“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.”
Maintain Work-Life Balance for Yourself and Your Team
It is easy to be cynical about work-life balance, and a wry smile should be all you offer to the malcontent who cannot make it work.
Harsh? Yes, it is. The employee who constantly harasses everyone around the water-cooler that his family comes first may have forgotten that his first responsibility to his family is the security of that paycheck.
One of the finest managers I have ever learned from had an exercise she ran everyone through a couple times a year. Efficient time management and worker production was what our group was paid for planning, so she did not tolerate any deviation from a reasonably proscribed path. A stickler for managing expectations, she required that each of our team produce on demand a this-month/next-month calendar, rolling week to week. Before Outlook and other software products this was a strain, but the lesson was not lost on most of us.
Every now and then someone (myself included) would get thrown out of her office.
“Where’s your personal time? No vacation? No day off? No Little League games? Dance recitals? Where are your priorities?”
That manager required all her staff to plan personal time first. Once you know everyone’s time commitments away from work, it is infinitely easier to dispatch assignments, meet deadlines, and react to real or perceived crises. It fostered greater teamwork, also; each of us fought to protect not only our own time, but that of our partners. We were individually and collectively more productive, and responsibilities were blended where appropriate. All because our boss insisted we plan our personal time first.
Then there’s your time. Easier said than done, but you should plan your own time first, too. Consider a couple motivators for the team. First, don’t be afraid to leave early every now and then. Second, scare everyone out early on a Friday, and staff the phones yourself if possible. Little gestures, big rewards.
You will find people who take undo advantage of these magnanimous policies. Be direct with the individual. Be prepared for the accusation or excuse, “Yeah, but…” You are always leading your team, and managing processes, not personal expectations.
A word on motivation. You can help motivate your people, but the stark reality is that every employee, even you, came to the job with your own set of motivating factors, and these included the “balance” elements.
A good leader will discern the motivations of each of his employees. Who goes to school at night? Who coaches kid basketball on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Who needs to do the morning car-pool-thing with the kids on Monday? We all have something that we need to protect as an obligation to that fuzzy thing called “life,” and we will slavishly protect these obligations, which are our true motivations.
Support these obligations of your teammates, and you will be rewarded with loyalty and people willing to protect your motivation.
The military has an advantage on motivation that civilians do not. Service men and women have a broad mission of protecting our nation and a singular purpose of doing the job right. As a civilian leader, you’ll need to dig carefully without prying to find the true motivations of your team members.