Today’s business best practices focus on leaders helping employees find better work/life balance and setting healthier boundaries. We believe it’s time for small business leaders to check in with themselves and redefine and redraw their boundaries to be effective, productive, and thrive in their work.
Visit any business news and advice website these days, and you’ll see stories and columns about why leaders need to lean in and help employees with their work/life balance and set better boundaries. It would seem that as a manager, your sole job is the well-being of your employees! As an HR consultancy for small businesses, we advocate for our clients to engage their team members and help support their needs.
But devoting your focus on your employees at the expense of your own needs is not sustainable! That’s why it’s essential that you, the leader, maintain your optimum level of work/life balance. Our recommended solution is? Redraw your boundaries.
Is Work/Life Balance Outdated?
In business, we’ve talked for years about work/life balance. It’s a noble aspiration: finding that “sweet spot” when you’re giving your time and energy to advance your business goals while reserving the necessary time to enjoy your life outside of work.
I don’t know many people who feel they have got “work/life balance” figured out. Unfortunately, all it takes is a new business opportunity or a business setback to throw your balance off!
Work/Life balance is undoubtedly worthy of aspiring to achieve. But we believe a more practical way of thinking about your role as a leader in driving your business forward is to focus on improving your work/life boundaries.
What do I mean by this?
Do you find yourself:
- Overcommitting to projects?
- Being available 24/7?
- Thinking about work while you’re with family and friends?
- Working while on vacation?
- Shouldering more and more of your employees’ burdens and needs?
If you answered Yes to any of these, you might want to redraw your boundaries: what you are committed to saying yes and no to. After all, if you are feeling the signs of burnout or compassion fatigue, you are not serving your company—or yourself—as well as you could if you were more rested and relaxed.
Just consider these scenarios:
- A top employee begins missing deadlines and making mistakes
- A vital client announces she’s taking her business elsewhere
- Your business revenue goals are in jeopardy of not being achieved
Now, imagine that you’ve been running ragged, working late in the evening and on weekends. You’ve been feeling like you’re not taking the time to think and plan because there are too many fires.
Are you in the best position to address those three scenarios I described above? Or, are you more likely to “underthink” how to solve those challenges?
I know what my answer would be!
Now, imagine that you have been setting better boundaries for yourself:
- Employees know your availability window and honor it
- Your schedule is structured so that you create time for long-term projects AND putting out fires
- You go on vacation with your family and return to work refreshed and restored
How might you be even more capable and on point to address those common work challenge scenarios I described above?
That’s what I mean about redrawing your boundaries: when we are clear on what we need to be our best and maintain those boundaries, we show up better to our colleagues, clients, employees, and family.
Setting Better Work/Life Boundaries
What boundaries have you let slip?
Here are typical examples we see:
- Being available 24/7 to employees and clients
- Putting off planning and reflection
- Blurring the lines between work and home life
- Taking on more and more without delegating or saying no to other projects and needs
- Not addressing the warning signs of burnout and fatigue
- Letting self-care practices go by the wayside
What boundaries have you let slip? What boundaries do you need to redraw?
You might be thinking, “But Mindy, you should see my schedule. I can’t stop everything to redraw my boundaries! I’ll let important opportunities slip through the cracks or let others down!”
I get it. I run a growing HR consultancy for small business owners and leaders. I speak from the experience of working with clients with multiple balls in the air, and I am juggling a lot myself! But it’s vital we set better boundaries. Or else, we’re likely to make mistakes, lose patience, snap at a team member (or client!), or not have the energy to do our best work.
Next, let’s explore practical ways to begin redrawing your boundaries.
Redrawing Your Boundaries
First, decide your most significant area of need for redrawing your boundaries. Following are several prompters. We’ll start by exploring what you want more of and what you want less. From there, we’ll begin redrawing better boundaries for your life.
- Do you want more time being OFF the work clock?
- Do you want to think less about work when you’re away from work?
- Do you want more time to devote to more significant projects (and spend less time putting out fires)?
- Do you want fewer disruptions in your work?
- Do you want fewer “3 AM Thoughts” about work that keeps you up at night or in a state of stress?
- Do you want to feel less fatigue and burnout?
REDRAWING THE BOUNDARY LINES
Now, let’s begin redrawing boundaries. But first, I want to caution you not to overcorrect! For example: announcing tomorrow morning to your team your “New Rules” of engagement, which are so radically different than the day before that you give everyone whiplash!
In other words, make gradual and incremental changes. You didn’t allow your boundaries to get trampled overnight. It was likely a gradual process. Apply that same incremental approach to redrawing your boundaries. It will not only help avoid giving your team whiplash, but you will probably find better success at improving and maintaining your healthier boundaries.
- What is one thing I can do beginning tomorrow to help bring me more time, energy, or focus in my work?
- What is one thing I’ve put off doing that will ultimately help me feel more balanced, grounded, and focused in my work?
- What is one thing that, if I do it consistently, will help me feel more productive in my work?
- What is one thing I can coach, teach or tell my employees that will help them perform better and lighten the stress I’ve been carrying?
- What is one boundary that I will declare is non-negotiable—and will defend no matter what?
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a high-performer driven to succeed. So my last suggestion is probably the most crucial suggestion I can offer you!
Writing Yourself Permission Slips
It might not feel comfortable for you to say no or “not yet” to employees, clients, and other people who count on you. If you’re working from home or in a hybrid environment, you might recognize how hard it can be to maintain boundaries: after all, you work where you live. There’s no office commute to create separation between your home and work lives.
That’s why I suggest writing yourself permission slips:
- To close your work day at the same time each day so you can focus on family and personal activities
- To go on vacation and set clear boundaries when you are and are not available
- To spend the weekend enjoying your life and not sitting at the computer sending “one last email.”
So write yourself permission slips: literally, writing “I give myself permission to …” can interrupt your old patterns of blurring your boundary lines.
This suggestion is far from a “nice to have.” On the contrary, you need to enjoy the quality of your work and life and remain energized, creative and inspired.
Leading By Example
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the popular business articles and thought leadership of the day revolves around what to do for your employees to retain them and help them through their challenging moments. We advocate and help support our clients in creating and maintaining thriving, engaged work cultures. But we also know that one of the best ways to train and support employees is to lead by example.
When you demonstrate healthy boundaries, your employees model your behavior.
When you stay committed to your self-care practices, your employees model your behavior.
When you are honest about your limitations and needs and share proactively and respectfully, your employees model your behavior.
So lead by example. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.”
Start by redrawing your boundaries. Then help your team to do the same.
This article does not constitute legal advice. It is strongly suggested that you seek consultation or legal counsel before making decisions about policies.