Everyone needs balance to be their best self. During the summer months, that often includes taking time off from work. This is even truer this year as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has given people an opportunity to step away from the (home) office and reconnect with family and friends. As a leader, you should embrace and encourage this. It's well-documented that employees with more balanced lives are not only happier but more productive in their work.
Still, leaders are also responsible for keeping their businesses running smoothly at all times of the year. Finding the right balance between supporting what your employees need and continuing to meet business objectives can be a tricky thing to navigate.
Here's how you can do both:
1. Champion time away from work-- and mean it
Americans consistently leave vacation time on the table every year - in fact, research estimates that 768 million days went unused in 2018. That figure likely doesn't even account for solopreneurs, creators, or small businesses that typically don't have allocated vacation time. Burnout is real, particularly with pandemic-related challenges, and it should be a concern for every leader.
Fortunately, you can take an active role in changing the mindset around work. Institute working hours for your organization and denounce the so-called "hustle culture" that can demotivate employees, discourage time off and lead to frustration. Instead, counsel employees to schedule vacations and personal days while communicating their plans early so tasks can be temporarily redistributed and well-deserved time off can be enjoyed.
2. Help Employees Define Their Experience
People drawn to start-ups or young businesses are often ambitious and interested in taking on new tasks as a way to grow their skills and careers-- so when others take vacation time, there will often be someone raising their hand, eager to fill in and learn a new role. Small business leaders in particular are almost always strapped for time, so offering eager employees the chance to try something new is a win-win.
Gathering feedback is another way to enable your team to be a catalyst for change and improvement in the organization. Pilot surveys, create a digital suggestion box, and put structure in place to meet with your staff and solicit regular assessments of what you can be doing better. Your best ideas can come from anywhere in the organization and different perspectives not only optimize your business, but they also help you find rising stars in your company.
3. Prioritize Company Culture
During times of crisis, like the one we're currently in, people want to know that their leaders are invested in them -- both professionally and in their general well-being. Offering resources like counseling services or mental health support creates a support system and a more empathetic workplace.
During the past 18 months, my workplace implemented a "no meeting day" to proactively ask our team to take a break from meetings and take time for themselves. They have been helpful to employees feeling overworked or struggling with mental health. It can really make a difference.
Regardless of the size of an organization, morale is critical to having a successful business. That means enjoying time at work, too, so don't be afraid to have fun. Allocate time for special events or team-building activities that help employees de-stress and build lasting relationships. Virtual trivia and Drawful are popular games we've played during team virtual meetings. Lighter moments that offer a break from normal routines are a powerful motivator.
4. Stop Resisting Flexible Work
This past year has shown the importance of workplace flexibility, which is something I strongly believe leaders must support to adapt to an evolving workplace. Employees expect a true work-life balance, and it's clear that flexible work can effectively drive business growth and profitability. From a talent perspective, flexible policies can also increase the attractiveness of your company and expand your potential talent pool. Standing out as an organization that people want to work for is the best way to keep current employees feeling positive about their future with the company and inspire new talent.
If a remote or hybrid model can support your business needs, you must figure out how to implement it for the long term. Start by asking your employees their preferred work situation and use these insights to refine your policies. Uncertainty is still the mode of the day, so remote work models not only benefit staff but prepares your business for the unknown.
Your employees are your company. Protecting your team and ensuring their job satisfaction is paramount because looking out for your people is looking out for your business. While it's easy to concede to the "summer slowdown," instead use it as an opportunity to encourage healthy working habits, help grow talent and create a company people want to be a part of. In turn, that atmosphere will help propel the business to new heights.