Years ago, I adopted the idea of “work-life harmony” instead of “work-life balance.” I think “balance” sets us up to be perpetually disappointed if we’re not in a 50-50 status of work and no-work. Such equilibrium rarely exists.
The pandemic has taught us not to take things for granted. Now, more than ever, we value health, family, community — and great employers. Those priorities have led people, in record numbers, to opt out of jobs that take too much of a toll on their personal and professional well-being.
Some folks refer to that state of well-being as “work-life balance.” I don’t.
We all have times of the year, critical incidents or special projects that dominate our time and put our skills to work at their highest level. Those aren’t moments of balance, but for many, especially those in healthcare, they can be rewarding and fulfilling — people fully engaged in work they believe in.
On the other hand, there are times when employees are off the clock but can’t really enjoy themselves because their work culture creates anxiety about it. Supervisors may make them feel guilty for taking PTO to which they are entitled. Employees may feel they can never really “unplug” from their jobs without negative consequences from management.
That’s why I prefer the concept of “work-life harmony.” It’s less about measuring time and more about measuring happiness. It means we are fully, positively engaged both at work and in our off-hours. Our professional and personal lives don’t feel in conflict because of pressures from our supervisors.
That’s where leadership comes in.
As a leader and key decision-maker, you are one of the greatest influences on work-life harmony. You create a culture where it can flourish; where no one’s time is taken for granted, wasted or unfairly controlled. You can give everyone a gift — not just the gift of time, but time well spent.
Since many of us are still in a season of resolution-making, following are some ways you can make that happen for your team.
Consider these ways to enhance the quality of your team’s work life.
Ensure your system for scheduling work shifts and vacations is effective and equitable. Do schedules come out early enough for people to plan their lives? Do your vacation or PTO protocols need a review? That is, how many people can be off at a given time? Who gets first pick of vacation dates? And how easily can people swap schedules if they’re willing?
Upgrade the quality of your meetings. Know exactly why a meeting is needed, whose attendance is essential, how the agenda will be shared, and that “next steps” will be clearly known to all as it ends. Don’t call a meeting when an email will do, but don’t create burdensome email threads when a quick standup meeting could button things up more effectively.
Provide time to think. You and your team members deserve it, especially when you’re working on strategic planning or important projects. We’re so often busy doing, that we neglect taking time to think about what’s better, what’s next or what we’re missing. We can’t innovate, collaborate or learn new things when we’re immersed in work.
Create time with you. If you’re humble and don’t think time with you is valuable to people, or if you’re an introvert and neglect to invite employees to chat, do better. You have the power, often just by listening, to make people feel respected and that their input matters.
Empower people to say “no.” Some of your best staff members hesitate to decline assignments or invitations. They don’t want to let you down. Because they’re so reliable, you may be overburdening them. Make sure you let people know the best way to say, “I could do that if I can take something else off my plate” without fear of recrimination.
OFF THE CLOCK
With the following steps, you can also help team members make the best use of their time off.
Encourage people to use their benefits. It’s not enough to publish them in your employee handbook. It makes a world of difference when the boss tells employees to make sure they take the family leave to which they’re entitled or even to take all their vacation time. It ensures there’s not a culture of “take it — but it’s a career risk around here.”
Respond wisely when people work well beyond the norm. It happens. People work non-stop on a major project or to cover for others during an unexpected rough patch. Thank them, of course, but also make clear that their sacrifice is truly that — a sacrifice — and is never taken for granted. Make certain people understand that working extraordinary hours isn’t the only way to get ahead on your team. And while you’re sharing appreciation, consider thanking your employees’ loved ones, too.
Be clear about PTO expectations. Can people really disconnect if they want to? We know some people prefer to stay connected while away, just in case of emergencies or because they’re happy workaholics. But don’t let their preferences create expectations for others. People who are on vacation deserve to rest and relax however it works best for them. Remember, there’s abundant research on the benefits of taking time off. We’re better for it.
Be a role model for R&R. People take cues from their leaders. If you camp out at work and don’t take time away, people may assume you expect the same of them. But if you let it be known that you’ve scheduled your days so you can coach a little league team or you share your plans for taking that family getaway, people are more comfortable doing the same. They’ll also appreciate you even more if you clearly delegate decision-making power before you leave. That way, no one’s time is wasted because work can progress, even in your absence.
IN THE NEW YEAR
This year, we know there’s plenty of pent-up demand for vacation and travel. Children will be vaccinated. Adults will be boosted. And more countries will likely be open for tourists if surges in COVID-19 or the emergence of new variants allow.
The gift of time will be more important than ever for your team members. Whether st work or at rest, help them enjoy the gift of time well spent. It’s the essence of work-life harmony.