Balance is a two-way street: How managers and employees can co-create healthy work-life boundaries

Stephanie Andel, PhD
Team Humu

The Great Resignation is in full swing--a record 4.5 million US employees quit their jobs in November 2021 alone. A key reason? People are overworked and exhausted: in a Visier survey, 7 out of 10 employees reported that they would be willing to leave their current job for one that better supports their wellbeing.

Our own research at Humu shows managers are struggling to help their people combat burnout: in our November survey of over 200 US managers, respondents shared the biggest challenge they’re currently facing is knowing how to balance team member workloads and wellbeing. To make matters worse, managers are exhausted themselves. Gallup surveys show that burnout among managers increased by 25% in 2021. 

So what can teams do to create better balance for everyone? And does the solution fall solely on managers’ shoulders? The answer is that balance is a two-way street - managers and employees each play key roles in creating healthy work-life boundaries. Here’s how.

Tips for managers:

Be a work-life balance role model

First, aim to avoid sending emails after work hours--and encourage your team to do the same. Try adding a message to your email signature to signal the importance of email boundaries. Television producer Shonda Rhimes, for example, included a note in her signature that read: “Please Note: I will not engage in work emails after 7pm or on weekends. IF I AM YOUR BOSS, MAY I SUGGEST: PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE.” 

Other ways to model balance include:

  • Take time off. It’s a win-win: you’ll get a much-needed break, and your people will become much more likely to take time off themselves. Research suggests that taking an 8+ day vacation at least once a year alongside 1-2 days off each month can help curb burnout. 
  • Get to know your people. Make an effort to chat with your team about your shared hobbies and interests outside of work. This will encourage your people to bring their authentic selves to work, and shows that you value and support who they truly are--both personally and professionally.
  • Celebrate personal wins. Regularly put aside a few minutes during team meetings--or send virtual shout-outs--to celebrate family and/or personal successes.

Offer flexibility

Giving your people the freedom to choose where and/or when they do their work will make it easier for them to fit in what matters to them outside of work, like seeing their kids off to school, taking Fido for a walk, or even just getting in some valuable “me time” between meetings. 

When employees can do their job without compromising meaningful personal moments, they’ll be happier, more committed, and better able to bring their best selves to work.

To balance flexibility with collaboration, consider implementing “core hours”, which are designated times that all employees should be available (either on-site or remotely)  for team meetings and group collaboration.

Take each employee’s work-life preferences into account 

People tend to vary in their preferred approaches for balancing their work and non-work lives:

Some employees are “ integrators”, meaning they don’t mind when their work and non-work lives overlap. Others are “segmentors” and strive to keep their work and non-work lives completely separate. Research shows that people are happiest and most productive when they’re able to align with their preferred work-life balance approach. 

During your next 1:1s, ask each team member how they prefer to manage the boundaries around work and non-work. Are they a segmentor who likes to power down their work computer before winding down with their family? Or are they an integrator who doesn’t mind answering emails while watching Netflix?  Taking this information into account will contribute to a team culture that celebrates wellbeing, authenticity, and balance.

Take five for a wellbeing check-in

Set aside 5 minutes at the beginning of each 1:1 to see if there is anything else you can do to better support your employees’ efforts in balancing their work and life. 

Try asking: How are you doing? How can I better support you? How can I help you invest in your wellbeing? Their answers might surprise you.

You may find some employees need help finding existing company resources that support their family or personal needs (such as an employee assistance program), while others may simply be looking for some emotional support and encouragement. 

Tips for team members:

Managers - support your people when you see them taking the following actions!

Set and stick to boundaries around your time, space, and tasks

Even if you’re not a manager, you can take steps to invest in your wellbeing. Start by making efforts to protect your time, space, and tasks:

  • Time: Set specific start and end work times--and to stick to them! You might even consider turning off email notifications on your phone after work hours to reduce the temptation to check late-night emails.
  • Space: If you’re remote, try to avoid working in the areas of their house where you “live”, like on the couch in your living room. Instead, make a specific area of your home your designated workspace. 
  • Tasks: Identify your top-priority tasks each week, and then say “no” to extra requests that aren’t mission-critical.

Take microbreaks

Research shows that taking regular breaks even as short as 3-5 minutes (also known as microbreaks) can boost your mood and productivity. Try using a pomodoro timer app, which will alert you when it’s time to step away from your work for a few minutes. You also might consider scheduling meetings for 25- or 50-minutes (rather than the common default of 30- or 60-minutes) to build in microbreaks. 

Practice self-compassion

We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to doing our best. To combat the sky-high expectations you might be setting for yourself, practice self-compassion: extend yourself the same level of kindness that you would to a close friend during difficult times. Research shows that self-compassion frees us from the pursuit of perfection and increases our resilience.

You can start practicing self-compassion by reframing your self-talk when you feel overwhelmed. In stressful moments, repeat a simple mantra like: “This is a stressful moment, but that’s okay - stressful moments are a part of life. I am doing the best I can, and I will get through this.”

Want to improve work-life balance among your employees? See how Humu can help by getting in touch today.