Why leaders should set work-life boundaries among teams

Workplace cultures that support balance between professional and personal lives influence employee productivity and wellbeing – and managers have a responsibility to role model this, says Bernard Marr

The rapid pace of change that characterises the fourth industrial revolution has led to a decline in work-life balance for many. No one in the workplace is immune from this issue, and employees who are unable to achieve a healthy balance suffer from mental and physical health issues, decreased productivity and constant stress.

Thankfully, many leaders are beginning to realise the benefits of creating a team culture that supports work-life balance and encourages team members to set healthy boundaries. Let’s talk a little bit more about this trend, and what tools and techniques help create a team culture that supports a healthy work-life balance.

Work-life balance and employee productivity and wellbeing

As leaders, we need to help our employees lead more balanced lives. Numerous studies have identified the link between stress and productivity; organisations can’t afford to ignore this statistic. By encouraging and supporting work-life balance, businesses reap numerous benefits, such as:

  • Lower burnout rates

  • Happier employees who are more engaged in their work, which results in lower turnover rates as well as decreased sickness and absenteeism

  • Increased worker motivation, which in turn increases productivity

Each of these changes creates tangible cost savings for the organisation in addition to increases in productivity and quality. As a whole, these benefits most certainly justify leader support of this shift in workplace culture.

What healthy boundaries look like in the workplace

When leading a team, it’s imperative to have a clear vision of what healthy boundaries in the workplace look like. This knowledge helps you create a team culture that encourages this work-life balance. Healthy work boundaries mean:

  • being able to stay on top of your workload and meet deadlines, without working all hours;

  • spending quality time with your children, partner, friends and other people who matter to you;

  • maintaining boundaries between work and non-work life, so you’re not worrying or thinking about work all the time; 

  • making an effort to eat nourishing foods, exercise regularly, relax and keep up with the hobbies/activities you love; and

  • having a proper and restful sleep routine (which may mean nine hours for you, or six hours for someone else).

So how does one go about creating this culture?

Creating a culture that supports healthy boundaries

Changing the workplace culture starts with leadership. A culture of work-life balance is created by leaders who:

  • encourage a culture of openness, so people feel free to speak up when work pressure becomes overwhelming;

  • model a good work-life balance by:

    • taking regular breaks;

    • getting out of the office at lunchtime;

    • not emailing people outside of work hours; and

    • setting and respecting workplace boundaries;

  • offer flexible and remote working where possible;

  • train managers to spot signs of stress and poor work-life balance, and have systems in place to support those who need it;

  • let employees take time off for volunteering activities;

  • encourage activities that promote physical activity and lower stress; for example, through subsidised exercise classes, onsite yoga sessions or gym discounts;

  • ask employees what they would like the company to do to boost work-life balance;

  • encourage your team to separate their work and non-work life, creating space to feel fulfilled in both areas. Look for and praise efforts to maintain boundaries – this will help create a culture that values and accepts healthy choices; and

  • model taking small, practical steps towards a more balanced life, and encourage your team to do the same. It’s all about the journey and making progress towards the goal.

Teach time management

Leaders can also teach effective time management skills to their employees to increase their productivity and reduce stress. Train team members to:

  • prioritise tasks: rate each task as an A, B, or C in terms of importance;

  • do the important jobs first: focus on the As;

  • not multitask: give each task your full attention;

  • reduce distractions: turn off phone notifications and shut your office door (home or office building) to create an environment for focused productivity; and

  • set boundaries on tasks and delivery times that create reasonable timeframes to complete your work; say ‘no’ if you are unable to meet the requested deadline.

Why setting work-life boundaries is an important skill for the future

Future workplace trends in 2023 and beyond show a work environment in which work-life boundaries become an even more critical component of business success. These trends include:

  • More diverse, distributed and virtual workplaces

  • Shifting employee values and expectations as younger generations join the workforce and move into leadership positions

  • Higher employee expectations of flexibility in their working lives

The result will undoubtedly be workplaces and work cultures that support healthy work-life boundaries. Leaders should ride the forefront of this trend by building a culture that embraces these changes and empowers team members to become more productive in the future workplace. Doing so will ensure that they attract – and maintain – high-quality employees.

Bernard Marr is a futurist, influencer, author and thought leader in the fields of business and technology. His latest book, Future Skills, is out now