As much as I like to sing the praises of the 9-to-5, the fact is, these hours are pretty much obsolete these days. From checking emails on weekends and phones keeping us on call 24/7 to the relentless rise of technology that lets workers access work at anytime from anywhere, the reality is, we're all working much longer hours than a decade ago. And the flexible nature of work means that it's no longer just about "work time" leaching into "non-work time" - it's about work becoming blended into family time and play. Work is a pretty aggressive integrator, these days.
Too much work causes stress, hypertension and family strain; hence the age-old pursuit to improve work-life balance. Employers know that their people need stress relief and there are staff-retention and productivity benefits from keeping employers in a healthy equilibrium.
So why do so many people fail at achieving that sweet work-life balance? Largely, it's because people don't understand themselves. How we navigate the challenge largely depends on our personality, and that means the usual hacks like going home at five and never eating lunch at your desk are not going to work for everyone.
Assessing personality is your first step to figuring out how an employee might manage their work-life balance which, in turn, will give clues on how to support them. Here's how it plays out.
Guardian personalities are the "SJs" of the 16-type personality system: ESTJ, ISTJ, ESFJ and ISFJ. These people are your planners. They are strongly goal oriented and thrive on efficiency, which means they tend to get a lot done during the typical work day. Rather than ending their day at 5 p.m., however, Guardians have a tendency to display extreme conscientiousness and perfectionism, which could lead them to spending a lot of time in the office. The mantra here is "work first, play later" so if there's work to be done - and there's always work to be done - a Guardian will keep plugging away at it.
Here are some tactics for supporting your Guardian employees to achieve work-life balance:
- Lay on, and encourage them to attend, work social events - laughter is a good cure for stress for Guardian personalities.
- Emphasize relationships outside of the workplace. Guardians who have key commitments outside of work such as a young family or community service tend to spread their time more evenly. Support this with initiatives such as sponsoring family-oriented activities and time off for volunteering.
- Set priorities. When priorities are unclear, Guardians tend to overwork because they think that everything must be done at once. Specify when work may be done over a reasonable period.
- Encourage the use of vacation and time off when signs of imbalance arise, and never question when Guardians use these benefits.
- Look for opportunities to give Guardians who consistently work late some extra time off such as allowing them to leave early on Fridays.
Rational personalities comprise the "NT" types - ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP and INTP. These employees are your big-picture thinkers who like to pull apart ideas and test hypotheses to solve problems and find better solutions. Their work style tends to be less structured than that of Guardians; many will choose to work on multiple projects at once and they'll often work late into the night and on weekends when they're lost in a project. Burnout is a very real possibility. Rationals can easily ignore other areas of life for the sake of their work because it's so interesting.
Here are some tactics for supporting your Rational employees to achieve work-life balance:
- Limit how often Rationals take work home. The line between work and home lives tends to blur when Rationals get hooked on something, so do try to encourage a distinction.
- Give them control over their own work schedules. Rationals are both fiercely independent and focused on problem solving, which means they are likely to come up with their own solutions when empowered to do things their own way. Give them your vote of trust.
- Provide opportunities to pursue outside interests such as side projects, learning or community service. Rationals tend to get life satisfaction from personal improvement.
- Make sure they have a backup. Rationals have a hard time with delegation and trust - no-one does the job as well as they do - so provide support in these areas.
- Don't force the issue. Especially for introverted Rationals, they won't enjoy being compelled to socialize with colleagues after work except in rare instances and only with plenty of notice. Watch for signs of burnout, but trust they'll find their own way to let off steam.
Artisan personalities - ESTP, ISTP, ESFP and ISFP - want to be where the action is. They're your upbeat, practical and down-to-earth workers who enjoy troubleshooting and often shoot straight from the hip. Artisans believe that variety is the spice of life and are not so good with routine. Many will be engaged in activities outside their jobs and will have great respect for achieving a work-life balance. In fact, you may be able to learn a lot from Artisans about the art of switching things up and living all aspects of life in moderation.
Here are some tactics for supporting your Artisan employees to achieve work-life balance:
- Artisans are resistant to structure and will be thrown off where rules are rigidly enforced. Allow schedule flexibility as much as you can - Artisans need it.
- Keep an eye on their social life (without being intrusive, of course). Whenever an Artisan's social life is lacklustre, their work effort tends to become lacklustre, too. Provide opportunities for socializing if there's an obvious gap.
- Rather than reporting to the same office each day, given them the options to move around and switch up the work environment. Leverage the flexibility of mobile devices so they're plugged in and ready to work from any location.
- Avoid clock watching and keeping tabs on your Artisan employees. Assess their performance through their output rather than the number of hours they spend on the job.
- Artisans tend to be gifted at gaining others' confidence so use them as role models. Task your Artisans with incorporating more fun, balance and team building into the work environment and encouraging other personalities to let loose and take a break every now and then.
Idealist personalities type "NF" on the 16-type personality system: ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP and INFP. These people are your diplomats. They are highly intuitive, kindhearted and focused on relationships. Like Artisans, Idealists tend to have lots of interests outside of work although for them, it's less about creating variety and more about achieving personal growth and becoming their best possible self - something that's not always possible on the job. Idealists are naturally drawn to working with people. There's a real risk they'll overwork to avoid letting others down.
Here are some tactics for supporting your Idealist employees to achieve work-life balance:
- Encourage them to cut ties with the outside world from time to time. Idealists have a habit of taking on others' problems as if they were their own and need to unplug every once in a while. Make sure they're taking much-needed breaks and vacations.
- Idealists might appreciate flextime such as working the same hours in fewer days, working part-time and/or working from home where the job permits.
- After the successful completion of a long or difficult project, allow Idealists to have a day off to relax.
- Idealists are values-driven. Create balance by offering meaningful community engagement and wellness opportunities.
- Take care with an open-door policy since Idealists may bear the brunt of it. Tell clients and customers when staff are available and encourage employees to only reply within those times. Make it clear that you don't expect Idealists to pick up calls and emails out of hours.
Balancing work and personal life is vital for the wellbeing of any employee and people work best when their lives are in balance. There's no one-size-fits-all, however. Different personalities respond to work-life challenges in different ways, so it's important you stay employee-focused and responsive to the individual's personal and professional goals.
The starting point is knowing your employee's personality (if you don't, click here). When you fully understand your people, you'll have a better insight into the strategies that will work best for them. And that, ultimately, will be the best solution for your business.