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How to improve work-life balance in a workaholic culture


Are you the first one to arrive at your office and the last to leave? Do you work through lunch or skip it altogether? Do you find yourself checking your email while on vacation? Do you feel like you’ve achieved work-life balance?

A startling 65 percent of bosses said they still work while on vacation, according to a 2014 Careerbuilder study.

If you’re a part of this group, you might feel like you’re working hard to help your company stand out. Or, that you’re doing it to get ahead of the competition.

Unfortunately, the consequences of workaholic behavior – such as increased stress levels and lost sleep – are likely combining to kill productivity in more ways than you might think.

What’s worse is that, as a leader, your employees are likely following in your footsteps, creating an off-kilter work-life balance at your company.

It may be time to balance things out for both you and your employees. Here’s how to tip the scales back to a more manageable position.

Are you a workaholic?

A person who works at the expense of other interests is commonly referred to as a workaholic.

While it’s normal and healthy to be driven to succeed, at what point are you taking things too far?

If the following describes you, you might need to check your work-life balance:

  • You consistently work extremely long hours.
  • You often skip lunch, eat at your desk or schedule meetings during the lunch hour.
  • You don’t take your allocated vacation time. And if you do take vacation, you spend more time working than relaxing.
  • You come into work or work from home when you’re sick, making it difficult to rest and heal.
  • You often miss family or social time, sacrificing your relationships for work.
  • You allow work to interfere with your health by losing sleep, missing doctor’s appointments, skipping meals, eating fast food or forgoing exercise.

The impact of a workaholic culture

No matter when, where or why it begins, a leader’s workaholic behavior is often mimicked by his or her employees – negatively impacting company culture and work-life balance for the entire organization.

Workaholic leaders

While well-meaning, workaholic leaders are often unwilling to relinquish control. As a result, they tend to get involved with their employees’ projects more than necessary.

Rather than trusting employees to get the job done autonomously, micromanagement can easily become commonplace as leaders feel pressured to meet deadlines.

And, like a domino effect, other managers and supervisors feel increased pressure to follow suit.

Error-prone employees

Like it or not, employees follow their leader.

For example, an employee in a workaholic culture might feel compelled to burn the midnight oil to work on a project proposal, only to return to the office at 6 a.m.

However, with her work-life balance out of whack, she’s running on empty. More prone to error, she misquotes the price of a project. The client drops your company due to her “subpar work.”

Even if she were to catch her error, she would have lost hours of productivity due to the mistake. She simply wasn’t rested enough to think with a clear head.

Employee conflict and turnover

Situations like this tend to lower morale while pressure to perform continues to increase, creating an environment where tension can quickly mount among colleagues and conflict could arise.

In a worst case scenario, for example, it can create a tense work environment, which can inhibit teamwork and productivity.

Even if your team can manage to avoid conflict, overworked employees eventually lose steam. And, turnover from employee burnout can become a costly issue.

Likewise, with employees quickly exiting, it could potentially harm the company’s reputation. As ex-employees share their story with others, it becomes increasingly difficult to fill empty seats.

This, in turn, can create an opportunity for competitors to capitalize on this perceived weakness. For instance, with knowledge of your workaholic culture, a competitor could recruit from your employee base, enticing them with the promise of a better work-life balance.

Sound familiar? It may be time to take action.

How to fix a workaholic culture

The first step to correcting the issue is simply to identify that you are, in fact, a workaholic. From there, it’s up to you to start leading by example.

Here are a few tips to change the tide:

For leadership

  • Build mental breaks into your schedule – including vacation, lunches and even water breaks – so you can come back refreshed and ready to work.
  • If you must email during off-work hours, let your employees know that you don’t expect a response until normal working hours.
  • Put checks and balances in place by asking staff to politely point out you when you’re going into a workaholic mode.

For employees

  • Warmly remind your staff to take advantage of their allocated time-off. Send out email reminders periodically throughout the year.
  • Encourage employees to take breaks throughout the day. For example, if you sense employees need to take a breather, suggest a team coffee or water break, and keep the focus off work-related topics.
  • Allow your employees to take ownership of their own work. Offer support, but let them manage their own projects. Trust that you’ve hired a competent staff.
  • Consider implementing a wellness program for your company. With access to a gym at a discounted rate, or even a nutritional counselor who can help get diets in check, it will make it easier for employees to make their health a priority. Although there’s a price tag involved, a return on investment could come in the form of increased productivity and a decrease in absenteeism due to illness.
  • Adopt an employee assistance program (EAP) that helps facilitate professional support for you and your employees on issues like dealing with stress and improving work-life balance. For instance, with access to an EAP, an overly stressed employee could speak to a third-party counselor who is not involved directly with the situation. This could potentially help your employee get to the root of their problem before it escalates, while simultaneously improving their overall mental outlook.
  • Plan off-site team-building events, or schedule periodic team lunches where work is an off-limits point of conversation.
  • Ask employees for creative solutions on how to improve work-life balance. By asking for feedback, they’ll feel more valued. (Just be ready to take action, otherwise your employees may feel even more disheartened.)

With a dedication to work-life balance made at a leadership level, you’ll be on a path to a creating a better culture within your organization.

You’ll reap the benefit of increased productivity, too. When employees strike a balance between their work and personal life, they’re not only happier, they’re also more productive.

Want more HR insight?

Download How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business to learn more ways to lead by example and create a positive company culture within your organization.