When cabinet secretary for communities and local government MSP Aileen Campbell made the tough call to stand down at the next election, she joined the army of people questioning their 'work-life balance'. She explained: "My husband and I are very fortunate – we have managed to find ways for me to do my job and have a family at the same time. But there is no getting away from the fact that the job – while immensely rewarding – is demanding in terms of pressure and time. I hope in future I can spend a little more time with my boys at home."
It’s so important for those of us in people management to embrace, model and demonstrate a positive and healthy work-life balance. In the face of busy and demanding roles the key proviso is to acknowledge that we each have a unique work-life balance tapestry because we all have different needs.
Here are five key tips for the HR community:
We must all appreciate our physical and mental health through taking care of our bodies with adequate exercise, a balanced diet, enough sleep and sufficient relaxation. Both might get knocks along the way – when we’ll need to seek out appropriate support and recover through rest and recuperation. All organisations have a duty of care to provide safe and healthy environments. The work of HR is crucial in achieving this, but it also starts with us as individuals. What does our duty of care to us look like?
Purpose and meaning
Aligning our values to who we are at work and what we do offers us the connection that gels us emotionally and philosophically to our organisations. The psychological contract builds the terms, conditions and benefits of employment but it’s also the unspoken, implicit ‘pay back’ from employees that returns the powerful added value. Humans are social creatures. Dependants and partners (if we have them) need us and we need them. Friends come in and out of our lives. We get out what we put in and that takes effort, time and prioritising.
Complete a task-time tracker to reveal chunks of wasted time that could have been served more constructively and fruitfully. Consider the endless meetings about meetings, the pointless social media chit-chats or the fruitless email sparring. Delegation is both an art and a skill. So is learning to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Both can be mastered so we can juggle dependable people rather than fragile plates. As we explore and embrace flexible working opportunities, such as a nine-day fortnight or four-day week, we can identify ways of working more productively in less time to enjoy the reward of extra ‘me time’.
‘I need to be perfect!’ our internal monologues often tell us. No, we don’t. This is a massive saboteur to work-life balance as we feed the impossible dream. The higher the bar, the further out of reach it becomes. Accept ‘good enough’ and the gift of learning from mistakes. The reality is that at work we might all slip up at some time; maybe we made the wrong decision or were ill-informed. Accepting that and reviewing what happened objectively can prevent an insidious blame culture emerging, which can damage the opportunity to achieve real learning, insight and progression.
Monitor personal levels of stress and look out for the signs in others. The secret is it’s usually easier to spot signs of stress in someone else than in us. If we all look out for each other, we’re more likely to spot the tell-tale triggers. The Health and Safety Executive ‘management standards’ form an excellent foundation for stress management, but every organisation has unique characteristics, shared by employees, and we all have a different stress-alert calibration point. What’s motivating pressure to one can be debilitating stress to another. But in seeking out what helps or hinders work, let’s not forget work is crucial for our mental health.
Back to Campbell… She concluded: "So, after much consideration, now feels like a good time to prepare myself for taking a step back from frontline party politics and government." Campbell has effectively given more than a year’s notice to quit. This will allow her time to plan her change and make the necessary transition and adaptations.
Identifying the ingredients of our unique work-life balance feast does require thoughtful consideration, priority analysis and impact assessment. HR and people development have ‘people’ at the core. While we must do our bit to advance and improve the work lives of our staff, we also need to question what constitutes our own work-life balance so we can truly wave the flag and be champions of the cause.
Rick Hughes is author of Get a Life! Creating a successful work-life balance