‘Practice What You Preach:’ How Leaders Can Encourage a Good Work-Life Balance for Their Teams

Encouraging employees to take time off and setting your own strong boundaries between work and life can send a powerful message.

Written by Michael Hines
Published on Jul. 28, 2023
‘Practice What You Preach:’ How Leaders Can Encourage a Good Work-Life Balance for Their Teams
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As many companies are finding out, unlimited paid time off, remote work and flexible schedules, and mental health days are not enough to ensure employees maintain a positive work-life balance. While a robust perks and benefits package is a critical component of helping team members beat burnout, what’s perhaps more important are leaders who encourage their teams to truly unplug, and who themselves set strong boundaries between work and life. 

“The best method is to practice what you preach: Maintain your own work-life balance, show it’s a priority to you and set that example,” said Chang Chong, who has led tech teams for more than 20 years and is currently the director of execution and platform at Belvedere Trading. “Typically team members will emulate you, and if they see you working extra hours they may feel obligated to do the same.”

Chong is one of five Chicago-area tech leaders Built In recently spoke with about how they help their teams maintain a good work-life balance. All five mentioned the importance of encouraging employees to take time off and of modeling good behavior with regard to unplugging. These leaders shared how they create an environment where employees feel comfortable talking about their struggles with work-life balance and in taking the time they need to recharge.

 

Ana Lebron
Technology Sr Manager • Enova

Enova is a fintech company that offers loans to consumers who cannot access traditional lines of credit as well as small businesses.

 

How do you encourage your team members to maintain a good work-life balance?

Work-life balance regularly comes up in one-on-ones, and I openly talk about it with my team members as an important aspect of their jobs. It is crucial for me to understand what work-life balance means to them so that I can better support it.

I regularly encourage team members to be flexible with their time, especially when there may be a lot of operational incidents, long hours or when they have to work outside of typical business hours. In those scenarios, I recommend the team start their day later, leave earlier or take regular breaks during the day to help alleviate burn out and recover. This flexibility also applies if you are not feeling well or need extra time to take care of a personal situation.

Work-life balance is a high priority for me as I understand that people have other things going on outside of work, and I do as much as possible to create room for those things. I act as a role model by not sending emails or Slack messages outside of business hours, on weekends or during time off unless there is a work emergency. I encourage the team to turn notifications off after the workday and when they are not on call.

Lastly, I ensure everyone on the team is taking time off, and I encourage them to talk to me or their leaders if they feel they need extra time to disconnect. Time off is so important to reconnect with the things you enjoy the most outside of work — and more importantly to totally disconnect from work. One or two days may not achieve that, but more extended time off can help recharge your batteries and ensure you come back to the office full of energy. 
 

It is critical that all team members trust their manager and feel safe raising any concern or challenge they have balancing their personal life with work.”

 

What do you do to gauge team members’ work-life balance? If it appears to be imbalanced, what do you do to help right the ship?

I regularly review team members’ assigned projects and tasks in an effort to keep workloads from getting too overwhelming and continuously monitor work that may have happened outside of business hours due to emergencies or incidents. I understand that unexpected work requests that happen while you are having dinner with your family or during a weekend trip are especially annoying, and I keep track of those situations and offer recovery days to make up for lost time.

Burnout is another signal I use to gauge the well-being of my team, and I monitor it by observing how the team collaborates between themselves or with other groups. Asking directly during regular one-on-ones is the most effective way to gauge if a team member has a healthy work-life balance. It is critical that all team members trust their manager and feel safe raising any concern or challenge they have balancing their personal life with work since some company cultures encourage and glorify overworking.

Redirecting the team to a healthier work-life balance may require different actions depending on whether the imbalance is individual or collective. If the entire team suffers from overwork, I need to take a step back to holistically assess the working plan and adjust priorities. If it is on an individual level, I may offer time off or a break and then help the team member work on good habits that can prevent losing that balance again.

 

What benefits have you seen when your teams have good work-life balance?

