In recent weeks, more and more has been written about the changing future of work. Organizations of all sizes are making bold moves in an effort to enhance the employee experience, build a stronger culture that attracts job seekers, and retain top talent. But simply adding a new company value promoting “work-life balance” isn’t enough. To achieve true balance, leaders need to dig deeper.
Balance is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. The key to achieving a culture of balance at work is first recognizing that balance is different for each and every employee and that it’s always changing. More practically, there are three supporting legs to the work/life balance stool that, when present together, provide the optimal conditions for a supportive company culture.
The hardest person to manage is ourselves. Leaders and employees need to hold themselves accountable to manage their time and attention in accordance with personal and company values. If that’s not happening, the rest doesn’t matter.
Activating accountability to our values must start at the top. I recommend CEOs communicate an honest message to the company about their own struggles with balance. For example, “We have all been working really hard. Many of us are burned out. Personally, I’ve been spending less time with my family which isn’t consistent with the wife and mother that I want to be. I’m going to take the lead in making some changes in my schedule so I can pick my kids up from school 3 days a week and be present for their after-school activities.”
If we know and trust our teammates, we can lean on them when we need time off to recharge or to care for a sick loved one, etc. Trust is multi-faceted. If we are to ask for help, other people have to be capable, in terms of knowledge and skills, and reliable in terms of their communication and character. If there are any trust gaps with teammates, high-achieving employees will not unplug.
Team leaders can unlock the requisite trust and teamwork for achieving work-life balance by naming that cross-training is essential to work-life balance and business continuity. Then a plan can be implemented for job shadowing and/or skill development that builds cooperation and understanding among team members with different responsibilities.
The fuel for a flexible work environment is clarity. Declaring a formal policy that allows people to “work from anywhere” and/or adjust their schedules isn’t enough. Leaders and employees need to be aligned on performance metrics and core values and make explicit agreements about how and when communication will happen. When this level of clarity and regular communication exists, flexibility that unleashes employee potential is possible.
Managers can raise the clarity bar by conducting “RTC” meetings with each employee. These are one-on-ones where the sole purpose of the meeting is to agree upon results, timelines and set communication expectations. The RTC meeting answers the question, “What evidence do we need in order to feel positively about this work arrangement?”
When you decide to take a more intentional approach to creating a culture of balance, it is important to evaluate your readiness and make necessary changes according to the three legs of stool: personal accountability, teamwork, and clarity. Over time, a supportive culture of balance will reduce costly employee turnover and absenteeism, improve your employer brand so you can compete for top talent, and unlock innovation and creativity.