Work/Life Integration: Your Role as a Leader

Y’all, working towards work/life integration is HARD. But it can be damn near impossible when you have a leader that doesn’t lead the way – VISIBLY. So, as always, I’m going to challenge you today to be the leader you always wish you had. Here’s three responsibilities you have as a leader to promote work/life integration.

Model work/life integration VISIBLY

So we’ve been talking all about things you can do to create your own work/life integration – but as a leader you’ve got to take that work to the next level by BEING VISIBLE. There are so many of us leaders that work hard on our own integration but hide it from our teams. We hide it for many reasons – maybe we want to compartmentalize our work and our personal life, maybe we’re scared of judgement from our teams or peers, and maybe we’re worried that others will think we’re “lazy” because we want an integrated life.

Nobody said it was easy, y’all. Honestly, there are very few easy things about being a leader. As a leader though, you have to LEAD. And leading often means that you have to start things all on your own to create that positive, engaging work culture we’re all striving for. Doing things alone is scary. We’re going to push through that dang fear.

Let’s say you’ve decided to volunteer in your kid’s classroom once per quarter – AWESOME! It’s a couple of hours a quarter, you’re an exempt employee, and you’re scheduling it out in advance. So here’s the challenge – first, schedule it out on your calendar and actually name it what it is – NOT “Private Appointment”. Put it right there in the title, “Volunteering in Madison’s classroom”. You don’t have to bring it up to everyone or make a big scene, but DO NOT hide it. This simple act of being honest on your calendar, a calendar I hope you share with your team, empowers your team to be visible with their work/life integration journey as well. That is POWERFUL.

And second, do NOT put in for vacation time if your policy doesn’t require it. Most exempt employees aren’t required to put in vacation hours unless they are missing 4 or more hours of an 8 hour work day. Unfortunately, many work cultures put pressure on those employees to put in vacation for that time anyways. DON’T DO IT. This isn’t me just telling you to save your vacation hours – this is me telling you that every action you take is then taken as direction by your team. If you put in vacation time even though the policy doesn’t require it, your team members see that as an expectation and therefore will feel they have to do the same. YOU MUST VISIBLY MODEL WORK/LIFE INTEGRATION FOR YOUR TEAM TO HAVE A CHANCE AT IT.

Create and reinforce protocols that support work/life integration

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you can talk about integration and balance all you want but if your boss is emailing you and texting you at all hours of the day and night, it’s probably going to be pretty difficult to manage. So, be proactive and create protocols and expectations that are consistent and clear for your teams.

For example, earlier in my career I worked at this great, super fast-paced organization where things changed on a dime at all hours. Those changes weren’t usually urgent and didn’t usually need a response right in the moment, but oftentimes the information was shared as it was received. Which meant that emails were bouncing around the team after hours ALL THE TIME. I knew that wasn’t necessary and especially that our non-exempt employees shouldn’t be glued to their email while out of the office, so I got creative.

We created a protocol regarding after-hours communication that would support better work/life integration. We put it in writing, talked about it with our teams, and set up channels to hold one another accountable. We decided that anything that came through email after hours was not expected to be responded to until business hours resumed. This let our staff know that they did not need to check their email outside of their business hours. We decided instead that anything that was urgent and needed a response, even if it was after working hours, we would relay through text message or a phone call to the person’s cell. That way it was very clear – if anyone from the office is calling or texting after hours they NEED you. If they were just emailing then they didn’t expect you to see it until the next working day.

I love that protocol and we implemented it well. If folks received phone calls or texts after hours they were required to put it on their timecard as overtime or flex time and folks were called out for responding to emails outside of their working hours. That accountability came straight from the top, which was crucial to making the protocol actually hold weight with the team.

Nip gossip in the bud

This is my least favorite part of creating a culture of integration – but it’s reality. There will be at least one team member, if not several, who do not agree with this culture. It may be generational, it may be just resistance to change, or it may be difficult to change the mindsets of others who have always been valued based on their visibility or being the first one in, last one out kind of deal.

Two things to keep in mind here. First, IT’S NOT PERSONAL. Yes, it will be directed at you because you are the one leading the charge, but their discomfort is not with you, it’s with change itself. That’s okay and you shouldn’t shy away from talking about that with your uncomfortable team member.

Second, GOSSIP IS UNACCEPTABLE. And you as the leader are the one who has to reinforce that gossip is unacceptable by calling it out (one-on-one of course). There will be some uncomfortable team members that start to make whispers about how nice it must be that you have time to volunteer in your kid’s classroom, or how great it would be if they could catch a midday workout BUT they could never because they are too busy. “Must be nice to be the boss!”. Again, don’t take it personally but also you can’t let it slide. You must pull that person aside, in a private one-on-one setting, and let them know that their comments aren’t acceptable. That they are part of the team culture and their words matter. That you expect positivity and support around a culture that supports work/life integration. Keep it simple and keep it clear.

So, what now?

Share with us in the comments, what is ONE thing you’re going to change to promote a culture of work/life integration in your workplace?

PS – HAPPY NEW YEAR! See you in the next decade. 🙂

Talk soon,

Nikki