Practice What You Preach: Why Leaders Should Maintain Work-Life Balance During the Most Stressful Times

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We’ve all known work martyrs. They’re the ones who flaunt their ability to toil tirelessly. You can spot them by their catchphrases: “I’m working \’round the clock.” “Burned the midnight oil last night.” “I’ve been at my desk since 4:00 this morning and didn’t stop to eat breakfast or lunch.”

Work martyrs may get ahead sometimes; it’s true. But in an age when everyone has good cause to be stressed out, they can also bring people down with their nonstop action and competitiveness. As a leader, you probably see the downfall of work martyrdom in your staffers, but what if the biggest work martyr at your company is the one in the mirror?

Related: Can We Finally Say Goodbye to the Work Martyr?

If you’ve spent the past several months eschewing work-life balance because of economic fears, you can be sure it’s having a negative effect on your crew. How can they feel comfortable taking time off, even when you say it’s OK, if you’re always texting, emailing and available? Your direct reports will inevitably follow your lead, even if it heads into risky, stressed-out territory.

Instead of inadvertently sending mixed signals to your employees, resolve to start practicing what you preach about wellness, health and off-the-clock time. You can temper your penchant for going gangbusters 24/7 by taking these four steps.

1. Include yourself in companywide wellness mandates 

It makes sense to set up wellness directives and expectations during quarantine for workers who are struggling with their changing worlds. Just don’t forget that you’re a worker, too. Jeff Bettinger, Nu Skin\’s chief employee experience officer, notes in a post to the company\’s blog, “As leaders we need to prioritize self-care because individuals are looking to you as the example of personal and professional life balance. At Nu Skin, we recently mandated our employees an extra day off dedicated to wellness. We need to continue to remove the stigma from mental health issues.” 

If you’re having trouble sticking to a more balanced lifestyle, consider talking about those difficulties with your team. Admit that it’s hard for you to fully unplug. Your openness could help take the stigma away from other personnel struggling with the same frustrations. Nothing brings people together like common problems. Plus, you might be able to hold one another accountable for adding much-needed downtime to your calendars.

Related: Startup Founders Can\’t Afford to Ignore Mental Health

2. Experiment with shorter workweeks

What if people still aren’t blocking off hours and engaging in non-work activities on a daily basis, even with you as their role model? Perhaps instituting a workweek that includes shorter hours of operation can get you all on board. Economist Rutger Bregman recently talked about his support of a four-day workweek with Business Insider. He added that the notion wasn’t new, as \all the major economists, philosophers, sociologists, they all believed, up until the 1970s, that we would be working less and less.” Unfortunately, many leaders still cling to the theory that more isn’t less; it’s more.

Actually, shortening the workweek may increase your team’s overall productivity, not take a bite out of it. Why? Essentially, no one will fret about what she\’s not accomplishing personally, like housework and childcare. People tend to prioritize more thoughtfully when time is limited. As you test a shorter workweek, ask for feedback, and submit your own. When you feel yourself starting to overwork, pull away. The only way to know whether a shorter workweek can reduce everyone’s anxiety is to be part of the potential solution.

Related: How to Keep Your Team Motivated in the Midst of Uncertainty

3. Go forward steadily, not at a breakneck speed

With news breaking constantly on multiple intense topics, you might feel like your head is spinning. At those moments, pay extra attention to how fast you’re making decisions. Are you going for knee-jerk reactions? Do you keep wishing you\’d been less impulsive? While it’s fine to sprint and pivot, you don’t want to move so quickly that you make avoidable mistakes.

A Harvard Business Review study showed that steady progress and problem-solving was key to higher profitability over the long term. In fact, companies that took more pragmatic approaches to change-making saw their sales figures increase 40 percent. That’s reason enough to remind yourself to take a deep breath when you’re surrounded by what feels like chaos.

4. Engage in stress-reducing endeavors with your people

Even before recent economic and social unrest, four-fifths of workers reported experiencing high levels of stress, costing American businesses billions annually. Those rates have only risen since the start of sheltering in place and remote work.

Set aside more time than you might normally do for fun or rewarding activities. For instance, bring in an expert — in person or via video conferencing — who can teach an interesting activity, like cooking a certain dish or learning an at-home exercise routine. Be present, and participate in every event. Your visibility will indicate that the activity is relevant and supported by upper management, which will take away worries that it’s just a frivolous attempt at reducing everyone’s anxiety.

Related: The Surprising High-Performance Habit That Entrepreneurs Can Use to Survive (and Thrive) During Any Crisis

If you feel like you’re in the spotlight more than ever, you’re right. Employees look for guidance in times of uncertainty. Strip off the work martyr costume, and just be yourself. When your workers see you taking your own health and wellness into consideration, they’ll feel free to do likewise. And that’s bound to improve engagement while boosting your workforce’s imagination, efficiency and performance.

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