Work-Life Balance Out of Kilter? 5 Ways to Get Back on Track

Did you know that 40% of millennials identify as “Work martyrs”? This label often covers employees who complete willing and often unpaid overtime, don’t take their vacation days, and above all, see this as a positive.

 

But with 80% of Americans feeling stressed at work since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the overwhelming move to remote work, we need to stop glorifying the workhorse mentality and find a way to achieve a better work/life balance. For some, this will be concentrating on the needs of the office and not getting distracted by family concerns. For others, this will be turning the emails off and taking some down-time. After all, at either end of the spectrum, distracted and exhausted staff aren’t giving you, or themselves, their best. In fact, the chief productivity tool is attention.

 

Here are four analogies that you can use to revitalize your teams, and encourage employees to strike a smarter balance.

 

The GPS Approach

 

Nope, this is nothing to do with relying on your Satellite Navigation to find the nearest Starbucks. GPS stands for Goal, Purpose, Scope, and was created by author Mitzi Weinman, who wrote Transforming Chaos into Calm, A to Z. Rather than help your car stay on track, it helps your staff members.

 

Start each task or project with a goal-setting conversation. “What will the work look like when we call it complete?” This will stop your team members from adding unnecessary extras to the project. Next, discuss why the task is important, “How does this fit into our bigger picture?” This should help them to stay motivated and see why they are essential. Lastly, describe the full scope, “What are the details I need to know?” including the resources that they have access to, who they should turn to for added support, and how much time they need to assign to the task. By setting GPS out at the start, distraction is less likely, and you have a clear definition of both process and done, keeping even remote teams aligned with each other throughout.

 

The Four Burners Mentality

 

David Sedaris coined the 4 Burners approach to work-life balance when he discussed the imagery of 4 burners, named Family, Friends, Work, and Health in his story, the Kookaburra. His message was that if you want to be really successful at one or even two of these ‘burners’, you need to sacrifice the others. You only have so much gas to give to the stove.

 

Over time, this idea has been expanded, and some intelligent ways to tweak the four burners have been put forward to help with those of us trying to have it all. One is to mindfully cap your gas so that you know you have enough to share. Let’s say that 70-hour workweeks mean you know that your ‘Friends’ burner is sputtering out entirely. Bring that down to 50 or 60, and apportion that time to socializing, or taking stock. If your health is suffering from burning the candle at both ends with Family and Work, you need to lower one of those burners or you’ll soon be good to no-one. Encourage your staff to check in on their burners regularly, and see what’s taking its toll.

 

Go On… Unplug

 

Easier said than done, right? Unplugging will take some work, especially if you’ve found yourself a workaholic throughout 2020. Dedicate some time for you, with practical touches that will make it harder to jump at the first email that arrives in your inbox. These could be anything from actively taking those vacation days that are stacking up, to putting your phone on airplane mode at 5 pm sharp for a couple of evenings straight, or setting an out of office message directing people to a willing colleague.

 

If you’re a manager of people, try to consider your employees’ ability to unplug when you reach out. Do you really need to send that email at 9 pm at night, or can it wait until the morning? Should you be phoning that technician right now, or are they taking a well-earned vacation day? Think about how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot, and your own boss sent that message. If you would feel pressured to reply, maybe you can hit ‘send later.’

 

Rubber Balls and Glass Balls

 

The original 5 balls analogy has come a long way since Bryan Dyson’s 1991 speech. His theory was that life is a juggling act, where work is a rubber ball, while family, friends, health, and spirit are glass balls. Work would survive if you dropped it, while the rest… not so much. I bet many of us know that dropping the ball at work just isn’t always an option though, right?

 

Instead, today’s work/life balance moguls know that there are many more than 5 balls. At any given time, we’re juggling dozens of balls, many of which are glass, and many of which are rubber. These balls span all 5 categories, and more besides. The trick is, knowing which balls are made of which material. There are work balls that are rubber, such as not replying to an email immediately, and there are work balls that are glass, such as losing a lucrative customer account. There are family balls that are rubber, such as missing dinner one evening, and family balls that are glass, such as missing your kids’ important soccer game. Life is busier than ever, so get comfortable with the fact that some balls will drop. Only you know which balls are which, and so only you can prioritize which to let go of.

 

Lean on Each Other

 

Perhaps the most important message to give to your teams, and to internalize yourself is that you’re not in this alone. Don’t believe negative thoughts like “no one else can handle this task”. Instead, coach and support your colleagues to step up for one another when you need a helping hand, whether that’s covering a customer visit, manning an email account, providing advice, or becoming a second pair of eyes.

 

Above all, communication is key, both at work and at home. Approach both your boss and your loved ones with your dilemmas, asking them “how do you think I should prioritize here?” You may be surprised by how flexible they both can be when they have more information to consider, rather than just the outcome of you being unavailable.

 

Look for ways to leverage other’s expertise in the industry, helping you to save time and free yourself up to add value where you’re really needed.

 

Here are three ways Atera can help with this:

 

  • Our shared script library can add simple automation to your repetitive tasks, supercharging the idea of an IT community.
  • The Atera Facebook group is full of MSPs with years of experience just waiting to share wisdom.
  • Network Discovery Opportunities provide ready-to-act-upon upselling ideas, organized per customer, making sure to maximize your billable hours.

 

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on what work/life balance mentality works for you. Reach out and let us know!