A Guide to Work-Life Balance for Leaders and Individual Teams


For years, we, as a society have been taught, “To get ahead, you have to work harder than anyone else competing,” and in most cases, that is the truth. However, is it the only piece to the puzzle of success that matters?  

Today we are constantly being faced with conflicting messaging, “Use this tool and never feel disconnected again,” and “Find a work-life balance. Don’t bring your work home with you.” In our ever-evolving technological world, we have virtually uninterrupted access to our teams and organizations. We now have access to technology, productivity and communication tools that promise to “help us do our jobs better and faster” yet we are still unable to focus our time on what is most important. While this technology has changed the game in many ways for the better, we are also seeing a dramatic upward trend in burnout for those who are unable to unplug. Given the emerging links to health risks and the recent pandemic concerns, it is crucial we are taking the time we need personally to address our mental and physical health in order for us to be effective in our roles.  

Harvard Business Review study, conducted in 2018, found that on average, employees and more specifically knowledge workers, are only truly productive 2 hours and 48 minutes per day – that amounts to a little over 14 hours per week. This is not to say that employees only had about 3 hours of work to do each day; it is a reflection that despite all of the “solutions” our modern working world has provided to us, we still face distractions that keep us from true productivity. This then generates more stress, leading to employees working more during their free time, taking work home, and making it difficult to find a proper and sustainable “balance” in their lives. 

We hear the term work life balance, but is that truly realistic? Catalyst, a research firm coined the term “work-life effectiveness” which promotes a complementary relationship between all important aspects of one’s life [work, family, personal time, travel etc.] vs. a “work-life balance” which suggests that all parts of one’s life should share equal time. We have come to understand that those, even in extremely demanding roles, who have achieved work-life effectiveness, demonstrate better time management skills, improved focus, higher engagement, reduced stress and are healthier mentally and physically. While organizations with employees that feel they have achieved work-life effectiveness have shown overall better staff retention, increased productivity, higher profitability, stronger brand reputation, reduced absenteeism and increased moral for the company overall.  

When making the case for a healthy balance and a more productive working culture, let’s turn to the facts. According to Harvard Business Review, the psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the United States. On top of the skyrocketing medical costs, burnout can lead to high turnover rates resulting in separation, recruitment, and production costs for the organization. 

This begs the question; how do we create an environment for our teams and organizations that cultivate productivity without sacrificing work-life effectiveness leading to burnout? Further, what does this environment look like and how can we achieve it not only for our teams, but also for ourselves? 

For a Team and Organization:

Work-life effectiveness can look different for each person, and it is important that we encourage our teams to find what works for them. We cannot be responsible for how individuals conduct themselves, but we can lead by example. Leaders model the behaviors they wish to see in their employees, for good or bad. It is our job as leaders to set the tone for how we conduct business in and out of the office. It is important that we are not encouraging work through communication channels after work hours, making people feel like they need to always be “on” in order to avoid missing anything. If your organization has non-traditional working hours, carve out time when it is convenient to be offline by stepping out for lunch or taking an afternoon walk. If we are training our teams that we are always able to be working, then they will respond by proving that they too can always be working – even during time that should be reserved for personal use. 

According to Harvard Business Review, the psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the United States. 

For Yourself as a Leader:

For most of us, our jobs are quite demanding, and it can be challenging to find solutions to help ease the time constraints of our commitments both at work and in our personal lives. At work specifically, it is important to identify individuals who can play a role as a support system to allow us, as the leader, to focus on what is most important each day. This could be support from an individual or a team of individuals playing functional roles around you to ensure you are able to keep focused on your highest-level priorities. We have seen these support roles in executive office teams, executive coaches, mentors, chiefs of staff, advisors, board members, and other positions. No matter what the role is, make sure that you are surrounding yourself with the right support. 

We are at a vital “company-culture” turning point where it is no longer an option to neglect the effects of inadequate work-life effectiveness; and as leaders, we are charged with the task of finding the best balance for ourselves and our teams. In doing so, we as leaders need to be an example of work-life effectiveness, which can be a challenge. The first step is to identify where your time should be spent, professionally and personally, and then work on engaging your support system to help you to focus your time and energy on the highest-level priorities while you are at work. With a dialed-in support system, a team that knows how to be productive during work hours and an environment that supports a healthy balance, you will be able to spend your time on what’s most important and achieve work-life effectiveness, avoiding burnout for you and your organization as a whole. 

For additional resources or help identifying your executive support system please contact us.

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