Three ways to lead by example with work-life balance

John Rowley

It’s a workplace ideal that can frequently prove elusive. Particularly for small business owners, notions of work-life balance are great in theory, but take real, conscious effort to pull off.

There’s good reason to put this effort in, of course. Both employees and business leaders will be more productive and passionate – and far less likely to experience burnout – when they don’t feel constantly encumbered by their work. By communicating expectations and monitoring their own behaviour, business owners can establish a culture of genuine balance.

Turning “always on” off

If you often send work emails well outside of business hours – particularly if they contain the word “URGENT” in the subject line – you're doing work-life balance wrong. Business owners are responsible for establishing their teams’ norms and boundaries. Without these boundaries, employees will feel pressure to be available around the clock, threatening morale, reducing productivity and draining both physical and intellectual energy.

As well as consigning emails to working hours wherever possible, consider introducing a policy whereby employees are not briefed on new tasks after 4pm (and, hopefully, after 12pm on Fridays). This will allow people to work through their to-do lists and take stock before switching off.

Be sure to factor in time for administrative tasks when structuring workflows, as well as a buffer in which employees can socialise and throw ideas around.

Measuring outcomes, not hours

When considering employee performance, it can be tempting to equate commitment to time spent in the office. In actuality, success shouldn't be measured by time, but rather the achievement of business objectives.

Instilling an objectives-focussed mindset in your business’ employee base can be done by adopting some of the principles of agile working. Allowing employees to concentrate their working hours when they’re likely to be most productive and creative, for example – and doing so yourself – will minimise any risk of time-based competitiveness, and encourage individuals to work at their own pace.

Depending on the nature of your business, billable hours may be a non-negotiable feature of working life. If this is the case, be sure to factor in time for administrative tasks when structuring workflows, as well as a buffer in which employees can socialise and throw ideas around. In special circumstances where extra hours are put in, be sure to provide compensation in the form of time in lieu.


These ideas are all well and good, but to genuinely create a balanced culture in the workplace, there needs to be some form of accountability.

One method of actioning good intentions is to appoint an employee to conduct periodic anonymous employee surveys, research new work-life balance policies, and create reports on the success of the business’ efforts. (This project, of course, should be factored into the employee’s workflow.)

Accountability can also be fostered by setting policies in stone (or, at least, a universally-accessible Word document), and communicating them where possible, such as in company-wide meetings and periodic employee reviews.

The same policy should apply to all employee levels – including the business owner. This way, employees will be able to look to their leaders, confident that work-life balance is a significant business priority and, hopefully, a realistic goal.

John Rowley

John is a Sydney-based writer covering small business and lifestyle.

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