Wellbeing is top of mind for many of the clients I work with these days. How do you find a balance between work and home life when you work on a global team in different time zones, your to-do list is endless and the new responsibilities keep coming in? Is the concept of balance even applicable any longer or do we all just give in to being available 24/7 and checking email while we’re eating dinner with our families?
The answer to the latter has got to be no. I know one young manager who, after working all hours for two years and traveling constantly, saw her marriage fall apart and then need to take a 3-month leave of absence due to stress. Working 24/7 isn’t a recipe for happiness. It’s also not a recipe for effectiveness. The research on insights and creativity tells us that your brain needs down time to process the big ideas. You need to shut off to turn out the really good ideas.
The underlying causes of reduced wellbeing are complicated, but the solution doesn’t have to be.
Here’s the complicated part. Many people are working 24/7 not because they’ve been told to but because they feel compelled to respond to colleagues’ requests day or night out of feelings of reciprocity and responsibility. If Susan and Rajeev on my team get back to our internal customers within hours (or minutes), I also need to, otherwise I’m not pulling my weight and I don’t want to let anyone down. This is the “culture of responsiveness” that Leslie Perlow, a professor at Harvard Business School, refers to in her book “Sleeping with Your Smartphone.” Culture is complicated. The culture of an organization is supported by unwritten rules and assumptions that we all end up playing by and feel somewhat powerless to challenge.
Here’s the simple part. Culture change starts with frank conversations between team members about what’s working and what needs to change for everyone to be successful over the long term.
If you’re a team leader, a good starting point is to bring the team together to figure out what few changes would increase everyone’s sense of balance, and then find ways to achieve that, together. I encourage you to also think about the behaviors you’re modeling to the team and whether or not those behaviors support or hinder wellbeing. Are you regularly sending emails on Sunday morning expecting answers by Sunday evening? Are you promoting people for the quality of their work or how available they are 24/7?
In Perlow’s book she describes how a team at Bain Consulting decided to take one night off a week from work. This required some shuffling of responsibilities so people could cover for one another on their night off, but was ultimately doable and encouraged the team to be more conscious about how they approached the rest of their work as well. This relatively simple decision has increased employees’ engagement and intention to stay with the company without sacrificing quality.
This solution might feel too minor to some and too major to others, but the point is that it’s up to teams to decide how to start increasing their sense of wellbeing and find practical ways to support one another in making it happen.
Culture change can start with one team. That’s what happened at Bain. After one team had success with the one-night off policy, more tried it and eventually it caught fire and was rolled out across the organization.
Lane Change Consulting is a consultancy based in San Francisco specializing in graphic facilitation and team effectiveness. We design and facilitate strategic, collaborative conversations that create clarity, focus and engagement in organizations. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.