The most evident benefit is happier and less stressed team members, which ultimately contributes to a more engaged and committed team overall. It is reflected in every aspect of their day-to-day work, from productivity to collaboration and innovation. A good work-life balance significantly influences individuals to take more accountability during challenges and problem-solving tasks and be more willing to support and contribute to the company goals overall. Feeling that your company cares for you, whatever your personal situation or needs are, is such a rewarding feeling, and in many cases inspires individuals to work hard to get the work done, so the company can keep these benefits in place without compromising work integrity.

 

 

Meredith Graham
Chief People Officer • Ensono

Ensono is a tech consultancy and managed services provider whose offerings include cloud migration services, application development and remote infrastructure management.


How do you encourage your team members to maintain a good work-life balance?

First and foremost, we offer remote and hybrid work, which provides the flexibility to manage both work and personal priorities. Greater flexibility comes with accountability for meeting the requirements of your job, but I encourage my team and all associates to manage their schedules in a way that allows them to both be productive at work and to block time for other things that are important.

For me, I enjoy having dinner with my husband, walking my dogs and working out in the morning, so I make sure to arrange my schedule around this. Our vice president of talent acquisition likes to take her kids to swimming lessons, but she is back online after the lessons and it gives her joy to be able to take time out during the day to do this.

We actually have a baby boom on my team right now with lots of new moms, and having flexibility really resonates with them. I think more women at Ensono are staying in their jobs because they are able to manage life changes like this and still continue their careers.

 

I encourage my team and all associates to manage their schedules in a way that allows them to both be productive at work and to block time for other things that are important.”


What do you do to gauge team members’ work-life balance? If it appears to be imbalanced, what do you do to help right the ship?

I encourage at least weekly check-ins with my team members, and I hope all managers are doing this. I always try to make sure it’s a meaningful conversation because it’s the only way you will really know how people are doing. I start by asking how you are doing and what I can do to help. Sometimes people get overwhelmed and problems appear bigger than they are. I ask my team members to write down what they are working on and help them reprioritize when needed. Sometimes it’s a matter of removing things from the list or giving them more time on a deadline.

It’s easy to get caught in the mindset that everything is a priority and has to be done now, but often that is not the case. We will bring in others to help or shift work around to other team members if there is a real workload issue, but many times it’s just a matter of focusing on what is most important and helping people take a step back and relax. There’s always a solution.
 

What benefits have you seen when your teams have good work-life balance?

People come to work happier, are excited to contribute and more productive. All of our research shows that with good work-life balance, associates are healthier, both mentally and physically. We want our people to thrive, and work-life balance absolutely contributes to that.

 

 

Belvedere is a proprietary trading firm specializing in equity indices and commodity derivatives.


How do you encourage your team members to maintain a good work-life balance?

The best method is to practice what you preach: Maintain your own work-life balance, show it’s a priority to you and set that example. Typically team members will emulate you, and if they see you working extra hours they may feel obligated to do the same. 

As a manager, you may need to spend extra time to get up to speed or shepherd a project through, and this might take extra time outside what are considered normal work hours. In cases like this, it will be to your team’s advantage if you find a way to work those hours without making your team feel the burden of your consistent overtime. 

Some techniques can be to queue up any weekend and after-hours communications to the start of the next workday. Delegate and elevate tasks, which is a great way of empowering team members and gives them additional responsibilities that can grow their skills. Resist the urge to contact a team member who’s on PTO. Additionally, encourage your team members to take time off during team meetings or one-on-ones.
 

A good work-life balance gives team members a chance to focus, be happier and feel more invigorated to come into work and win the week.”

 

What do you do to gauge team members’ work-life balance? If it appears to be imbalanced, what do you do to help right the ship?

I mainly use my one-on-one meetings to get this information. These meetings are great to connect with my team members as people and to learn their interests outside of work. A telling sign is if the conversations center more on work and less on activities that make them happy. I also look for productivity or behavioral changes.

