Work-Life Balance for many of us might look like having a very productive day at the office while spending rest of the time as quality time with family or alone. No. That is not the case! Striving for perfection in your work-life balance is a lost case. Having said that one needs to establish boundaries as to when it is appropriate or inappropriate to do things associated with work. There was a time when the boundaries between work and home were fairly clear. However, things are not the same, as work is now expected to invade your personal life because as long as you are working, you are bound to juggle between the demands of career and personal life. So how can one achieve the work-life balance that's best for them?
Vikram - sculpting a culture of 'work hard' without a 'recharge' button…
Vikram could not think anything beyond his work. As for him his job was the entire or sole focus of his life. It does happen when we are very passionate about our jobs as we end up caught in our jobs!
Modeling a culture where employees "work hard and recharge" is the right way to ensure that your employees practice the same behaviours and maintain a balance between their work and family life. Here is where Vikram as an employee and a leader failed. He did not set limits for his work and continued over-scheduling himself thus leaving him with no time for investing in relationships or planning activities he would have otherwise enjoyed. His madness towards work ultimately landed him up at the hospital. Vikram failed to evaluate his priorities at his personal front be it either spending time with his mother or getting married and settled. When he was denied a week's leave for his marriage on account of the launch of a new outlet, he should have shared his concerns and possible solution with the president. As unless an employee stops accepting tasks as an outcome of either a false sense of obligation or guilt, he/she shall not be able to find time for activities that are significant to him/her.
Working from home or using technology every now and then to connect to work when at home can make you feel like you're always on the job. This might be all the more true if you are working long hours as then the work tends to bleed into your time at home, blurring the professional and personal boundaries as well leaving you stressed. Vikram did not talk to his mother for days together while working from home as he was not able to detach from work. Moreover with the promoters wanting to do things at a better pace to make up for the time lost due to pandemic further makes workaholic leaders like Vikram unwilling to relinquish control as they get involved with their employees' projects more than necessary. Working under pressure to meet deadlines must have made it difficult for Vikram to place trust on employees to get the job done and micromanagement might have become a practice. And, like a domino effect, it would have left other managers and supervisors with no choice but follow the trail. Vikram had changed over time and now had become more of a boss than a leader as his team now felt that he would get hyper on the smallest issues and kept a tough attitude towards them and probably that was one of the reasons that people were leaving the organisation, as within a span of two months three managers holding key positions put in their papers.
When working from home one can always seek guidance from their superiors about their expectations as well inputs on when one can disconnect. When working from home employees might as well dress for work and make use of a quiet dedicated workspace. Detaching and switching over to home life becomes easier by changing your outfit, taking a walk or going out for a drive or may be doing some activity with your children. Vikram could have considered options including a compressed work week, flex hours, or other scheduling flexibility or may be even job sharing as then he would have more control over the hours, and that would mean less chances of ending up where he had just now.
Cultivating a balance in work-life
In this case the management failed to see the importance of work-life balance in employee's life as no matter why, when or where it has begun, the workaholic behaviour of a leader is very often mimicked by his or her employees leaving a negative impact not only on the company culture but also affecting the work-life balance for the entire organisation. Here the management was aware that Vikram had overscheduled himself and that he will not be at home for almost a year except few intervening days between the launching of two outlets. But the management failed to anticipate the repercussions of this decision on his personal life. In spite of his overwhelming performance he was denied a week leave for his marriage as a new outlet was all set to launch. Here again the company failed to accept the fact that every employee can have emergency family needs, severe life-changing events and even desires to explore life and career opportunities which cannot be overlooked. On top of it when the management knew there was problem brewing as people were leaving and one of the issues apparently was Vikram's attitude, he shouldn't have been shouldered with additional responsibility. Here the management failed to review his current work schedule. Job sharing, compressed work week, Flex hours or other scheduling flexibility should have been forced interventions if this task was unavoidable for Vikram.
It is okay for employers to expect employees to work hard, and work long for meeting a deadline, may be while working for a timely release of a product, or may be an outlet launch or at a trade show and it could be for a continuous three or four days or even more. But, expecting your employees to sustain long overtime hours and an extraordinary level of energy at a constant level all through as a work expectation is not fair. If long hours and extraordinary efforts are the norms your employees will check out, burn out, and/or leave. Dedication, Commitment or engagement does not mean working for 60-70 hour weeks. There can be days together when you need to focus more on work but then you might also need to focus on your personal life on some other days. It has been rightly said, one cannot completely split it in even proportion, but it happens over time and you achieve the work-life balance that is best for you.
Fostering a Work-Life Balance Environment-Employer Perspective
Companies today need to focus their efforts towards building a supportive environment that fosters a healthy work-life balance for their employees. You should let them know that you respect their need and space for family, community and efforts that find meaning in activities beyond work.
As an employer, if you need to email during off-work hours, it must be known to your employees that you are not expecting a response from them until normal working hours, unless urgent. You need to encourage employees to take breaks in between their work, take advantage of their allotted time-off, allow them to take ownership of their work and trust them. Implementing a wellness program, encouraging them to make their health a priority by providing them access to gym or yoga facilities at discounted rate or providing services of a nutritional counselor who can guide them with their diet check plan, scheduling periodic team lunches where work is not going to be point of conversation and organizing off-site team-building events can foster a supportive environment. Moreover creative solutions from employees can be encouraged on how they think they can improve work-life balance, as by seeking feedback they eel valued. But take care to ensure action or else they may feel even more disheartened. Although there is a cost involved but the ROI in terms of increased productivity or declining absenteeism can add value. An employee Assistance program in place may do good as your stressed employee can open up and talk to a third-party counselor who is not directly involved with the situation and this could potentially help your employees to get to the root of their problem before it escalates.
An employer's efforts towards work-life balance build at a leadership level paves a path to creating a better culture within the organisation which in turn benefits the company with increased productivity as when employees are able to strike a balance between their work and personal life, they're not only happier, but are also more productive.
Way forward - WLB-An Employee Perspective
Caring for yourself is what one needs to keep on priority and here is where Vikram failed, as unless you have your priorities clear; be it good health or may be a healthy lifestyle, you might not essentially be able to either cope up with stress or strike a work-life balance. Eating well, including physical activity in your daily routine and getting enough sleep is something one should never compromise on. In addition to this Vikram should get into the habit of relaxing by setting aside time to gardening, reading, practicing yoga or chasing his hobbies. Volunteering to help others improves one's connections with others and leads to better life satisfaction and lower psychological distress, which again can be an option for Vikram. He should also look at a support system both at work as well as at home, as this tends to improve the balance of work and life. Moreover if as an employee one thinks he/she needs professional help, do not hesitate to seek one. Because all said and done it is the employee who sets priority for himself/herself as the employer can only provide the setting, but as an employee you need to prioritize and consider your relationship to work and ways to strike a healthier balance that is best for you.
Prof. Manju Nair - Prof. at International School of Informatics & Management, Jaipur