What Great Bosses Know about Work-Life Balance

During Labor Day week, it seems only fitting that we spend a little time on the topic of work-life balance. What do great bosses know about the struggle? Plenty, because many wrestle with it themselves.

  • They work long and crazy hours.
  • They're on call 24/7.
  • They carve chunks out of their so-called "free time" to be there for the joys and tragedies of staffers' lives: at wedding chapels, awards banquets, hospital rooms and funeral homes.

But what sets great bosses apart is that while putting in all those hours:

  • They're neither martyrs nor heroes: They understand it comes with the territory and it is what they're paid for.
  • They don't expect their staff to work the same hours they do.
  • They don't resent their hardworking employees for taking the breaks and vacations they've earned.

Most of all, great bosses know that our work and home lives are rarely in balance. Balance suggests contemporaneous equal weight, some scorecard that records: "One hour talking with the IT department/One hour doing homework with the kids"; or "Three days away from home at a professional development conference/Three days camping with the family." Our work and personal lives never weigh in so evenly.

Perhaps we should substitute the word "harmony" for "balance." Harmony suggests that our work and personal lives may compete for the limited hours in our days, but they are not necessarily mortal enemies. Many times, they complement each other. Jobs we love, even demanding ones, provide fulfillment; the experiences of our personal lives can make us more valuable in our careers.

That can only happen if leaders develop work environments that value harmony:

  • Where people don't have to check their personal lives and interests at the office door
  • Where bosses pay attention to details like work schedules, work flow and quality standards to make sure that staffers aren't working longer or burning out because of someone else's incompetence.
  • Where people aren't made to feel that success means being the first one in and the last one out every day.
  • Where managers say to employees, "Go, we'll be fine" when they feel the call of duty on the home front, for reasons wonderful or terrible.

Sure, our workplaces are leaner than ever. All the more reason that when it comes to work-life harmony, they shouldn't be meaner.

How else can great bosses build work-life harmony for their teams? I share the story of one major news organization -- and how a leader made a remarkable difference -- in today's three-minute podcast, "What Great Bosses Know about Work-Life Balance":

Poynter's "What Great Bosses Know" podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter's leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that's valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or to any of our podcasts on iTunes U.

  • Jill Geisler

    Jill helps news managers learn how to lead her favorite people in the world - journalists. Good journalists, she points out, question authority and resist "spin." It takes exceptional leaders to build trust, along with the systems and culture that grow great journalism.


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