“Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices.”
Kathy asks: My job keeps demanding more and more of me. I’m passionate about my career, but I don’t want it to be my entire life. How can I find work/life balance?
Joel replies: Kathy, you’re in good company—countless employees in the U.S. are working long, hard hours. And that’s not necessarily good for their careers or companies. According to a survey by the Families and Work Institute, overworked employees are more likely to:
– Be stressed and experience more symptoms of clinical depression.
– Report that their health is poorer.
– Neglect caring for themselves.
– Make mistakes at work.
– Feel angry at their employers for expecting them to do so much.
– Resent coworkers who don’t work as hard as they do.
These work/life balance tips will help you enjoy a rewarding life outside of work, while finding greater job satisfaction as well.
- Set Boundaries
Set clear boundaries with yourself first and foremost, so you can communicate them well to others. For example, you might decide that you’ll never stay at work past a certain time, and you’ll never skip lunch. Here are some ways of enforcing your boundaries:
- -Say no more often. Too often, “yes” is the default answer. We allow tasks to fill our schedules without considering whether they benefit our careers or make the best use of our skills. If you’re not required to take on a task and you’re not feeling excited about it, someone else might be a better fit.
-Disconnect from technology at home. Stay away from work-related email and texting at home. If you can, unplug from technology altogether.
-Communicate boundaries to your family. When they know your schedule and needs, they’ll be able to encourage you to uphold the boundaries that you’ve set. If they’re in the dark, they’ll just feel frustrated.
- Make Plans with Family
It might seem a given that you’ll spend time with them after work, but showing you’re excited about that time will make all the difference. This is one of the most important tips for creating work/life balance, because it strengthens your relationships. Plan a fun family evening to kick off the weekend, and make that a regular part of your routine. Do something fun and adventurous every now and then, too, like going on a camping trip.
- Start Under-promising
Always estimate that a project will take a little more time than you think it should. Giving yourself that buffer of time will make you feel less harried, and it will help keep you from working long hours just to meet the deadline you set. If you finish early, great! If not, no sweat.
- Use Your Vacation Time
Did you know that over a third of American workers don’t use their vacation time? Start taking your vacations, and you’ll improve your health and wellbeing dramatically. We all need time to recharge, and vacations are one of the best ways to do that. Here are a few tips for getting the most from your vacation:
– Leave work completely behind. Resist the urge to check in with folks in the office. It’ll be good for them to figure things out on their own—and keeping your hands out of it sets a good example for everyone.
– Plan a relaxing time. Sometimes vacations are jam-packed with experiences, as we feel the need to do everything possible to enjoy the destination and our precious time off. However, that doesn’t necessarily make for the most relaxing trip. Enjoy plenty of downtime so you’ll come back refreshed.
- Get the Sleep You Need
When we don’t sleep enough, we start overreacting to stress, says Harvard Business Review. It makes us more hostile and anxious, causing smaller stressors to feel larger. When we respond to them that way, we create bigger problems. Getting enough sleep can nip this vicious circle in the bud.
- Make Time for Friends
Making time for family can be challenging enough, but don’t ignore your close friends. Make time to catch up in person on a regular basis. If you’re in a relationship, sharing close social connections will bring you closer to one another as well. Invite a few friends over for dinner once a month, or have a game night. People with strong social support cope with stress better, live happier lives, and live longer, studies have found.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be challenging if an employer keeps demanding more of your time. However, we often place many unnecessary demands on ourselves, which these work/life balance tips can help you to overcome. Remember that to get where you want to go in your career, pacing yourself is key. Enjoying a rich life outside of work will give you the fuel you need to get there.
If you or your employees need to immediately get a handle on their work/life balance, email leadership coach Joel Garfinkle for assistance.
“When you have balance in your life, work becomes an entirely different experience. There is a passion that moves you to a whole new level of fulfillment and gratitude, and that’s when you can do your best… for yourself and for others.”
Mateo asks: My life is out of whack, and my boss seems oblivious about it. Should I just suck it up and keep plugging along, or find a way to deal with the problem?
Joel answers: Join the club. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the American Sociological Review, 7 of 10 workers in America are struggling to find work/life balance. The importance of helping them achieve it cannot be overestimated.
