More than just an employee
Ageing in British companies is unstoppable: at the same time the demands on staff are increasing faster than some employees would like. In recent years there has been an enormous increase in psychological pressure in particular, for example due to tight deadlines, increasing complexity and greater responsibility. Dramatic changes as a result of globalisation and demographics not only present challenges for the economy at large, but also for every individual.
Typical career patterns, where the husband, as the main earner, is obliged to be present at work, and the mother gives up her career, are now obsolete. Employee, manager, mother or father, partner, carer - the diverse roles that people have to fulfil on a daily basis can no longer be regarded as separate issues. The interdependencies are too great. Domestic quarrels, or concerns about a child or a relative in need of care, cannot simply be forgotten at the door to the company's premises. Employers who expect their employees to separate professional and private life are asking the impossible.
Guidelines for a better work-life balance
On the other hand, companies that take the work-life balance of their employees seriously are rewarded with improved employee motivation, loyalty and performance. The concept of 'total leadership' has proved its worth in this respect: here the employee is regarded as a 'whole' person – that is including their private and family interests. Practical guidelines explain how managers can support their employees in their individual work-life balance.
Total leadership also takes private needs into consideration
A prerequisite for total leadership is recognising and accepting both the professional and personal priorities of the employees. It may be that one employee is currently putting his or her family first, whilst another colleague is fully focussed on career issues. To be able to recognise this, it is necessary to encourage and insist on an open dialogue during staff appraisals, meetings and in everyday work. Employees need to be supported in their various roles and tasks, both within and outside of the organisation. Why? Because companies have realised that many of the skills acquired in one's private life can have a positive effect on performance at work. At the same time, private worries and problems can affect job performance.
The way forward: flexible but reliable
In terms of total leadership and an effective work-life balance, management has to be open to new approaches. Teams and leadership need to continually experiment with organisational structures and processes - with the aim of using working time as efficiently and productively as possible. Flexible but reliable job scheduling, focussing on results rather than 'how' or 'where' the work is done, can help in this respect. Employees with families are particularly dependent on being able to plan. Detailed coordination, agreeing appointments in good time and the use of an electronic planning tool are useful here. The introduction of meeting-free days, or days just for meetings, has also often proved successful.
After years of having a culture of overtime and obligatory attendance, employees now need to acquire a new flexibility: and managers need to develop a trust in the ability of each and every employee. You can help by insisting that this is self-regulated by teams and individuals. This also includes delegating tasks and encouraging staff to do so as well. It is, for example, the only way to make part-time working in management possible. This requires you to accept that jobs will be done differently than you would do them yourself.
Managers must take responsibility for their own work-life balance
Management's role model function is both a decisive factor and challenge in improving work-life balance. It also reflects how managers themselves deal with working hours, time for the family and private interests. After all, how can managers demonstrate a genuine interest in the work-life balance of their employees, unless they themselves make use of flexible working practices?
A holistic approach for a win-win situation
The key finding from total leadership is: rather than being two separate areas, work and private life complement each other. Good management can produce a win-win situation. Managers need to encourage a change process in the company, leading to more individual responsibility in decentralised teams, flexibility and efficient working. At the same time, employees value the support they receive from their superiors in developing their personal work-life balance, resulting in greater loyalty, a greater sense of responsibility and greater motivation in everyday work.
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