This is the third and final part of a three-part blog series that work-life integration: key concepts, facts, barriers and enablers. I’m focusing on what you need to know and to do as a leader to support different ways of working and reap the benefits of work-life integration for your team members and for your business.
The leadership habits described below follow the Inclusive Leadership Propeller Model©. This model empowers business leaders and managers to navigate human differences smoothly, by consistently applying three skills: fairness, empathy, and proactivity. More information about it in my book “Succeed as an inclusive leader –Winning leadership habits in a diverse world.”
11 Leadership habits to promote work-life integration
Fairness – Are you being fair?
1- Identify and challenge biases against people working flexibly
These include thoughts and remarks such as “He took a year off; he’s not very ambitious”; “She’s on part-time; she’s not committed to her career”; or “He leaves early often; he’s not taking his job really seriously.” A dear friend of mine, who is also a senior leader, told me he once overlooked an excellent candidate for a sales position only because the candidate had taken a sabbatical year, which didn’t convey a “professional” attitude to him at the time.
2- Treat flexibility requests from men and women in the same way
It doesn’t’ matter why people are asking to work flexibly. What matters is whether their request is feasible or not, based on the impact on the service, the team, and the business. The exceptions are the cases where you’re legally required to accommodate people’s requests, for example, for disabled employees or working parents. Check with your human resources team as these vary in different countries. In the UK, for instance, employees are entitled to make a flexible work request, that can only be rejected if there’s a sound business reason for it. [i]
3- Adapt the workload to people on part-time
Often people working part-time are paid less and keep the same workload, which is not fair. I’ve seen this happening even in the Netherlands, the country with the highest share of part-timers in the world. At the same time, make sure that the rest of the team doesn’t have an additional workload when someone goes on part-time. See how the work can be done differently.
4- Look at history and data with a flexible working lens.
Ask yourself “Are people working flexibly being penalised when it comes to performance reviews, pay raises or promotion opportunities?” On one occasion I was having a conversation with a director who suddenly realised that in her company, she had never seen somebody working part time getting a promotion.
Empathy – Are you treating others as they’d like to be treated?
5- Ask your team members, individually, what could be done to improve their work-life integration, and together, work on feasible solutions
You can do this during annual reviews if you notice team members struggling for any personal reason (a birth, a death or an illness in the family, a divorce, etc.), or anytime. Little costless tweaks might make a big difference for some employees during certain periods of their lives. For instance, arriving and leaving the office earlier or working from home one afternoon per week. I’ve seen a very interesting case of an employee who couldn’t switch off. His manager spoke with him and coached him so that he could work smarter, not harder.
6- Agree with your team on guidelines for meetings and email communications
Guidelines could include: not starting meetings too early in the morning, or too late in the day; not sending emails during the weekends or on holidays, avoiding last minute requests, etc. I’ve seen a director who loved sending emails on Saturday mornings to his direct reports without realising that this was causing stress in his team. He then started using the delayed delivery option, and that made a big difference to everyone. Another senior leader decided to avoid meetings on Thursdays and Fridays so that the team could have quality time to work on projects. Get creative and see what works best for your team. I have added to the end of my emails “My emails sent in the evenings and during the week-ends do not require an immediate reply”.
7- Check in with remote and home workers regularly
One of the risks of working from home or remotely is the isolation feeling and lack of guidance. Regularly review achievements, give feedback, and ask questions about how people feel and what you could do to help. Also, make sure they have the tools and technology they need, and know how to prioritise tasks.
Proactivity – Are you accelerating positive change?
8- Be a good role model
Leaders who have a good work-life integration give permission to employees to do the same. Talk about your family life, your hobbies, bring your full self to work. Tell your employees if you’re working from home. I’ve met a CEO who loved running marathons and encouraged his employees to take time off to do sports. I recently saw an inspiring post on Linkedin: a letter from Joe Biden, Barak Obama’s Vice President, to his team members encouraging them to prioritise family events in their lives.
9- Advertise roles as open to flexible working
And make sure you mention it to the candidates you’re interviewing. Some time ago, I was being interviewed for a position, and one of the key reasons that made me say yes to the job offer was the fact that the hiring manager told me he was open to flexible working. So, I happily left a manager who made me feel guilty every time I worked from home to work with a manager who empowered me to do my job my way.
10- Get better at evaluating performance
In this way, you and your employees will become much more comfortable about flexible working. Evaluating performance well means not relying on a generalised impression of people’s work, but agreeing on clear and measurable goals.
11- Run a flexible working pilot
This is a smart way to introduce flexible working in a team or in an organisation that’s not used to it. Give it a try, and decide what to do next based on the results of the experiment on the teams’ performance, wellbeing, and engagement.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below!
This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my book “Succeed as an inclusive leader – Winning leadership habits in a diverse world”. To get my articles and updates directly in your inbox, sign up for my newsletter.
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