We live in a world of unprecedented opportunity and we are brought up being told that life’s rewards will be ours if we work hard. This is all supported by the discourse in the media and in politics. Last year, a well-known UK politician told the British public that “there’s only one growth strategy: work hard.”
So we set about doing just that. In the education system, grades are the visible measure of our effort. Once we get into the corporate environment, it becomes a little trickier. Perversely, it’s more often the appearance of hard work that is rewarded rather than the output. Who of us haven’t worked in offices where the unspoken rule was to stay at your desk – whether you had work or not – until the boss went home.
The virtual remote working world that is common in our industry complicates matters further. As there is no desk to sit at where you can be seen, the timing of emails is a very public indicator that you are hard at work before and after office hours. We have become permanently connected and available employees.
These factors lead to a common complaint of stress and lack of balance. Balance matters. Stressed staff are more likely to suffer serious health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. Stress results in time off and this impacts the team’s productivity. Work-life balance is a common challenge in my coaching practice. Mid and senior level folk are forever faced with a mountain of work that appears only to grow.
Why should your work-life balance be a leadership concern? I’ve come to realize that in a position of leadership, our actions have huge sway over others. Our sphere of influence for behavior is greater than that of our words. Our behavior sets the standard for what is acceptable and even required to progress in the organization. Our behavior has more influence that company policies and procedures.
When you choose to answer emails late on a Sunday night, or before sunrise you send a message to the staff that this is normal behavior. The choice to work at these unfriendly times is usually expedient on your part but the impact others can profound. You validate the unwritten rule that employees should be available and working outside of office hours. In due course, you have staff that are stressed, frustrated or even worse, burnt out.
The intention is not criminalise answering emails at unusual hours. The travesty is when the resulting expectation set by managers is unintentional. This holds true for other behavior like travelling to business meetings on weekends and working on public holidays.
As leaders, we can fool ourselves into thinking our open door policy encourages staff to voice their opinions, and that we encourage dissenting views. But I would bet there has never been an occasion when someone reporting into you told you they would not be answering emails or working in the weekend by way of a lifestyle choice. So lets stop kidding ourselves and take responsibility.
It is up to us to design the lives we want lead. In this moment in history, success is very much defined as earning more money than the next person to buy stuff that we don’t want to impress people we don’t care for. Balance in your own life is your choice.
However, let us not forget our influence on other’s lives. As leaders, we underestimate the impact of our actions. Let us be both conscious and intentional in the impact we choose to have on our teams.
First published on Insurance Innovation Journal.