It can be very challenging to practice what you preach as a company founder or manager. Even if you fully value work-life balance, you may feel the pressure to make sure that things get accomplished on time at all costs. The concern, of course, is that your employees will see the behaviours you actually exhibit, not your best intentions. An employee who sees you working 60 hours a week, emailing at all times of day and night, may feel like he or she needs to work at the same breakneck speed.
Luckily, it is possible to be a high-energy, hardworking founder or manager without creating a culture of burnout and overwork. Here are some of the ways you can model work-life balance for your team once you've settled into a routine as a company founder or manager.
Put Start and End Dates on Busy Periods
In start-up companies, and in many fast-paced work environments, employees grow accustomed to working "from crisis to crisis." This means that they may hear "it'll only be this busy for a certain amount of time," but they know that something new will crop up before they actually enter a "slow season." Your company may also have cyclical work, work that crops up and must be done at a quick pace in order to retain the customer. However, one way to prioritize work-life balance is to give yourself a hard end date for these intense workdays. For example, you could say to your workforce, "the project will be done in three weeks, and you will be able to use comped overtime to take a break sometime during the two weeks after that."
This does mean keeping a commitment to yourself: you can't sign everyone up for another two weeks of intense overwork and cancel the comp time. Even if you can only promise a scaling back to their regular workweek, no overtime, try to make it clear that crisis and overtime isn't "business as usual." Make a crisis situation truly rare, so that employees will feel confident that they can return to normal afterwards.
Attempt a 4 Day Workweek Yourself
If you are encouraging employees to take a 4 day workweek and derive all the benefits in productivity that such a schedule entails, try to practice what you preach. Let your team know which day of the week you'll be out of pocket, and give them clear procedures for being productive if they work the day that you don't work. An excellent communication system will keep you from receiving a bunch of text messages and emails on your day off. Don't assume that this day will continue to remain free unless you are prepared to fight for it: your other four days will have to be that much more carefully handled, but your reward will be a much better buy-in from your team into this 4 day workweek idea.
Schedule-Send Emails to Fit Into Work Hours
One issue that many founders and managers run into is the fact that they send emails when they occur to them, not when their employees are prepared to answer. The fast pace of the business world tends to make people want to respond to emails immediately even if an immediate response isn't needed, so your employees may feel pressured when their phones buzz with the arrival of a late-night email. Email providers have answered this problem with the feature called "schedule send." This feature allows you to send the email now, knowing it has been completed, but it won't arrive in the recipients' email inbox until a designated time. One great rule of thumb is to only email your employees for the time they arrive in the office next. This way, the email arrives and they can choose whether to handle it immediately or respond once they've finished other priorities. They never have to wonder whether you want them to work during their free time, harming their work-life balance.
Build More Wiggle Room Into Your Timelines
A hard truth about valuing work-life balance is that you may need to stop promising the same level of aggressive timeline unless you are willing to hire more people to accomplish it. While there is some unpredictability in any company's timelines, consistently needing your employees to work overtime becomes a question of bad estimates and hiring rather than just an unpredictable schedule. No one likes to raise their rates or lengthen their timelines, but creating excellent products and services long term may require you to make more allowances for work-life balance. You want to be able to underpromise and overdeliver, not blanket your customers with excuses about why such-and-such isn't done. Whenever you can, build wiggle room into the timeline and deliver early, rather than trying too hard to get the contract and delivering late. Employees will believe you value work-life balance when it is physically possible to meet deadlines without overwork.
Let Employees Know You Value Your Free Time
This tip requires delicacy, since your choices for personal sharing may not be received the same way by all employees, but it is a good idea to point out that you, too, have a home life that you don't wish to compromise for work. You may mention family time, a hobby, or a volunteering gig that matters to you; you don't want this to be a brag of any kind, but instead a sign that you don't expect them to value only work all the time. By casually and regularly mentioning that life exists outside the office, you remind everyone that they work to live, not live to work.
Ask For Feedback on How Long Things Take, and Adjust
You have a major source of information in the form of your employee team, and they should be part of how you decide schedules for the business. If they believe that the timeline for a project is too aggressive, it is likely because they have seen how long the project should realistically take. Use this information to make adjustments that will allow them to actually work the amount of time they've signed up for. It is good to carefully manage and monitor projects where the timelines are extended, but if everyone is working hard and it simply takes longer than planned, you want to give them that time. It's the only way to be taken seriously about a pursuit of work-life balance.