The importance of leading by example when it comes to flexibility and work-life balance.
Andrew MacKenzie, CEO of BHP, recently said, “The more senior I have become, the more important it is that I work fewer hours.” In a global company, with plenty of late night or early morning meetings, he has a flexible daily schedule that enables him to stay as fresh as possible to manage the demands of his role.
Do busy executives who are juggling challenging work roles and family life have to wait until they are CEO to attain such flexibility? Every executive faces the challenge of managing their energy so they can perform at high levels. This isn’t easy when the workplace continues to creep into home life. Smart phones, and our addiction to them, means that business communication is now 24/7, and therefore our decision making is as well.
All of this has a cumulative wearing effect over time. So much so that TAL Insurance reports the increase of income protection claims due to “psychological stress” is at the same level as accidents and physical injury, and twice as many as cancer.
Last year, in response to the growing concern about the long term mental health toll of the 24/7 economy, beyondblue suggested that employees turn their phones off when they leave the workplace. This idea can only work if the leadership and culture of their company is supportive.
Usually, employees who are applauded and promoted are the ones who have basically sold their soul to the company. Bosses tend to admire those employees who work back late to complete a project and are still at work early the next day. Executives with a young family, strong family values, or a partner with a demanding career will struggle to thrive in such an environment. The message is loud and clear that your personal life should be sacrificed in order for your career to progress.
Case in point
I was asked to work with a senior employee in a large company, whose serious personal issues were having a major negative effect on his performance. Over a six week period, we helped him make decisions to address his sense of being overwhelmed and manage his family issues to the point where he was able to focus on his work priorities. In the next month, he met his billing targets for the first time in six months. At the final session with the managing director, while there was an acknowledgement of progress, there was also strong concern expressed that he was still not in the office from 8:30am to 5:30pm every day.
A healthier outlook on work-life balance that will allow a high achieving employee to flourish should have:
- Company culture that’s consistent from the top down. Organisational psychologists tell us that that is how culture is established. If the C-suite acts differently to the stated company values, this behaviour will travel through the ranks – no matter how many workshops are run by expert consultants.
- Position Descriptions built around clear and realistic outcomes. High achieving intelligent people are far more motivated when they have some control over the way they work. When the outcomes are clear, there is room for creativity and innovation.
- A few non-negotiables and a lot of flexibility. To facilitate collaboration there has to be certain times when everyone is available, without fail. Some structures should be set in stone, but then there should be a lot of room for flexibility.
- A genuine approach to employee well-being. Because the lines are very blurred around when work stops, it’s wise for companies to take the initiative to help employees think about how they integrate work with all that’s important in their world.
Employees who are thriving in their personal world are going to be more energised at work. It makes sense not to put unnecessary roadblocks in the way of that by enforcing inflexible company policies from a bygone era.
John Drury is a business mentor, author and keynote speaker.