Whether your company talks about work/life balance or uses phrases like self-care, everybody seems to talk a big game without really making a change in how everyday workers can accomplish this task. Below are a few common sense but very practical tips that teams or those in middle management can take to help set the right tone for their team.
Set and enforce boundaries on phone and email responses
I know, I know, you are thinking this is super simple, right? But it is harder than you think. As the leader or manager of the team, it is not as simple as leading by example and setting a policy, you also need to help enforce this guideline. We all know that emergencies happen but it is easy for everyone to work a little late, to just reply to this specific email, to want to get one more call out. It is also easy to not want to enforce this guideline, having your employees working harder, later, is almost an ingrained badge of honor at this point in American culture. But it also creates burnout, hurts morale, and eventually impacts productivity. All things that nobody wants. So whatever the policy is, start enforcing it.
Easier said than done, right? Okay, okay, here are a couple of ideas to get you started. But you all know your teams, companies, and culture better than I do, so I am sure that you have more specific and more creative ideas, so please comment or share yours too. Here we go.
- #1 Create a Metric. Not in every team, but in many teams, the leader is CC’d on many an email, so do a check every week or so where you check Sent times. Don’t make a big deal out of it but a quick chat, a group announcement, or even a metric you monitor and talk about weekly would not be a amiss. Most employees after all do not want to be sending an email at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, they just want to be seen as responsive by the boss. And yes, count those that are two minutes past the deadline. Or sent at exactly the start of business.
- #2 Define an emergency. Reviewing and enforcing what an emergency is one of the most effective ways to make a difference. Most engaged and pro-active employees will err on the side of caution and be responsive on items that really do not need to be addressed immediately. This is especially true in time sensitive projects. So helping the team learn what is truly time sensitive and what is just a nice to have is up to you as the leader. The more you let your anxiety lead you to send that second check up email or text, the more your team will start to cater to your anxiety. So be clear and don’t let your own anxiety infect your team.
- #3 Support efficiency. Many a late day is born from the lingering coffee break, the long lunch, the afternoon water cooler chat. We all do it and we all then have to pay for it later with a late day that breeds emails and phone calls after business hours. It is up to employees to manage their time and sometimes they do need to make up work but the more you, as the team leader or manager, show that their mismanagement of time is not a reason for violating the late email policy, the more the team will begin to manage their time better. After all, if you know you need to work late to keep up with everyone else no matter what, why bother to manage your time better?
Oh yes, I am going there. Maybe I am biased living in Silicon Valley, but in today’s world, food is a basic tenet of company culture. Whether your company or agency has vending machines, catered breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, or a kitchen, food helps keep your employees happy. It can be easy and tempting to go for the crowd pleasers like pizza and donuts. It can also be easy and tempting to ignore the issue all together. However, study after study has shown that sugar and skipping lunch can prove a detriment to productivity. I won’t even get into the effect of having hung over employees in the office every Thursday or Friday if you work at a work hard/play hard company. So as a manager, how can you help your team? Well, I would start with having an open and honest dialogue with them. Sounds cliche coming from a therapist, but I am serious. Each team is different, with different requirements, needs, and wants. It doesn’t do any good to always cater lunch if the team is always going to be divided over the options served. You might also be surprised to find out that your Thursday happy hours might be amazing for half the team, but the others are grudging participants who would rather go home to their families or friends. So checking in is a good first start. Next, check your company handbook. This is particularly relevant for agencies or companies who don’t have the extravagant budgets of bigger industry leaders. Often there is “team building” budgets, “wellness” grants, or even a section in your private insurance that helps out with healthier eating options. No matter what, just having the conversation and knowing your options will be helpful. And the healthier you can make them, even through all the grumbling, the more grateful your staff will be.
Knowing your employees
This might seem straight forward but it is crucial. Having a boss that an employee feels comfortable enough to talk after a personal emergency is critical. When a team feels disenfranchised from their leadership, personal problems start to bleed into work. It can be as simple as your consistently on time secretary is now erratic on when she shows up, or your best customer service rep has had three complaints in the past month, these are usually symptoms of a personal problem. And once that affects their job, everyone starts to stress out more. As the boss, you don’t want to have that conversation and you don’t want to deal with the problems. As the employee, they don’t want one more problem and they are already aware and ashamed that this is happening. So again, if you formed these relationships at the beginning, then the dialogue is halfway to happening. So in the case of your secretary, you know that she just moved out after a divorce and is now commuting an extra hour and has not gotten the hang of it yet. Your customer service rep just heard that his mother is struggling in the aftermath of the hurricane and he doesn’t have the time off to go help and he is angry at everyone. In both cases, if you know this before the issues in their performance appears, then you all can take proactive steps to address potential problems and work becomes a support instead of an detriment to their mental health. Whether you choose to get to know your team through one on one’s, team events, or in your own creative way, take the time, everyone will be better off in the end. And if you need some ideas, check out my previous blog post about creating empathy in your team.
These aren’t groundbreaking or new or hip work/life balance tips. What I hope these are, are practical, daily or weekly tips that will help anyone leading a team take some concrete steps to helping create a more balanced and more stable team. Good luck!
If you or your team could do with some specific coaching, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. Centered Wisdom is dedicated to helping individuals and groups find the right solutions for themselves. Please give us a Call or Request an Appointment now.