We might take a lesson from Europe—less than 15% of workers in Denmark and Belgium work over 40 hours per week, whereas in the U.S., it’s 70%, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. It’s no wonder that U.S. workers suffer from so much overwhelm and burnout.
This kind of imbalance might be par for the course, but you shouldn’t accept it. If you do, no one wins—not your company, and certainly not you.
Symptoms of Imbalance
By educating yourself on the symptoms of imbalance, you’ll be prepared to explain to your boss how important work/life balance is to the company as well as your career. You might be experiencing these symptoms:
- Feeling preoccupied with work while at home, and unable to really feel present with your loved ones.
- Inability to do your best work. It’s hard to think creatively when you’re overwhelmed and overworked.
- A skyrocketing level of stress, and accompanying physical and mental systems like depression, tension in the body, or health problems.
- Lack of time to reflect on career goals and personal milestones, or plan for the future.
- Inability to fully enjoy your personal time or relax while at home.
- Lack of satisfaction with your job, which may be coupled with a sense of resentment.
Steps Toward Finding Balance
Remember, you need to be your own greatest advocate in achieving balance. Here’s how to begin.
- Set reasonable goals. The saying “Shoot for the moon—even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” ignores how we actually feel when we don’t achieve that overly ambitious goal—or when we work overtime every night trying to get there. Set goals that stretch your abilities but aren’t unreachable.
- Communicate your needs. This may mean being more selective about projects you take on.
- Set strict hours. Vow not to work outside of particular hours anymore, and follow through.
- Find something that is calming to you, whether it’s a breathing exercise or taking a walk, and do it when you feel super stressed. You’ll work more efficiently when you’re thinking clearly.
- Make time just for you. To reflect on your goals, career trajectory, and other important life plans, you need quiet time to hear your own thoughts. Do something that gets the juices flowing, whether it’s journaling or going for a hike.
- Use your vacation time. It exists for a reason.
Helping Employees Find Balance
If you supervise others, help them find work/life balance. Make it part of company culture by checking in on them, asking if they’re feeling swamped or overwhelmed. Here are a few options your company could implement to foster work/life balance:
- Fair parental leave policies.
- Flexible working hours, or the option to telecommute.
- Workshops on stress reduction and time management.
- On-site childcare.
- Eldercare support (which may consist of a caregiver leave policy and/or support in finding caregiver resources).
You’re probably not the only one in your office experiencing these issues. One subtle way to shift the culture is to ask coworkers what they do to achieve work/life balance. They might be caught off guard, but it opens the conversation and positions work/life balance as a priority. Remember, work/life balance is hugely important to everyone, whether they’re thinking about it or not. Get the conversation started, and you’ll be doing everyone a favor.
Contact Joel for his Executive Coaching Services so you can immediately begin improving your work/life balance before it’s too late.
“If you don’t toot your own horn, don’t complain that there’s no music.”
Janet Asks: I feel like my accomplishments go unnoticed at work and I’m not comfortable bringing them up. I want others to see my strengths and achievements, but I don’t want to come across as bragging. What should I do?
Joel Answers: No one wants to sound like they’re bragging about their own accomplishments. You want to be noticed, but not for being egotistical. However, there are plenty of ways to toot your own horn in a way that people admire and respect.
- Figure out what makes you interesting
Think about what makes you stand out at work. Do you have any hobbies most people don’t know about at work? Have you overcome any major challenges to get where you are? Figure out what aspects of your life make good stories. Sprinkle these tidbits of information into conversations at work, so coworkers see a richer picture of you.
- Create a compelling hook
Prepare how you’ll introduce yourself to new people. How can you summarize yourself in a sentence or two in a way that leaves others eager to hear more about what you do? When they have to coax more details out of you, no one will perceive you as bragging. However, don’t be too shy about opening up—when they ask, tell them more.
- Speak about recent accomplishments
When others ask what you’re doing at work these days, it’s the perfect opportunity to toot your own horn. Be prepared for those moments by mentally reviewing your latest accomplishments and current projects. Focusing on the work (rather than speaking directly about your strengths) will help you relax and start gushing about your achievements.