As to righting the ship, I’ll speak to the individual team member to see if they need time off to decompress or if their tasks need to be delegated and elevated to other team members. Here at Belvedere Trading, we pride ourselves on our unlimited PTO policy. This flexible policy was implemented to really give team members the autonomy to take time off when they feel they need more balance in their lives.

 

What benefits have you seen when your teams have good work-life balance?

The main benefit is that you lessen the chance of burnout. Not only is burnout terrible for the individual, but it affects their family and household along with the company. A good work-life balance gives team members a chance to focus, be happier and feel more invigorated to come into work and win the week.

 

 

Jenna Logan
Senior Manager of Sales Development • TravelPerk

Companies use TravelPerk to provide a platform for their employees to manage business travel and set travel policies.


How do you encourage your team members to maintain a good work-life balance?

One of our company values is “impact over effort,” and I create and encourage a day-to-day that allows this value to manifest into reality. By leaning into the data on how successful sales development reps are in achieving their targets, I can set realistic daily and weekly metrics that are achievable in an eight-hour work day.

I encourage my team to think about their energy levels throughout the day and to build a schedule that makes sense to them, one that includes breaks, lunch and walks. This creates a sense of work-life balance in the job itself.

Beyond that, I really try to remind my team that this is just a job and their mental health and personal happiness come first. I’ve strived to create a trusting space where they can feel open speaking with me, especially if they ever feel burnt out or that there is an imbalance between work and life. I am their number one supporter!

 

I really try to remind my team that this is just a job and their mental health and personal happiness come first.”
 

What do you do to gauge team members’ work-life balance? If it appears to be imbalanced, what do you do to help right the ship?

If I learn an SDR is spending time outside of working hours on their tasks, I dig into their day-to-day with them to help find efficiencies. There are many levers we can pull as managers to help with this. I help my team members prioritize what needs to get done during the work week, make digestible daily goals and hold them accountable.

I take time at the beginning of one-on-ones to ask them how they are doing aside from work, about their personal life and how they are feeling. I am genuinely invested in their well-being. If there appears to be an imbalance and we have tried the steps above, I can offer additional support and resources from my HR business partner. They should never be afraid to use their PTO days for a reset.
 

What benefits have you seen when your teams have good work-life balance?

At the end of the day, a person’s work-life balance is up to them. I give my team autonomy in deciding what work-life balance means to them and respect how they go about it as long as they are getting the job done. This results in a positive culture and healthy balance where my team reaps the rewards of their hard work and other benefits like leniency and flexibility. Overall, morale and energy is higher and people are able to bring their best selves to work.

 

 

Tracy LeMieux
Senior Director, Marketing • Jellyvision

Jellyvision is an HR technology company whose platform is designed to help employees better understand and use their benefits.


How do you encourage your team members to maintain a good work-life balance?

At the end of the day, leaders are responsible for the energy of their teams, and this means we must be intentional about planning to ensure critical work is completed while avoiding burnout and overwhelming workloads. Capacity planning can too easily become an afterthought, which is why marketing leaders proactively dedicate time to review upcoming initiatives and purposefully plan ahead to preserve the energy of our teams.

 

We must be intentional about planning to ensure critical work is completed while avoiding burnout and overwhelming workloads.”
 

What do you do to gauge team members’ work-life balance? If it appears to be imbalanced, what do you do to help right the ship?

One of our core values is to “seek and tell the truth with kindness and respect.” In living out this value on our team, we prioritize honesty and directness in conversations about balance. I use weekly one-on-one meetings to check in with team members about their workloads and lives outside of work. Team members proactively raise concerns and we talk about what they need to feel supported. We work together to find ways to adjust, shift deadlines and ruthlessly prioritize.
 

What benefits have you seen when your teams have good work-life balance?

Our team members have a strong desire to succeed, develop and be recognized. When workloads aren’t balanced—either at work or at home—people can’t be at their best.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images by Shutterstock and Featured companies

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