Why it's up to business leaders to set the example
I'm often asked how I manage to maintain a work-life balance whilst running multiple businesses. Usually, people expect me to say that I delegate as much as I can to my employees so that I can take the time while the work is still happening. And I do delegate. As every entrepreneur knows, delegation is one of the most effective business plans for productivity.
But when it comes to the long-term success of my company, it's not just about my work-life balance. More important is the happiness of my employees. I need them to be able to work to the best of their abilities. I need them to come into work every day bursting with energy and ideas. I need their passion. It's not enough to set working hours, give them an hour's lunch break and then stack up their workload. As a business leader, it's your responsibility to set the standard for work-life balance.
I believe that most people like working and feeling proud of their work. When employees sit around on social media waiting for the next task, they become bored, unmotivated and resentful of the office space. The office, to them, is like a prison; every hour wasted doing nothing or procrastinating is time they could spend with their families, exercising or learning. More often than not, the problem is not with lazy employees, but with inefficient working structures. Most small businesses, for example, don't require a full-time HR manager or marketing expert, and still they make the hire and insist the employee works the usual hours. It's a waste of money for the company and disheartening for the employee.
The issue may also be with the business leader who micromanages, constantly checks in on progress, and bombards employees with tasks just to ensure they're not sitting around twiddling their thumbs. It's a sure way of pushing away top professionals who feel insulted by the intrusion on their work space. After all, they're the expert, not you. And space in the office is just as important for work-life balance as space outside the office. We must stop treating our employees like children and allow them more freedom. There will always be dishonest employees, but we can't let the minority make us suspicious of the rest.
A while ago at an AVirtual monthly social, one of my PAs came up to me and said, "Do you know how lucky your clients have it?" When I asked her why, she said, "I only get paid for every second I'm working. When I get up and go to the toilet or get a cup of coffee, I press pause on my timer. I used to get paid for all of that time." Surprisingly, it was said without resentment. In fact, it seemed to be a statement of pride.
Almost all of my employees at AVirtual are happy about their productivity, feeling satisfied with the work they achieve in their recorded working hours. They work when they want to and get paid for what they do, saving my clients money and my employees boredom.
Of course, not all companies can function on a pay-as-you-go basis, but especially for small businesses, working in a strict structure of Monday to Friday for eight hours a day minimum is actually detrimental to productivity and to employees' happiness. With hardly any time or energy left over to enjoy themselves after work, employees are left exhausted, dispassionate and depressed about their work-life balance.
It's up to CEOs to enforce healthier ways of working, to insist that employees leave work on time, to not send urgent emails after working hours, to offer flexible working weeks for high-level employees and to be open to discuss the best routines for each individual. I bet most companies would be willing to pay the same salaries for higher productivity and fewer working hours if that meant bigger profits and faster development. With shorter office hours, people leave work with enough energy to enjoy spending time with their families and friends and to relax.
Introducing flexible hours or extra holidays as a reward for good work can be a great incentive for employees. Whereas for most businesses, complete flexibility on working hours would never work in practice, as it could risk offices being understaffed or damage customer service, it can be offered as a perk to senior team members as a way of showing your appreciation for their efforts. Employees can often feel guilty about taking time off if their boss is still at work or under high pressure, so CEOs need to be conscious of setting a good example. For instance, when I go on holiday, I make it absolutely clear to my office that I won't be on email. I swap my smartphone for an old Nokia that can only send or receive texts or calls. If there's an emergency, they can reach me, but otherwise I'm disconnected. I also take time out of my schedule to meditate every day; it's the most essential part of my routine, as it allows me space to refocus and relax.
The reality is that the time spent away from your computer is almost as valuable in the long run as the time spent in front of it, allowing you to return fresh, enthusiastic, passionate about your work and, as a result, all the more productive. Work-life balance is valuable for you, for your staff and for the success of your business. Now it's up to you to lead the way.