Early in my career, I worked for someone who rarely took vacation time. When they did, they’d call in frequently to see how things were going.

Their life was out of balance.

In another instance, I was interviewing a young lady for a position in my department. She asked me, “What’s your philosophy on reading and responding to emails?”

I was confused by the question and asked for more background.

She said her current leader would email her team late at night or early in the morning. The leader expected every team member to wake up, read the emails before coming to the office, then be ready to respond at the start of the workday.

That leader’s life was out of balance. I assured the candidate that wouldn’t be my expectation for her.

Work-life balance is a crucial topic right now, but it can also be a confusing one for a number of reasons.

  • On the positive side, organizations and their leaders are much more attuned to honoring life outside of work.
  • Technology enables us to work from anywhere, at any time, making it harder to know when staff are working or not.
  • We live in a world where having an opinion, a standard, or an expectation is often criticized, leading many to not want to take a stand.
  • Unfortunately, in areas where clarity is crucial, too many of us are afraid to broach the subject at all.

Without clarity of expectations, everyone is confused.  No one knows when they’re supposed to say “yes” or “no” to work or work/life balance requests.

When work teams are uncertain of what is acceptable, it can lead to some team members resenting their peers. They’ll believe their coworkers have taken things too far in focusing on their home-life. This situation leaves the rest of the team with the balance of too much work—because the work still needs to get done.

My philosophy isn’t perfect, but I’ve made it a point to say three things about work-life balance to every person I’ve interviewed before they came to work with me. They sum up what I believe concerning this topic:

  1. Your family and personal interests are important to me. I know there will be times when your family needs you. In those instances, they should be your first priority.
  2. However, we’re hiring you for a position within our organization. Your work for us is essential because others rely on what you do. There will be times when we need to be your top priority—even when it’s above and beyond your regular schedule.
  3. I expect you to know when you should prioritize family over work, and visa-versa.

Of course, I was still open to a conversation when someone was uncertain about what to do. But I laid out my philosophy as clearly as possible, so my team felt empowered to make their own decisions.

If you’re a leader, try not to react to each situation as it comes up only. Instead, I recommend you make sure you share your expectations—as well as those of your organization—in advance.

Leaders, it’s okay to say “no” when someone makes a request or wants to do something that you believe is unreasonable. It’s also a good practice to ask your team member for an alternative instead of just saying “no.” And if you say “no”, explain why.

As leaders, we set an example. If I say, “Family is important,” but I always work and never spend time with my family, I send a mixed message. Make sure your actions are consistent with what you say.

Over the holidays, I sent an e-mail to someone and received an awesome “out of office” reply.  Their leaders set a great example. The response:

  1. Gave the period their staff was not expected to work
  2. Explained staffers were encouraged to spend time with their family
  3. Gave the purpose: To assure the team would be well rested to handle the challenges of the New Year
  4. Indicated that, if a staff member chose to work, they would do so in a way that wouldn’t interfere with holiday events and family

Make sure you’re committed both to your work and your family. Help your team to do the same.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people. Colossians 3:23 (GNT)

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