It never fails. You leave the office, ready for a relaxing Friday evening. You get home, get into your comfortable clothes, prepare a drink, and then… ding.
You have a notification from your inbox on your phone. You hesitate to look at it. The workday is over but you are a salaried employee and feel obligated. Oh heck.
You decide to just read the email and respond later. You quickly scan the page. The email is from a high-profile client, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to just shoot off a simple acknowledgment of receipt.
Before you realize, you’ve fired up your laptop, and your fingers are flying over the keys. It will be quicker than trying to type out a response using your two thumbs on a smartphone. The quick response turns into a back-and-forth brainstorming session with your client. Two hours in, you realize you haven’t even taken a sip of your drink.
How many times has this, or a similar situation, occurred? Sure, you try to justify it by reminding yourself that you love your job. You think it’s the expectation because many of your peers and associates operate the same way.
Friends Don’t Like Workaholic Friends
However, you’ve noticed that family and friends seem acutely aware of your lapse in attention and inability to commit or be present at many social functions. Your phone doesn’t ring as often as it used to. You aren’t included on the fun group texts with memes from your old college friends.
You convince yourself that you are finally ‘adulting.’ Deep down, you’re wondering if you’re being phased out because of your intense dedication to your job. If these insecurities sound familiar, it’s possible you’re nowhere near having a healthy work-life balance.
Before you go any further, it would be wise to ask yourself a few diagnostic questions. If necessary, begin implementing some changes to help yourself develop a trajectory of achieving that work-life balance.
Also, keep in mind that the habits you make will become the habits that many others around you will mimic. Finding a work-life balance will be good for you, as well as those who are looking to you for guidance.
Ashlee Faulkner, Regional Shareholder and President of Business Development for Journey Colorado, breaks down why setting the example of work-life balance is critical. She explains,
“Work-life balance is important for any business. It’s not enough to just say it, you have to define it within your culture. Make sure your company and company culture reflect the work-life balance you want so you can attract and retain great employees! You never want to lose a good employee due to a failure on your part to clarify expectations. Be honest with yourself in your definition and follow through with it on your part!”
Employee classification can be a significant contributor to a lack of work-life balance. Exempt employees (those who are paid a preset salary, regardless of hours worked) tend to struggle more than their non-exempt employee counterparts do.
The reason exempt employees tend to struggle with finding work-life balance is that they don’t punch a clock. They are exempt from overtime pay rates that benefit hourly employees. They tend to receive higher wages, so it’s not unusual for them to feel they need to put in more hours to prove their work ethic. These feelings of obligation are common, warranted or not.
One way to help exempt employees achieve a better work-life balance is to include deadlines for the tasks you send them.
For example, if you email an associate a task at 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, but don’t actually need the task completed until the Monday morning meeting, let them know. Include the deadline in the subject line so it’s easier for them to prioritize the task.
A great first step to getting a work-life balance trajectory is taking a look at the accrued paid time off (PTO). Many companies provide PTO to associates. It allows employees paid time to take care of the usual things that need to be done in life, or even just to relax and regroup.
Studies show that hundreds of millions of PTO hours go unused each year by American workers. That’s right—hundreds of millions. If PTO is given in the minimum increments possible (let’s be honest, many companies probably offer the least amount of benefits they can get away with, although some employers are certainly researching and considering the benefits of unlimited PTO), and people are leaving that much PTO on the table, then we are probably greatly under-serving our needs.
In other words, we are not taking the time to take care of our to-do’s outside of work. Or, we are just not taking the time for a much-needed break.
So, what can we do about this? It’s simple: take a day off!
If you want to be kind to your employer, plan the day off in advance. If you really feel you need a physical or mental health break immediately, then take a sick day. Either way, if you have accrued the hours, then they are yours to take.
Just make sure that you are taking the time in compliance with your company’s leave policy. You can refer to your Human Resources department, handbook, or direct manager for clarification.
Sometimes we become so caught up in the rhythm we have created for ourselves, that we forget what it feels like to not constantly be running at a race pace.
If you’re struggling to determine if your work-life balance is off, here are a few simple questions you can ask yourself:
- Do you work more than 40 hours per week?
- Can you remember the last time you had a day off, besides the days when operations cease?
- Do you feel too tired for social activities in the evenings and on weekends?
- Do you feel your attitude is becoming more negative due to work?
- Do people tell you that you work all the time?
- Do you worry that taking time off will negatively affect your boss’s perception of you?
If you answered yes to over half of these questions, it’s likely your work-life balance needs some serious attention.
I don’t have to be a doctor to tell you that your life outside of work is essential. Take care of your needs and yourself. You, in turn, don’t have to believe me! That doesn’t mean it isn’t important to find an appropriate work-life balance. You should also encourage your employees to do the same.
Keep in mind that all people are different and that what works for one person might not work for another. Keep your eyes open for struggling employees, or those not operating at their full potential.
Encouraging them to “tough it out” might not be what they that they need; they might just need a break for an extra day or two (not just the weekend) to unwind and regroup.
One more thing to remember: some people will naturally fill voids or deal with stress in destructive ways, if not given an option for a constructive way to manage stress. Reminding people of their PTO could be a way to prevent people from turning to a bottle. It’s much easier to give people a couple of days when they need it and are already sober than to provide them with an indefinite amount of time to get sober.
If you feel that you can’t begin to figure out how to achieve a better work-life balance, consider seeking a life coach. Life coaches are a valuable resource for people who are trying to achieve goals and maintain a certain way of life.
Whatever you do, know that working tirelessly is not sustainable. If you don’t find a good work-life balance, you won’t be setting a good example for your employees. As a result, you can expect both your work and your life to end up off kilter.