Work Life Balance and the Leader’s Role.

Are You The Reason Your Team Members Have No Work-Life Balance?

I hear this all the time:

“I work 70 hour weeks, but I don’t expect my people to. I believe in work-life balance for them, but I can’t really do it.”

Despite every great intention, this never works. So many employees in this situation tell me that even though their 70-hour-a-week manager tells them to go home early or take a lunch break, they feel guilty if they actually do it. If leaders are serious about work-life balance, there is no other option but to model it themselves.

I would love a dollar for every time I hear this in workshops or keynotes that I run with clients around high performance. As a leader, you set the culture of your team. If that culture involves working 16 hour days, then chances are you’re the main culprit.

So your team members are left with a couple different options.

  • Stay late and feel resentful – not necessarily just because they have to work longer, but because what you say doesn’t actually match up with what you do. Or,
  • Leave early and feel a tremendous sense of guilt. Then later resentment because what you say doesn’t actually match up with what you do

The field of neuroscience has a simple answer as to why this happens: we don’t like inconsistency. And while inconsistency is unpalatable for us in many situations, few are as toxic as inconsistency between people’s feelings and their behaviour.

Observing Emotions vs Behaviour

When we try to cover up emotions – when we’re torn up inside, but we try to pretend that everything is ok, it causes a physiological stress reaction.

But there is an even more startling effect. If someone is forced to observe this inconsistency, that is, if there is a second person watching someone trying to disconnect their emotions from their behaviour, the observer gets an even greater stress response.

Now, we can interpret this in many ways, but the general message is this:

When people watch someone doing something that is at odds with what they are saying or feeling, this inconsistency causes a stress reaction and makes the observer uncomfortable.

It is no wonder that the employee who hears their manager says one thing, but then watches them do something completely different is confused about the most effective behaviours to choose.

It doesn’t matter if the boss’ intentions are wonderful – if their behaviours don’t match their explicit intention then their employees will choose to focus on the behaviour, not the words.

So get serious about work-life balance. Leave the office at a reasonable hour most days. Don’t put ‘busy’ people on a pedestal if they're just busy. And above all, don’t keep saying one thing and doing something completely different.

Is building a culture of work-life balance a struggle in your workplace? I’d love to hear about it.

** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.

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