if it’s only a couple of days a week. Less commute time, the ability to take care of small household chores during the day, and more time with family can go a long way towards employees improving their work-life balance.
Of course, I realize that this isn’t feasible for every type of organization, but if it is something that can work for yours, I strongly recommend at least looking into work from home options. As long as the work is getting done in a timely and quality manner, it really doesn’t matter whether Sarah does her work in the office, at her house, or while she’s sitting in the school pickup line waiting for her kids.
If some type of work from home policy isn’t feasible in your line of work, try thinking of others ways to incorporate flexibility. If Dave needs to leave 30 minutes early one day to take his mother to the doctor, let him go without forcing him to use vacation time. Incorporate a "floating" holiday that a Christian employee could take on Easter Monday and a Jewish employee could take on Yom Kippur.
Getting to know your team is the best way to figure out what type of flexibility you can integrate into your organization. Each team is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to being flexible!
2) Encourage Healthy Habits
Sitting in an office all day can have a negative impact on your health - including higher risk for high blood pressure, obesity, heart problems, and diabetes. While it’s not your job to police the health of your employees, you can provide them with options while at work to help them make healthy choices.
One of my new favorite tips is to have a walking meeting. When you need to meet one-on-one with someone to catch up or to brainstorm ideas, take a walk together while you discuss. It will help get the blood flowing to your brain, and a new setting can help spark ideas. If you have some outdoor space where you can walk, that’s great, but it can also just be a walk around the office if that’s your best option.
Another idea is to offer different seating and desk options. Standing desks, as the name implies, allow people to work while standing up, although they can also be adjusted to allow for sitting too. Ergonomic chairs can reduce strain on the back and improve posture. These small changes to your work space can really add up!
Your office space should also have a space for mothers who need to pump. It's not just a courtesy - employers are actually required to have a space for breastfeeding moms under the Fair Labor Standards Act. And no, the bathroom doesn't count! It can be temporary if you have a small office, but read up on the legal requirements and talk to your employees to create a private setup that works for everyone.
Finally, stress the importance of taking proper breaks for lunch and throughout the day. Don’t eat lunch at your desk - that’s your personal time to rest and regroup. The break room can be a great place to get your mind off of work and chat with coworkers.
Other short breaks throughout the rest of the day can help keep your mind fresh. It's especially important if you are using computer screens to take breaks to reduce the strain on your eyes. Getting some fresh air during these breaks is ideal, but I know it's not always possible depending on your work place.
3) Set & Enforce Boundaries
A key part of helping your team create a good work-life balance is setting and enforcing boundaries. Not only can you set an example as a leader of how to set boundaries, but you also need to respect the boundaries set by others.
Set times when you will not respond to calls and emails and encourage others to do the same. If work ends at 5:00 PM, then don’t answer your emails at 8:00 PM. Constantly trying to take care of one more little thing doesn’t allow for rest time. You’ll find that most things aren’t as urgent as they might seem.
And once you have set your boundaries for when you are available, you need to respect the boundaries of others. Don’t call your employees on the weekend or expect them to answer emails outside of work hours.
However, I realize that the nature of some work requires people to be on-call after normal business hours. If you work in a setting where urgent needs can arise at any time, try to set up a rotating on-call schedule so that the burden of being on the job 24/7 doesn’t fall all on one person.
I suggested work from home options at the beginning of this post, but that can make it more difficult to create boundaries between work and home life. If you are working from home, still make sure you are setting specific work hours and “clock out” at the appropriate time. It can be tempting to try to finish up a little more in the evenings, but don’t fall into that trap.
You should also create a separate and designated work space (as much as possible for your living situation). Having a specific area you use only for work, even if it’s just a desk in the corner, can help you keep work and home time separate in your mind.
4) Know Your Team
All of the ideas above are different ways you can offer to help your employees create better balance in their lives. However, the best way to help them is to ask them what they need and want! You could incorporate everything mentioned above and still have unhappy employees because of something you don't know about.
Every organization and every industry faces unique challenges, so take some time to talk to your team about what they would like. It may not all be possible, but they will appreciate you at least trying and taking the time to ask for their input.
In addition to office-wide polices to support your team, I also recommend having regular 1-on-1 meetings with each person to check in with them. You should already be doing this for a number of reasons, but it can help you recognize when a person may be struggling and needs extra support.
You don't need to dig into their personal life or try to resolve their problems outside of work. Just be aware of how that person is doing, and make adjustments to accommodate them if necessary. For example, if Jeff's father is in the hospital with a serious illness, be aware that Jeff may need to leave urgently and unexpectedly. Have a backup plan to help cover his work until he can return to business as usual.