- Talk about your team
If you’re a manager, gushing about your team’s accomplishments shows you’re a great leader. Having pride in your team is a virtue for any leader. You won’t feel as self-conscious while focusing on them, though you’re actually speaking to your own leadership skills.
- Announce successes to organizational leaders
When you announce your successes to your boss or other leaders, no one will perceive it as bragging. They want and need to know what you’ve accomplished. In fact, it would be unprofessional not to tell them. Drop by your boss’s office; send higher-level leaders an email or give them a call, if the accomplishment seems important enough to announce to them.
- Believe in the importance of your role
When you truly believe in the positive impact you have every day, you’ll exude confidence and charisma. The enthusiasm you show for your work will draw others to you naturally. You’ll get boundless invitations to talk about how you do what you do. If you’ve gotten in a rut with your current job, reignite your passion for it by reminding yourself what you love about it and making small changes to liven up your routine.
- Get others to toot your horn
As you clue others in to your skills and achievements, they’ll naturally start tooting your horn as well, and your visibility will increase at work even more. However, it helps to ask for the support of people you trust. Cultivating relationships with advocates in your organization will build your credibility and help leaders take notice of you. Keep your advocates apprised of what you’ve accomplished, and if you’re after a promotion, tell them. People often take pride in helping others succeed.
If you were feeling awkward about tooting your own horn at work, these ideas will help those conversations feel more natural. Others will think it’s completely natural to share your achievements in these ways!
“A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.”
Client Mary asks: Joel, I’ve just started my new job and it’s been only a few months. I feel like I could be making a better impression on my coworkers. I know there’s more I could be doing to really shine. How can I stand out, aside from producing good work?
Coach Joel answers: Many factors aside from sheer ability to get the work done influence the impression people make at work. Furthermore, an array of social factors affect ability to get the job done as a team. Become a superstar employee by mastering these methods of making a good impression at work, and you’re sure to stand out.
Once you’ve created a good impression of yourself at work, maintaining it is easy. People’s expectations toward others guide how they treat them—in other words, we all tend to behave the way others expect us to act.
- Envision the interactions you want to have
Whether you’re going to a work party or a business lunch, or just showing up to your office in the morning, envision the kinds of interactions you want to engage in. Think about what you want to get out of the interactions. This will help you to focus your energy toward specific objectives.
- Be perceptive about others
Most of us fear that our contributions go unseen. Making a good impression means working to point out your coworkers’ large and small contributions, or qualities that you admire. This will go a long way toward relationship-building. Voicing your observations about little things you’ve noticed will show you have a keen eye for detail—and they’ll appreciate your presence more.
- Know your capacity
Define expectations when taking on a project (or turning it down). Taking on more projects won’t necessarily impress your boss or coworkers, who will quickly realize if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Articulating your capacities—regardless of whether you say “yes” or “no”—shows foresight, self-awareness, and concern for the company. If you do want to accept but know you couldn’t handle more work beyond that project, say so—it will help your boss and team plan better.
- Share your accomplishments
If you don’t point out your successes, people might not notice them. State them matter-of-factly when they happen, knowing they’re not just your personal wins but also the team’s accomplishments.
- Become a good follower
While this might sound counterintuitive, it’s not. A good leader knows how to follow the leadership of others, and doing so shows humbleness. A good follower takes initiative, welcomes feedback, and owns up to mistakes.
- Initiate conversation about ideas
When you have a new idea, get input on it. Likewise, invite others to discuss ideas with you. Brainstorm on important topics with coworkers before a team meeting, so you’ll all have more to contribute.
- Be accessible
Getting back to people quickly about their questions will signal that you’re professional. Whether replying to email or in-person requests, communicate in a timely manner. Delaying a response can feel like a passive aggressive way of saying you don’t want to be bothered.
- Stay out of gossip culture
Gossip undermines the corporate culture. This might seem like a no-brainer, but how often have you heard idle banter that could truly hurt the subject of conversation? If there’s a problem to address and people need to compare notes, that’s fine. If it goes beyond that, however, people should be putting their energy into solving the problem rather than publicly stewing over it.
- Create a 90-day plan
If you’re starting a new job, create a plan for what you want to accomplish in your first 90 days of your job. A plan will keep you on track and help you exceed your boss’s expectations. Try using this strategy even if you’ve been at your job for a while. Imagine yourself coming in fresh, with three months to prove yourself—what would you focus on? Even if you never show the plan to anyone else, it can add an element of excitement to your work.
