As a manager, you already know about work-life balance — perhaps the king of 21st century office buzz phrases. If not, it goes something like this: The demands of our careers should not override our ability to enjoy a satisfying personal life. When we neglect one in favor of the other, both tend to suffer.
Now some researchers are saying work and personal life should be managed together, and not necessarily in equal proportions, an approach they call “work-life integration.” And the most effective way to really drive home the message is to model this integration yourself.
There’s strong evidence that employees follow their boss’ example in this regard. An international Harvard Business Review study found that when managers not only support work-life balance but also demonstrate it, the results are better employee engagement and retention, lower stress levels and increased job satisfaction.
How can you model work-life balance — and integration — for your employees? Here are four suggestions.
1. Make your home life a priority
When you log long hours at work, your staff feel the pressure to do likewise in an effort to keep up and impress you. However, the result is poor work-life balance and burnout. Don’t just talk about your spouse or show everyone the latest cute picture of your kids. Actively demonstrate to your employees that spending time with family is as important as meeting reporting deadlines.
In practice, this means leaving work on time so you can make it home for dinner. When you log long hours at work, your staff feel the pressure to do likewise in an effort to keep up and impress you. However, the result is poor work-life balance and burnout. If this is the case for your team, talk about the situation and then openly cut back your hours. (“I’m sorry but I can’t make the 6 p.m. meeting you asked about. I make it a habit to come in early and hit the commute trail by 5 p.m. sharp.”) That gives your employees permission to follow in your footsteps.
This may be easier said than done, of course. According to Robert Half's most recent report on Benchmarking the Accounting and Finance Function, the typical supervisor surveyed works an average of 46 hours a week. It’s not impossible, though. Do an audit to see where you’re spending your time. Could you delegate some tasks? Could you hire more experts to join your team? Have you said “yes” to too many nonessential tasks? It could be time to step down from a few of them. Whatever it takes, aim to get your weekly hours as close to 40 as possible so your staff members feel they can do the same.
2. Use your paid time off
Taking regular vacations is an important part of work-life balance. But there’s a right and a wrong way to prepare for them. Model the right way of doing it by distributing your workload in advance and lining up backups to answer client and staff questions while you’re gone. Set up out-of-office voice mail messages and automated email replies. Before leaving, tell your team that you won’t be available except for emergencies. Then stay true to your word by not calling, texting or emailing.
3. Take care of yourself
Another way to model good work-life integration is by prioritizing your health. For example, get out of the office a few days a week for some exercise. Take a short brisk walk during breaks or after lunch. Not only will your body benefit from the physical activity, the fresh air and daylight will also help you think clearer when you get back.
When you make fitness a visible part of your routine, your employees will be inspired by your example. Give them even more reasons to take care of themselves with perks like discounted health club memberships and in-office showers for bikers. Millennials, who approach their careers a bit differently than older generations, enjoy integrating exercise into their workdays. You can appeal to younger staff by offering on-site exercise classes, which does the double duty of promoting wellness and collegiality.
Another way to promote work-life balance as well as health is to take a real lunch break. Don’t wolf down a sandwich at your desk as you read through your emails. Set a good example by sharing a meal with your finance coworkers or those in another department, and use this time to grow your network and deepen relationships.
4. Use technology to promote work-life balance
Instant messaging, video conferencing, cloud-based platforms, virtual private networks (VPNs) — these and other tools form the backbone of remote work, and make much of todays’ work-life balance possible. Whenever feasible, accommodate your staff’s requests for flexible hours and telecommuting options. If your team is able to remotely access the information they need, let them work from home a few days a week, which saves hours in getting ready and commuting every day.
One of the ways to work happy, for you and your top talent, is to make work more convenient. If you need to come in earlier and leave earlier on certain days so you can pick up your child from school, don’t hesitate. Your staff will pick up on your actions and feel freer to do the same when appropriate.
Simply put, “walk the talk.” You can communicate all day long about the importance of work-life integration, but until you actually model the behaviours you advocate, your staff won’t take your words seriously.
Download Robert Half's new e-book, IT'S TIME WE ALL WORK HAPPY®.