Separating personal and professional lives reduces stress and benefits the company’s bottom line
The line between “work” and “personal life” has become blurred for most American workers. Thanks to evolving technology and an unforgiving economy, we’re under constant pressure to perform. The result? Even when we’re not at our desks, we’re tethered to our devices. While we’re helping kids with homework, we’re also thinking about how to fine-tune that proposal, and while we’re watching TV, we’re checking our email. And when we’re on vacation—wait, what is a vacation again?
Smart leaders know that when people have a healthy work/life balance they are better employees, period. And the smartest employers don’t just pay lip service to this idea; they actually take steps to make it happen.
Very few employers overtly discourage vacations, “mental health days,” and sane work schedules. But still, it’s also true that few take the initiative to make sure that their people are maintaining a healthy balance. (In fact, the OECD Better Life Index, released yearly, concludes that the U.S. ranks 28th among advanced nations in the category of “work-life balance,” ninth from the bottom.) That’s not too surprising; after all, going out on a limb and encouraging your people to (gulp) stop working so hard is pretty scary. But when you take that risk, though, you’ll find that helping with work/life balance attracts better talent and increases productivity, loyalty, and engagement.
Here are a few win-win strategies to help your employees separate their work lives from their personal lives and enhance both in the process:
First, walk the walk yourself. If you’re serious about helping your employees achieve a healthier work/life balance, you have to be willing to set the example. This isn’t negotiable. If you want your people to unplug from their devices, take time for themselves, de-stress, and more, you can’t be sending them emails at 10 p.m., frantically making requests of others on their way out the door, and constantly calling in while you’re on vacation. They’ll follow your lead, not your suggestions. And have you ever considered that maybe improving your own work/life balance might make you a better leader?
Encourage employees to take those unused vacation days. According to Expedia’s 2013 Vacation Deprivation study, on average, Americans were given 14 vacation days but used only 10 of them. (That’s twice as many unused vacation days as the previous year.) And let’s not forget—this is paid time off we’re talking about. So why do employees leave those four—or sometimes more—days on the table? In some cases, they’re too busy. In others, they may feel that company culture discourages “too much” absence, or they may want to prove themselves indispensable. And, of course, some people are workaholics or simply forget to plan.
As an employer, let your people know that it’s okay—and even encouraged—to take the full amount of vacation. Tell them explicitly that you believe rest, relaxation, and outside adventures make them better workers. To put your money where your mouth is, you may even want to build “extra” vacation days that aren’t calendar holidays into your schedule. Either the whole company could close, or different departments could rotate having 3-day weekends, for instance. You’ll be surprised by the effect this has on morale and productivity.
Teach time management. Often, employees remain tethered to their devices in the evenings and on weekends because they’re worried about unfinished tasks and loose ends that might require their attention. While you might not be able to guarantee that your people can leave work at work every single day, you can help them gain the skills that will reduce their amount of “homework.” Training on time management, prioritization, organization, the effective use of lists, and so forth can be surprisingly effective.
Help them understand the business cycle. As a leader, you know from years of experience that your business goes through (more or less) predictable seasons. For instance, September through December might be crunch time, but you know that after the New Year things will be more relaxed. Just don’t take for granted that your employees share this understanding. Educate your people, especially new hires, about your company’s natural business cycle.
Be flexible on when and where work happens. Depending on your field, technological advances may mean that many employees are no longer tied to their desks. (And isn’t that one of the reasons why our personal lives and professional lives have become so hopelessly enmeshed?) If possible, allow your employees to take advantage of being able to do work from their homes or from the coffee shop down the street.
Play hard to work hard. Work doesn’t have to be all, well, work. Integrate “fun” activities in the workday once a week or so: office scavenger hunts, trivia, darts, hall putt-putt, bring-your-pet-to-work days, cookouts on a Friday afternoon, etc. Use your imagination, and if you’re lacking ideas, ask your employees what they’d like to do.
Remember, anything you can do to show employees that you care about the quality of their lives outside of the office will earn their goodwill and loyalty. The happier and less stressed you can help your employees to be on and off the job, the more loyal and engaged they will be—and the more your bottom line will benefit.
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For More Information Dr. Carmella Sebastian is a nationally known wellness educator. She frequently speaks on a range of wellness topics and is admired for giving her audiences practical, achievable wellness strategies and solutions. She recently published her first book, Sex and Spaghetti Sauce: My Italian Mother’s Recipe for Getting Healthy and Getting Busy in Your 50s and Beyond. For more information, visit www.drcarm.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, June 2014
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