Taking time off from work can be hard, especially when you’re in charge, but it’s essential, says Steve Gulati
Given the level of commitment that filling or managing caring roles needs, it’s important to make the most of downtime and switch off for a while. Why can that sometimes feel so difficult?
Research and anecdotal evidence suggests for leaders, time away from work is as important as time spent at work if they are to maintain optimum performance.
Fast-moving work and constant demands can be stimulating, but only up to a point. Beyond a reasonable level our ability to lead and make good judgements suffers.
With email, smartphones and laptops, getting away from work - and, crucially, not being tempted to “just check on things” when not at work - can feel hard.
Most of us take work home with us at some stage, due to workloads or through choice. Leaders can feel compelled to be “available” to others. However, there has to be a balance - taking work home for a specific purpose or a certain period is fine but, if it becomes a way of life, it has probably gone too far. And remember: those being led by us tend to “do as we do” rather than “do as we say”.
Five points for managing your work-life balance
- Ditch the guilt trip. The combination of being part of a caring profession and working in a leadership role can sometimes result in feelings of guilt at not being there for people when you’re not at work. Everybody is entitled to a break, and to stay effective you positively need to switch off from time to time.
- It’s a team effort. While no one doubts that your job is important, remember that, especially in the NHS, improvements in patient care and service quality result from a multidisciplinary team effort. You alone can only do part of the work, so don’t overload yourself with too much expectation and self-imposed pressure.
- Share the load. Taking work home or checking for messages when on leave can to some extent be considered part of the territory in leadership roles. Doing it occasionally is fine - when it becomes a habit, it’s time to talk things over with your own manager to agree or revisit boundaries.
- Be disciplined. Feeling that you can’t switch off until every last call has been returned or every last email read can happen all too easily. The work will never stop but, at some point, you have to. Decide on how much you can reasonably give, and stick to it.
- Practice makes perfect. If all else fails and you find it difficult to switch off completely, try the incremental method. Accept that you’re going to do some work or occasionally check for messages, but set a time period to do this and stick to your rules. Gradually, you will find that you will be able to wean yourself away from the habit, and give yourself the time off that you deserve.