Your employees deserve and expect the same work-life balance you have.
There are people who would vehemently disagree with this statement. They’d rattle off some sort of antiquated managerial aphorism about how they “did their time” or how their “people will work as long as I say they will work,” or how “I pay people to work, not play.”
This is an old way of thinking about leading, managing, and supervising (and yes, there’s a difference). The idea that a manager holds absolute control over their employee’s time is flawed.
First, no one wants to work for someone who has that kind of mindset. Employees want some kind of reasonable expectation that their personal life can grow alongside their work life, and that the two can live in the same universe without directly negatively affecting each other.
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The Social Contract of the Work World
When an employee gets hired they begin to form an implicit mental or emotional contract with their employer. This implicit contract is a general understanding between employee and employer of what is expected of one another, what day to day life at the office will be like. It’s the subtle rules that govern working life, in addition to the signed offer which sets out general terms of payment, benefits etc.
When the general terms of this contract are kept, things are great; expectations are lived up to by employer and employee. When the terms of this contract change, or are never lived up to, employees take notice. They look around and see that the things they thought they were buying into aren’t happening, and this has a direct effect on their personal lives.
To complicate things further, they may see that they are not afforded the same work-life balance that others are, perhaps because of their lack of seniority, or position within the organization. But that doesn’t change the terms of the contract they had in mind when they signed on. Employees believe they are worthy of the same trust afforded to other employees, especially when they’ve done everything that’s been asked of them.
Fulfilling the Terms Through Work Life Balance
Suddenly “the deal” feels broken. The employee feels like they may have bought in to the wrong system and begins to look around (literally and metaphorically) to compare their station with others. This is a critical moment, and it doesn’t always present itself until much later, when perhaps it is too late to prevent the employee from disengaging or leaving.
How can you keep this from happening?
Explain the Terms
If certain people get certain rights to benefits and work-life balance and others don’t, explain exactly why, and how (or if) they can do the same. Take the guesswork out of it so they can make fully informed decisions.
If you are living a well-balanced work and personal life and your employees aren’t, teach them to do the same. Share your experience and insights so they can start working towards a healthy balance as well.
Don’t leave any of this up to chance. Don’t assume your employees know where you stand, because odds are they don’t, or that they’ve drawn their own conclusions based on incomplete information. Communicate, and then communicate some more.
If a healthy work-life balance wasn’t part of the bargain when an employee got hired, then this will be unexpected goodness. If it was, then you’re holding up your end of the deal and your employees will continue to hold up their end.
People need to know that they are important enough to warrant reciprocation, and it’s often up to their direct manager to show it.