If work/life balance is important to you personally and as an entrepreneur, you may have wondered about the best way to promote this value within your firm. As you’ve probably heard over and over—and experienced in your own journey as a firm owner—business ownership is a marathon, not a sprint.
You may have worked 80 hours a week to get off the ground, but soon realized that pace is not sustainable over time. No matter how much you love building your business and working as a planner, you also need time to recharge and engage outside of work. And most of us need to set some clear boundaries to do this.
The first step you need to take to ensure you—and your staff—don’t burn out is to recognize the true inherent value of work/life balance both on an individual level and from a business perspective.
Why Work/Life Balance?
If you’re not already sold on the tangible benefits achieving a good work/life balance for yourself and for your staff, consider the factors outlined below.
Promoting a healthy balance between time spent working and time spent on other pursuits not only benefits your employees’ wellbeing, it’s also helps your staff be more productive while they are focused on work.
A 2014 Stanford study found a sharp decline in productivity among those working more than 50 hours a week. And when compared with those working up to 70 hours a week, those working just 50 hours a week are actually getting the same amount of work done.
It turns out that, after a certain point, our brains just need a break. In this case—and up to a certain point—less may be more when it comes to hours worked. We’ve all felt overwhelmed and experienced the need be hypervigilant when it comes to work. You have too much on your plate, so staying semi-engaged for 12 hours a day feels like a way to stave off the threat that you might fail to keep all those plates spinning. But the reality is that you’ll actually get more done in the long run if you put in a solid 8-hour workday and then mentally shift to other interests for a while. You’ll return to work feeling recharged and mentally ready to engage.
Employee Attraction and Retention
Your firm’s reputation for providing a healthy approach to work can be attractive for potential employees, and if you’re backing up that reputation through your core values and initiatives and programs that support those values, you’ll likely notice an improvement in employee retention as well. Showing your staff that you also value their wellbeing outside of work indicates that you’re looking out for them as people, not just while on the job.
Articulate Your Core Values
Your culture starts with your core values and how you execute them, so think about how you want to articulate the value of balance. At XYPN, one of our core values is “Be Well Being You” which encompasses the unique ways we all may interpret physical, mental, and emotional self-care. This stated value recognizes that our professional success hinges on our overall wellness in life and outside of work. This value is backed up with initiatives such as a wellness fund, an open vacation policy, generous family and medical leave, as well as other initiatives.
At XYPN, we consider the following categories when it comes to wellness:
- Financial Wellness
- Mental Wellness
- Spiritual Wellness
- Social Wellness
- Physical Wellness
Spend some time thinking about how you can support your staff in all these categories, and how you can create initiatives that promote an internal culture that allows employees to thrive in all these important areas of their lives.
One of our Slack channels is devoted to the “Be Well Being You” value, so every day, we get to enjoy stories and photos of how our teammates are practicing self care and wellness. This helps reinforce a culture of healthy balance by emphasizing all the things that keep us fulfilled outside of work—spending time with family; skiing, hiking, and yoga; travel; healthy meal prep and local foods. Our “Be Well” value isn’t just a forgotten line in our employee handbook, it’s something that we are reminded of daily and encouraged to uphold.
Get Off On The Right Foot
When onboarding new employees, take the time to go over policies and procedures related to work/life balance along with your culture and core values. This is a critical time to set the tone and expectations for how you establish and promote wellness and balance.
Check in with Staff
Regular formal reminders of wellness policies and benefits are a good way to keep the culture you’re trying to promote fresh and relevant. At XYPN, we’ve also included in our annual self-review process a discussion of how we achieve work/life balance and a place to record what activities we enjoy outside of work: hobbies, volunteer activities, etc.
Policies and Programs
Below are some benefits that we’ve implemented at XYPN that may give you some ideas for developing formal programs and initiatives within your firm that reinforce a culture that promotes work/life balance.
- Flexible work schedules - The ability to flex your hours and to work in the environment that works best for you is not only a huge benefit, it can also increase productivity and work outputs for the company as a whole. This benefit takes into account so many critical factors: the time of day when each individual is most productive, the benefits of being able to coordinate work around family schedules, the type of work environment that results is maximum productivity for each staff member, and even those days when you are not feeling 100% but still want to get some work done.
One caveat when working a flexible schedule: this can lead to the feeling that you should always be online and available. Even if you’re regularly working non-traditional hours because that schedule works well for you, be protective of the time you have set aside for yourself, for your family, or for whatever keeps you fulfilled. If you have a workout scheduled in the middle of the day, block the time off on your calendar so you don’t schedule over it, and avoid pulling out your phone to check email during your workout. Multitasking is a myth and it’s not a productive solution.
