This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
There are a lot of performance indicators for today's leaders to manage, but one of the most important – and often one of the most difficult – is creating an environment where employees can achieve a healthy work-life balance. Fortunately, a growing number of companies – big and small – recognize that helping staff better manage the competing demands of their work and personal lives isn't just good for the employee, it's also good for business.
For most people, work-life balance is actually more like a teeter-totter, with the balance sometimes shifting towards work and sometimes going more toward things at home. The key is managing those swings, knowing that sometimes you'll need to spend more time at work and sometimes you'll have to dedicate more time to personal or family situations.
Managers need to recognize this too, but there's no hard and fast way to do this. The key is to make it clear to employees that flexible arrangements will benefit their personal and professional goals, and as a manager, it's important to provide a frame of reference on how this can be achieved.
At 3M, we have a program called FlexAbility, which has created a consistent, company-wide approach to informal flexible work arrangements. Under this program – which is different from more permanent arrangements, such as regularly working a four-day week – employees and supervisors discuss and agree upon instances when employees can, from time to time, work remotely or adjust their hours so they can deal with personal demands outside of work without affecting the company's ability to get the work done.
What makes our program so effective is that it's not encumbered by a lot of rules and involves a simple conversation between a supervisor and an employee which leads to an informal arrangement that's both transparent and legitimized. It also ensures that the employee and the supervisor touch base regularly to make sure the arrangement is continuing to work well for both of them.
You don't have to be big company to put similar, informal arrangements in place. Even small companies can do this, as most employees at those companies are expected to do many different roles, so it's a bit easier for people to cover off for a colleague if someone needs a bit of flexibility to deal with a personal issue outside of work. That should allow even the smallest company to help an employee achieve a better work-life balance and still deliver from a customer perspective.
Managers and executives also need to set a good example, which could be as simple as encouraging people to go home when the work day is ending, or limiting replies to emails on evenings and weekends so people understand this should be down time. While there will always be people who believe that the only way to get ahead is to work really long hours, there are also lots of people who have worked smart and accomplished the same things in a shorter amount of time.
This isn't a generational divide between Millennials and Boomers. I`m a Boomer, and I know from my own experience that it is possible to have a great work-life balance and still climb the corporate ladder. But I also know a lot of younger people who are working too long and don't make enough time to spend with their friends and family, pursue outside interests or give back to their community.
For me, the five most important things in my life are my wife, my three children and my job, and when one of those priorities gets out of sync, it affects all of the others. I can usually tell when a priority falls off track, but I also get good feedback from home when things get skewed too much towards work. That's helped me to have a great career while also allowing me to do things like coach hockey teams or attend school concerts. But I also know that I've also missed a few birthdays along the way when work tipped the balance away from family commitments.
Every successful business expects a lot from its employees, but by adopting a flexible approach that respects business and personal needs, companies of all sizes can be more effective and meet the expectations of their customers and shareholders, while their employees will be healthier, engaged and more productive.
That's definitely good for employees – and good for business.
Paul Madden is president and general manager of 3M Canada.