A job in itself does not sentence a person to long hours, family conflict and a generally unhappy life. Sure, some lines of work require more hours or intensive types of work but the boundaries and expectations related to our jobs are influenced heavily by one group of people: managers.
Managers are the ones who regulate hours, workload, and set the tone as to what is appropriate in terms of work and personal life. Sure, we have company policies but quite often it is up to the manager to interpret that policy. Beyond policy, the standards employees are evaluated on (whether they be billable hours, output goals, clients called etc) are created by some level management. At some point, somebody in the hierarchy said “we value this if people want to get promoted or raises. Spread the word.” Once that word is spread then a culture begins to form.
Here are some things for those in managerial roles to consider as it relates to their ability to impact work-life balance for employees.
1) Controlling the schedule is power: use it wisely. Consider the effect of calling an earlier or later than normal meeting has upon your staff; especially if it is called at the last minute. Is it essential that all personnel are there? Can some employees Skype/conference call in if appropriate? When you’re in an authoritative role “Yea boss…no problem” doesn’t necessarily mean employees are ok with the extra meeting.
2) Educate yourself! Knowing company HR procedures, benefits in addition to some basic law can go a long way in improve employee work-life balance. This is definitely the case when it comes to major issues such as parental leave. Many employees do not take full advantage of parental leave policies because they are worried about stunting their career advancement or flat out retribution. What a shame! Becoming an advocate for your staff will go a long way in terms of retaining staff and improving morale which both saves and makes the company money. Now that’s a Win-Win situation!
3) Analyze: What do you reward? I recently read an article where a woman would show up to the office once a week at 2 am because her manager applauded the effort and it helped her get a promotion. This woman admitted she usually worked from home at that time but she received such a favorable reaction from her boss that she decided it was better to get up earlier and come to work. She also admitted that it was putting strains on her personal life but felt she had to do this in order to succeed in her job. As a disclaimer, this was a very driven software engineering firm that was accustomed to strange and extremely long hours.
Nevertheless, the point is: what behaviors and efforts do you and your company reward and what can you do to make sure that they are more conducive to a better quality of life for your workers?
4) Be flexible! If we expect employees to be able to work longer hours or adjust their schedule with little notice then at some point as managers need to be flexible about things that may occur in their employees lives. This could mean allowing people to work from home on occasion, allowing them to leave early or come in later, or even compressing their workweek.
5) Vacation! As in let them take it. Every year many employees don’t take all of their alloted vacation time and in many cases, lose that time altogether. Encourage your employees to take time off and to maximize that benefit. This may require being more strategic or strongly encouraging employees to take time off during certain times of the year. One of my former supervisors allowed me to leave during an extremely busy time so that I could attend an important family function. It took some discussion, lots of work before I left, a little work from the road, and communicating with those who would pick up the slack. In other words it wasn’t easy but we made it work. Not only did the company achieve their outcomes but I was able to take part in an important part of my family life. I was very appreciative to my boss and the company for letting me have that precious time.
Arthur Miller once wrote: “You can’t eat the orange and throw away the peel. A man is not a piece of fruit!” As a manager one is in a position of power and influence. Managers often have the power to create culture and expectations that directly impact their employees and quality of life. At other times managers have the ability to inform, educate, and guide their workers in a direction that leads to a better quality of family and professional life. There are also occasions when being in a supervisory role means advocating for a more positive work-life balance. Deadlines and organizational goals are important. We all want the company to stay afloat. Every once and a while, though, we need to unplug ourselves from the grind and recognize the human element that is behind facts, figures, and bottom lines. By doing so we take great strides not only towards long-term productivity from employees, but we also decrease chances of employee stress and illness.
Dr. Paul Artale is a motivational speaker, author, and organizational coach who helps organizations create high performance culture through understanding employee needs and leveraging their strengths.
For more information visit www.paulartale.com
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