The Job Matters…But So Do The People Doing It!
When you hear the words “work-life balance” the first image that pops into your head is probably some guy working late at an office instead of going home to a wife and family in time for dinner, etc. That’s certainly the most commonly perceived down-side to putting in too much time either at work or “thinking” about work.
As I mentioned in Tuesday’s #MindfulTech post, “Does Where You Live Affect Your Work-Life Balance?”, many employers also take a pretty simplistic view of the whole issue. They may see all the talk about work and life balance, as being an almost sinister force opposing the culture of hard work and dedication to your job. This leads to a feeling among employees that when they need to spend time on other important areas of their lives, they are somehow being disloyal to their job for doing so.
It’s About More Than Hours
As we saw in Tuesday’s post, workers in many cities put in long hours, and take very few vacation days in the course of a year. But counting hours and days doesn’t take into account some factors that don’t get talked about very often. And those factors aren’t measured by adding machines, but by medical devices.
The pursuit of appropriate work-life balance isn’t simply a scale the divvies up the hours in a day – one for work, one for home, etc. A more accurate measure of what the term really means must take into account the simple but important issue of stress.
Stress – Brought To You By Work and Life
We may think of it as a zero-sum game in which hours go the boss instead of the baby, or a child’s soccer game wins out over a late meeting at the office. Yet the work-life issue is really bigger than that, and it is battle being waged by workers at almost every technologically connected hour in the day.
There’s the stress employees may feel as they are at home but worrying about an office matter or constantly texting or checking email so their mind is in two places. Then there’s the stress employees feel being at the office worrying about how to deal with a child who needs to come home from school due to sickness, or feeling guilty taking care of a personal errand or phone call on company time.
It’s not the “hour count” that causes problems, it’s the stress of increasingly complex lives and the rapid emergence of technologies that break down the traditional borders of place and time. Mindfulness is not just a buzzword these days, it is an important part of living a well balanced, stress-free lifestyle.
It’s Enough To Make You Sick
While some employers would prefer to pretend it’s not an issue, they might be wise to address it proactively because stress – not wives, families, or soccer games – is the real threat to a productive, mutually beneficial working relationship with their employees. The damage it can do is difficult to overstate.
Stress can cause many problems that impair productivity. On the job, it can lead to difficulty concentrating, poor judgment and undesirable co-worker relationships. Colds, nausea, aches and pains and other maladies due in part to stress, can easily lead to diminished performance, office epidemics and numerous sick days.
Even more worrisome, stress is a symptom of major health conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. No employer would wish those things on a valued employee – or deal with situations these things leave behind.
Decide to De-Stress
Chances are, this is happening in your business. To some degree, the way to control it is in your hands. There’s not a single, magic formula to suddenly become a “poster company” for work-life balance. From my experience though, I’d like to at least suggest three things to remember, and implement, if you can:
Be an example. Make sure that your policies, whatever they are, are demonstrated in your behavior and the behavior of other management. When you need to leave work for a family event or crisis, don’t sneak out the back door, be an example of how accepted this work-life balance is at your company. Let your team know you are heading out for family or personal reasons and walk out the front door with your head held high.
Be open. Reduce all the barriers you can between you and your employees. Talking about your own work-life balance struggles with your team can lead to open communication and less stress. The more you see each other as human beings and not “titles” the better each can see the other’s side and understand situations that pop up.
Be flexible. In my view, this is the most important one. You don’t have to let employees go shoeless or bring dogs to work. But to me, it’s only common sense to accept and embrace the “give and take” that today’s complex lives inherently bring. If an employee is allowed – even encouraged – to leave early for an important school event, then he or she will gladly respond in time when work-related communication is necessary after hours. It’s a two-way street.
There are plenty of articles out there full of little tricks to reduce stress, and many of them apply to office situations. But I think it’s better to avoid it in the first place, if you can. What do you think? I’d like to hear your philosophy, or how your company approaches this sort of thing. If you think I’m naive, let me know in the comments and if you agree with me – I’d really like to hear from you. so as usual, feel free to give me a phone call.