Commentary by Leigh Rouse, Head of Billing for Farmers Insurance®
In 2012, I packed up my Chicago apartment to start a new life in Los Angeles. One year in and my first promotion later, my husband and I discovered we were pregnant with our first child. I now had to figure out how to integrate my new role as a parent with my role as a manager.
We all struggle to balance commitments and attend to the important things in life, like a new baby or career change. Throughout my career I have learned many lessons about balancing work and life. The following three practices have helped shape me as a manager who understands that, while life can present unexpected challenges, how leaders and teams deal with those challenges can make all the difference.
Set Clear Expectations for Your Team
Maintaining an open line of communication with your team is considered a best practice on high-functioning teams, but it becomes especially important during unexpected changes that might impact your regular routines.
Talking to a boss or manager can be intimidating, but failure to do so can make it harder for everyone involved. Employees may make assumptions about how they should behave or try to adjust in ways that disrupt the team's dynamic or effectiveness.
As a manager in this situation, you can help by fostering an honest, open dialogue about your expectations during this time. Stay focused on the outcomes of performance rather than the activities or routines that may have been in place before the change. Listen to what they need and if you can, present options that might help them transition through this difficult - but often temporary - adjustment period. It's a great way to show support, remove some of the anxiety from an already stressful situation and create employee loyalty.
Make Time for Things You Love
During times of stress and transition, it's easy to find yourself making time for everything but your own personal well-being. But to be your best self at home and in the office, you have to invest in your mental and physical health and happiness. And to have the best team, you want to make sure your people have a healthy, sustainable balance.
If you're going through a stressful transition, pick something to restore peace and make it a priority - exercise, sleep, social, professional help. Just block off your calendar or set reminders on your phone. Start slow, be realistic, and allow yourself to enjoy whatever time you can carve out.
As managers and leaders, it's not always enough to encourage our team members to make time for themselves during life-changing events, it's important to model the behavior. I discuss openly with my team when I have to leave early for a family commitment, and block off time on my calendar to do the things I love to do. Sharing some of these outlets is also a great way to connect with your team - learn how they de-stress and get to know each other on a more personal level. Let your team know that you value their well-being over how many hours they spend at the office.
Encourage Asking for Help
Soon after both my husband and I were back at work, I left the house early one day for an important 8 a.m. meeting. An hour later, I arrived at the office with five minutes to spare, and turned around to see our only car seat in my back seat. Having exchanged numbers with a new neighbor a few weeks earlier, I sent a desperate text and she happily agreed to watch our daughter while my husband ran to a store for another car seat.
If you haven't done it already, now is the time to overcome any hang-ups you have about asking for help. Building and leaning on a network of support will give you and your team the flexibility to meet the demands of the job and deepen your relationships with others.
Asking for help is an area where I've struggled throughout my career. I always took great pride in being resourceful and independent, but without fully acknowledging the personal toll or the value that others could have brought to the solution. But as a leader, I want my team to leverage me to achieve their goals and know that asking for help and helping others are normal parts of both work and life. And if we can't help as managers, we can connect our people with others with the right skills or experience to chime in.
I would argue that now, more than ever, managers need to take a more active role in helping their team members maintain a healthy balance when life throws them a curveball. While it's important to have hard workers and go-getters on your team, you want them to be the best versions of themselves when they log-on no matter what they have going on outside of the office. We can't control how or when our routines are going to change, but we can control our response as leaders and increase the odds of success.