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Work-life balance: should I tell my employer what I need?
The answer is yes, but the real question is how you communicate your work-life balance needs. Don’t think of yourself as having needs and everyone else being ‘normal’ - everyone has different work-life balance needs depending on their personal circumstances, age, responsibilities and job type.
Step 1: Why are you thinking about work-life balance?
There’s often a catalyst. What’s yours?
- Is the commute getting you down?
- Do you want to spend more time with a growing family?
- Is the office noisy and you’d be more productive at home?
- Do you want to pursue an outside interest and so need more free time?
- Are you nearing retirement and want to ‘wind things down a bit?’
- Is there a particular colleague who makes working at the office challenging?
Step 2: Don’t feel bad
Whatever the reason, don’t get into the mindset of thinking your employer will be doing you a favour. If you’ve identified an issue with your current work-life balance that needs addressing, you’re a self-aware and conscientious individual who clearly cares about achieving more at work and at home.
So you do need to have self-compassion and maturity in your attitude. If your work-life balance feels out of whack, it’s a serious issue because it’s probably making you unhappy. This is bad for you and your family, but also your employer because happy people tend to do the best work. If your mind is on other things, it’s very hard to perform at your best.
Step 3: Work out the best way to present your case
That said, it helps if you know a few things before approaching your manager. Firstly, what exactly is the problem and have you looked at other ways to fix the problem or at least help mitigate negative effects?
If there’s a particular colleague who makes working at the office difficult, have you tried talking to them? Or moved to another area of the office where possible? If the commute is getting you down, have you looked into alternate modes of transport?
It may be there aren’t any solutions other than what you need from your manager, and that’s fine, but do have a think about it because it shows you’re taking the issue seriously, being proactive and not just looking for someone else to solve the problem.
Next, you need to think about what you actually want, and that needs to be as specific as possible. If you have a growing family and want to spend more time with them, what’s the ideal solution based on your partner and children’s habits? Would starting earlier and coming home earlier be ideal, or would compressed hours be better because you want a full day off on Friday to spend as a family?
Always try to consider the organisation in your plans. If an ideal solution for you might make it difficult for your employer, maybe you need to select a different solution before you approach your manager.
Step 4: Approach your manager with a solution mindset
Don’t go into the meeting thinking that you have a request and your boss can ‘grant’ it to you - treat your work-life balance concerns as a joint organisational and personal issue that you can both solve in order to boost your productivity (organisational benefit) and your life satisfaction (personal benefit).
Present the difficulties you’re having and offer a range of solutions that can be implemented, including your ideal solution, and how it will benefit the organisation.
Try to think about objections your manager may have, such as other people thinking you’ve had preferential treatment, or a lack of face-to-face communication that could hinder collaboration. If you can allay their concerns proactively, it’ll stand you in better stead of them being comfortable with a new arrangement.
Step 5: Come up with a mutually-beneficial solution… or not
If you’ve presented your case rationally, with clear benefit to the business, in a relaxed way, you’ve done the best you can do. And if the organisation says no, you can be confident and secure you approached the issue correctly.
If your manager is open to the idea, start putting the meat on the bones. Use real-life examples of current projects or parts of your workload that would benefit from the new arrangement. Hopefully you’ll get the go-ahead - in which case, make sure you deliver on what you said you’d do.
Step 6: Enjoy your new work-life arrangement
You’ve helped mould your job around the life you want and that’s what we should all be aiming for. Be grateful you’ve been able to do it and try to spread positive stories around the organisation so that other people gain the confidence to do what you’ve done.
Another important point is to check in with your boss without being asked: let them know how the new arrangements are working out and whether they need to be optimised in any way.