All managers should have a work-life balance policy: though these initiatives are an important responsibility for the CEO and other senior members of a company, it’s vital managers at all levels take stock of their own responsibilities.
Most employers and leaders will know or will have at least heard about the importance of work-life balance, both for themselves and their employees. In fact, not only have companies all over the world ramped up their wellness programmes and work-life balance initiatives, but corporate wellness start-ups have blossomed in recent years.
However, work-life balance doesn’t just come from having a company-wide wellness programme. Each employee will learn good work-life balance practices from their own managers and other members of their team.
"While workplace wellness initiatives are an important responsibility for the CEO and other senior members of the company, it’s vital that managers at all levels take stock of their own responsibilities."
Unfortunately, with high expectations from managers, work-life balance, even if it is a company policy, can often get side-lined between employees and their direct superiors. With this in mind, there are a few things that all managers should think about.
Duty of care
While workplace wellness initiatives are an important responsibility for the CEO and other senior members of the company, it’s vital that managers at all levels take stock of their own responsibilities. If you are a manager of just one other person, you have a duty of care to that person.
Working as a manager does not simply mean you have been promoted to a senior level because you’re good at your own job. It also means you now have to manage at least one other person, and that includes managing their workplace wellbeing.
"According to a report 43% of employees feel compelled to reply to managers’ requests while on holidays."
What does that mean for you? For a start, it means leading by example. Are you constantly working through your lunch breaks and staying after hours? Don’t be surprised then if your employees feel the pressure to do the same.
Are you sending them emails outside of normal working hours? Even if you tell them they don’t have to reply, you can’t really blame them for allowing their attention to be grabbed by a message you felt couldn’t wait until the next morning.
In fact, according to a report from Randstad US and Future Workplace, 43% of employees feel compelled to reply to managers’ requests while on holidays.
A company policy that says employees don’t have to work at the weekends means very little when your direct superior is sending you text messages on a Saturday. And while this sounds like an extreme example, all managers should put themselves in their employees’ shoes and think about the little behaviours they might be doing to put extra pressure on them
One size does not fit all
Another reason it’s important for managers to think about work-life balance specifically within their own team is because workplace wellbeing programmes rarely stretch far enough. For a start, everyone on your team will have different needs, different ways of working and different stress triggers.
So, while a company offers flexible working hours and parental leave, these ‘wellness perks’ may not actually benefit your individual team’s needs.
"Between 2010 and 2015, the percentage of the workforce experiencing stress had more than doubled in Ireland."
This is why managers can’t simply dust off their hands and leave workplace wellbeing up to the company. Not to mention the fact that when individual employees suffer from work-related stress and burnout, a corporate policy will not be able to take notice and intervene, but a manager will.
Last year, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) released a study, which showed that in a five-year period between 2010 and 2015, the percentage of the workforce experiencing stress had more than doubled in Ireland. While this is clearly a societal issue and one that can be further aided by better wellness initiatives and healthier work-life cultures, it is the individual managers who are in charge of their own team that can make the biggest difference.
I’m a manager, what should I do?
The first step to getting better at almost anything is to first take stock of what’s been happening so far. Managers looking to improve work-life balance within their own team should first look at the team’s current dynamics. How are your employees’ stress levels? What about their productivity? Are they disengaged? Do they communicate well with one another? Do they communicate with you when they have a problem? If not, do you have any idea why?
At this point, it’s important to not bury your head in the sand and convince yourself that everything’s fine. There’s almost always room for improvement.
"It means encouraging collaboration and healthy communication when employees are feeling overwhelmed or need support."
If you’re worried that you’re drawing the wrong conclusions, have an open, honest conversation with their team. Ask them what works and what doesn’t work for them. Everyone knows their job carries certain expectations and deadlines need to be met, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your goals as a team in a way that works for everyone.
Next, you need to create your own work-life balance policy, as if you are the CEO of your own little company within the bigger organisation. Once you’ve figured out the best way your employees work and what they need from you in terms of support, you will also be able to ingrain healthier attitudes towards work-life balance.
This means discouraging skipped lunches and overworking. It means reminding them to take annual leave if they haven’t taken any this year. It means agreeing not to send emails or text messages after 6pm. It means encouraging collaboration and healthy communication when employees are feeling overwhelmed or need support.
Ideally, when each person is promoted to the point where they have someone working underneath them, they should be sent on managerial training that specifically deals with being a superior and the responsibility that comes with it. However, the reality is many employees are promoted to managerial level because of their stellar work history, but with no previous experience of managing an employee of their own.
So, in lieu of formal management training, take the time to talk to your employees, find out what they want, how they’d like to be managed and how you can help them achieve a positive work-life balance. Because when managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement, I don’t think we can afford to leave workplace wellbeing up to corporate policies.
Jenny Darmody is the growth editor at RECRUITERS.ie, Ireland’s most trusted recruitment partner. Jenny is also a former journalist, specialising in all things career-related and work-life balance.
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