As the employment market gets more difficult to manage, achieving that famed work-life balance has become an even bigger challenge for those in leadership positions. While this has always been an issue due to the multiple facets of a successful program—you, your employees, your family, your friends, and the employer—it’s grown in recent months. With jobs plentiful and candidates scarce or expensive, it usually amounts to the current staff working longer hours and more days, upsetting the work-life balance.
So how can you help restore this balance? How can you support yourself and your employees in knowing when to step away from work for the day?
Figure out where the issue is
The first step in building a better work environment is deciding where in your system or workload the issue lies. Is it that you’re understaffed? Or are you in the middle of big projects or transitions and have too much going on to leave work at a normal hour?
If either of these is the case, you may find yourself working unreasonable hours and days, which in turn can make your employees feel guilty for taking a day off or leaving at the end of their scheduled shift—or even judged or punished for doing so.
Another issue could simply be that you don’t want a better balance. I know that may sound odd, but many people see work as a getaway from other things or find gratification in what they do and are reluctant to step away. Take time to reflect and decide if that work really needs to be done today and if you really are that busy, or if you are simply looking for reasons to work. Once you decide what the cause(s) are for the unbalanced system, you can move forward and develop a plan to resolve it.
Learn to let go
Keep in mind that finding a better balance may mean offloading, entrusting, or training others to do some of the things you are doing now. This can be a process and if training is involved, lengthy. Even more difficult is letting go. Some people are very hesitant to trust others due to past experience and may feel uncomfortable allowing others to handle projects.
If you are in the aforementioned group of untrustworthy souls, this can be your biggest challenge. However, part of the balance is letting some things go and allowing others to take the wheel. That means you will need to follow up with the new person to create a comfort level with the new process that won’t include you going forward.
Start small and reduce your hours
Provided you’ve focused in on the source of the issue, you can move on. I am certainly no expert but I have to say I would start small. Most people I talk to want to get “back to normal” right away or make a huge change, and that just isn’t in the cards these days. Maybe once the employment market starts to regain some equilibrium, we can see that in our future.
For now, I would say try reducing the hours you work slowly and minutely at first, say by 30 to 60 minutes a day. That is my new goal. Please notice I said goal. If it fails, don’t give up. Learn from the mistakes and alter the plan but don’t stop trying. If you’re in a leadership position, encourage your employees to wrap up their work and leave at a normal time if possible. There may be some days when that’s not feasible, but you should always try.
Take personal time without guilt
If you fall into the group who finds work is better than personal time, or perhaps you feel too busy to take personal time, it’s time to make changes there as well. Don’t rush out and schedule five days in a month, but take it slow.
Start by planning your personal time and mark it off on your work calendar. Don’t feel obligated to explain why you’re taking personal time—it’s yours to use and there’s no need to justify it or allow others to argue the importance of that versus the work they want you to do. This is your time, take it.
At the same time, encourage your employees to use their personal time as well. If you notice no one is taking a day due to their workload, gently remind them it is okay to have a day off, and help them with that work that’s holding them back if you can.
Restore the balance
Developing a strong work-life balance isn’t always easy, especially with the market today, but it is possible. Sit back, think, and find places to improve. Then make small movements towards balancing your work life and personal life. If you’re a leader, it’s also your responsibility to do the same for your employees. Follow these steps and you will probably see, even in this period of time, that it is a goal we can all accomplish.