- Wellness fund - This is a great benefit that can be used in a variety of ways. The flexibility of this fund allows for each employee to decide how to best use the funds based on their individual values and priorities. Beyond just offering a monetary benefit, you may also consider implementing an overall workplace wellness program that could include coordinated activities, health screenings, discounts on gym memberships or other services, and incentives or challenges.
- Childcare - XYPN offers onsite childcare, which is a great benefit for those of us who are parents. While this likely won’t be practical for smaller firms, you may consider offering benefits such as dependent care assistance that can be used to offset the cost of employee childcare. This can also be done by helping employees set up FSAs that can be used to set aside pre-tax dollars for child day care and other educational programs.
- Family leave - While the Family and Medical Leave Act may protect employees’ jobs after the birth of a child or if an individual can’t work for other health or medical reasons, it’s still unpaid leave, which can be a challenge for many employees. XYPN offers paid maternity/paternity/medical leave for all employees and flexible options for returning to work (For example, 8 full weeks off, then 8 weeks at half time).
- Open Vacation Policy - When you hire A players who you trust to kick ass and get sh*t done, there’s really no reason not to have an open vacation policy. Generally the challenge here is to ensure employees are taking enough vacation time (especially consecutive days off).
XYPN offers an open vacation policy for all employees, and requires employees to take off at least three weeks of vacation per calendar year, with 2 of those weeks being 5 consecutive days, so at least two 1-week vacations, along with taking at least 5 days off per year for long weekends. Annual self-assessments then include a look back over the previous year to ensure that the minimum vacation time has been taken. An added bonus for you as firm owner is that you don’t have to track vacation days or pay out for unused time.
- Volunteering program - Volunteering is one of those life experiences that has an amazing positive ripple effect in the world and for you personally. Besides the obvious benefits for the organization you choose to serve, volunteering has also been shown to be correlated with a number of positive benefits for the individual who’s providing the service, including health benefits such as an increased sense of wellbeing and decreased stress reduction, the ability to learn new skills, social opportunities and connections, and a more positive outlook on life. XYPN supports employees working with local non-profits by encouraging employees to volunteer regularly in the community. If 40 hours are spent working with a non-profit in a calendar year, XY Planning Network will donate $500 to them in that employee’s name.
- Educational Opportunities - To keep your staff learning and engaged, consider providing regular training and development opportunities. This can mean helping an employee gain skills to improve in their specific role, or it could mean helping them advance into a higher level position.
Regular lunch and learns are a great way to present both work- and non-work-related topics to staff. These sessions can rotate between topics like new software training, relevant industry topics, or could teach a wellness skill or help employees learn about other outside interests. Recent lunch and learn topics we’ve enjoyed at XYPN include presentations from local non-profits, technology and software demos, departmental updates and best practices, and annual benefits review. These are a great way to introduce bite-sized topics that are relevant to your employees.
As appropriate for each employee, also consider other training opportunities such as conferences, online courses, and other degree or certification programs. Investing in your employees’ education—in some form or another—is an essential way to keep them building the skills they need to succeed and to stay happy and engaged at work (Source).
- Sabbatical Program - If your firm is more established, you may be able to institute a sabbatical program to provide growth and development opportunities that may not always be possible alongside a normal workload. At XYPN, this opportunity is available at 5, 10 and 15 years and comes with a generous stipend to be used for a personal or professional pursuit deemed meaningful by the employee.
- Cross training - Cross-training is an often-overlooked opportunity to provide an avenue for employees to improve skills sets and gain experience in areas outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. Cross training is also critical for maintaining the productivity of your firm when an employee is out of the office for more than a day or two. We’ve all experienced the stress of knowing that a much needed vacation comes with either working 80 hours a week prior to ensure we don’t fall behind or coming back to double the workload upon returning. As a firm owner you can ensure your firm’s operations continue to run smoothly and alleviate unnecessary stress by cross training your team whenever possible.
Do a Self-Check
Once you’ve established some formal processes and programs for workplace wellness and balance, check in with yourself to be sure you’re modeling what you value and expect from staff. If you tell employees to take regular vacations but never do so yourself, you’ll be sending a mixed message about what you expect and value. Practicing good self-care and taking a balanced approach to work, will reinforce the culture you’re trying to build—and the culture that will ultimately result in happier, more productive employees.
About the Author
Kate Ross has spent the last ten years of her career developing educational materials for financial professionals and brings a passion for instructional design and curriculum development to the XYPN team.
In her free time, Kate can be found front row at a concert, camping in the woods, floating a river, or hiking in the mountains near her home in Montana.
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