- Share stories about your life
Develop more positive work relationships with your coworkers and boss by sharing about your life outside of work. You don’t need to relay the most intimate details; things like hobbies, volunteering, and vacations will give people a fuller picture of you. Plus, showing that you have a zest for life outside of work will give people a more positive impression of you. When people realize, “Oh, he’s not only a great accountant; he also loves nature photography and helps a local nonprofit file its taxes,” they’re sure to be impressed. Moreover, they’ll share about their own lives and you’ll find more common ground as a result.
As you take these steps, you’re sure to create a good impression at work, making you stand out to your boss and coworkers. These tips will help you become more of a team player, and people will take notice.
“It is easier to motivate people to do something difficult than something easy.” ~Sheri L. Dew~
Lydia Asks: I don’t know how to make some of my people feel more invested in their work. I would have thought success alone would be the best motivation, but apparently not. How can I get people to care more about their work?
Joel Answers: Increasing employee engagement is vital to retaining your people and succeeding as a company. Yet many companies’ “employee engagement plan” consists of giving out a survey and then telling managers to make things better, says Gallup. That’s probably why 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work—or are actively disengaged—according to the organization’s data.
Here’s how to build engagement, inspiring your people to achieve more than they thought possible.
- Be Transparent
When employees feel the company is hiding something from them, they feel less invested in their jobs and may start to look elsewhere. If the company is going through a rough time, be transparent. Share your plan and what all employees can do to help. You might be surprised at how much this will build morale, not only helping you weather the storm but emerge from it in better shape than ever.
- Get into the Trenches
If you’re hiding behind your desk all day, you’re missing opportunities to contribute more as a manager. Build your working relationships by wandering through the office, asking people how they’re doing and listening to their ideas. Ask them if they need help, showing you have no qualms about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in with whatever’s needed. It’ll earn you tremendous respect and create a true sense of working as a team, increasing employees’ engagement in their jobs.
- Allow Your Stars to Shine
Give your team a problem to tackle, so they can generate their own creative solutions. If you need to bring an idea to upper management, create the idea as a team. Give credit where it’s due when you present it, of course—execs will be impressed that you’re fostering ingenuity among your people, and your team will feel valued. Your employees will also relish the chance to contribute in meaningful ways to the organization’s success, and your top talent will soar when their creative abilities are unleashed.
- Share Gratitude Often
The power of gratitude in the workplace. Say thank you often, and be specific about what you appreciate in people. If someone just completed a project, point out the qualities and talents she used in seeing it through—and do this in front of her peers. Give frequent feedback about what people are doing well, along with guidance in areas where they’re growing.
- Give People the Chance to Self-Critique
When an employee could have performed better, give him the opportunity to self-critique by explaining what he thinks he should have done differently. Then help him figure out how to get there. Failure itself usually gives people new insights; your job is to help them integrate these insights into their future performance. Addressing failures or shortcomings in this way feels empowering to employees, as you’re trusting them to help figure out a new plan.
- Create Social Opportunities
Give people the chance to share about their lives and aspirations in a less formal way by creating social opportunities. Having a pizza party for lunch after a team accomplishment will encourage everyone to gather in one place and chat. Taking a few employees out for lunch each week will also give you a chance to connect—and by handpicking people who don’t know each other well encourages new relationships. Asking your team to select a volunteer opportunity to take part in together is another idea. By fostering relationships, you’ll increasing their sense of comradery, which will make motivation and engagement skyrocket.
- Get Silly
If you just send a humdrum email about an employee’s accomplishments, coworkers might barely glance at it. Instead, celebrate these moments in unexpected ways. The Society for Human Resource Management describes how in one company, a group of people parade around with kazoos, horns, and cow bells proclaiming the news. Getting a little wacky turns it into a fun moment for everyone, and makes them take notice.
As you can see, these factors aren’t related to compensation. Higher pay and benefits don’t drive engagement—relationships and communication do. By boosting employees’ engagement, you’ll be increasing their loyalty to the organization and raising the bar for what you can achieve together.