… and communicate with your principal! With thanks to all who participated, here are your responses to my question … Do you have a healthy life-work balance?
You’ll note that, while we often use the term “work-life” balance, I’ve decided to flip the order. After all, which of the two really should take precedence?
Assistants have a good sense of balance
Almost one in three respondents reported that you have a healthy balance between your personal and work lives. Another 55% reported that you maintain this state most of the time, with exceptions. On the other hand, 14% of you reported that you don’t have this equilibrium.
What about office culture?
That’s a good question. In 2018, 61% of respondents said they believe their respective offices do support a healthy work-life balance. Do the math, and that tells you that this is not the case for 39% of you. While assistants need to take responsibility for their choices, the workplace culture can impact an individual’s sense of balance between personal and business lives.
Establish and maintain boundaries
… while being flexible as needed. To paraphrase one respondent, be reliable and productive when you are (supposed to be) at work, and take care of yourself when you are not.
Communicate with your principal
It’s all too easy for assistants to fall in to the habit of working ridiculous hours or constantly making themselves available on personal time. I know, because I used to do this. Sometimes, but not always, it’s self-imposed. Particularly when you work with or provide deliverables to a number of colleagues, it’s all too easy to put pressure on yourself to get things done and accommodate multiple parties.
The kicker? In many instances when you as an assistant work into the wee hours at the office, pop on to your home PC or laptop to prepare agendas or minutes (I know a number of you who do this) or respond to emails during your commute and the rest of your personal time, your principals don’t even know the extent of all the extra effort you’re investing in the role.
Rather than responding Pavlovian-style to email and other alerts when you should ideally be shutting off from work, take a look at your counterparts’ suggestions in the data section below. One of the best things you can do if you know you’re not achieving a healthy balance, or your workload is unmanageable? Have an open conversation with your principal.
You’ll find all the data below.
Note: Information below reflects the percentage of respondents who selected specific responses from multiple choice options. In instances where more than one person offers similar responses to an open ended question, I typically cluster or paraphrase such responses rather than duplicating all of them.
1. Do you feel you have a healthy life-work balance?
- Yes: 31% of respondents:
- Most of the time, but there are exceptions: 55% of respondents
- No: 14% of respondents
2. Do you think your office culture supports a healthy life-work balance?
- Yes: 61% of respondents:
- No: 39% of respondents
3. Next, I asked readers who have life-work balance under control to share a tip or two. Here’s what you said.
- I don’t have access to my professional emails from a distance and no one from work has my phone number.
- I just switch my brain off when I leave my office in the evening and on the weekend.
- I have wonderful times with my family.
- Do your job well, communicate with your exec and if you work an 18 hour day or several, make sure you take the time back in quieter periods.
- I’ve stopped looking e mail after dinner. Unplugging is necessary.
- Just make the decision to switch off. It can be hard at first, and you may feel *more* stressed if you can’t check your emails throughout the weekend, but it does pay off in the long run.
- People shouldn’t expect you to be on call 24/7, and indeed they will learn, and accept, that you aren’t. My boss would only in extreme cases contact me on a weekend, so if he does, I know it’s critical. It’s happened maybe once this year. He leads by example, and is not, himself, available 24/7. I have learned to cope with that, and to appreciate it, too.
- I look at email during non-work hours but take action only if something is urgent. The emails will wait until I am on the clock.
- I don’t check my email after work. My boss will text me if something urgent comes up. But she’s good at respecting my time off.
- I’ve learnt from experience that it’s really important to give attention to all areas of your life. I strive to always be 100% present in whatever aspect of my life I’m in. Not always easy!
- Timetable everything in your work calendar: all personal commitments, evening and weekends and mark them private. Colleagues will not then expect you to work during these times.
- Don’t take your work home with you! Be reliable and productive when you are (supposed to be) at work, and worry about yourself when you are not.
- If you work extra time, make sure you are either compensated for it, or you take extra time off. Don’t live to work. Of course, none of this applies if you are an entrepreneur, in which case all bets are off.
- Switch off your work phone as soon as you get home. if you are going to check it, check it only once at a specific time (e.g., 7:30 p.m.) for a specific period (e.g., for 10 minutes).
- Do not work on the days you are not paid to do so (e.g., weekends) unless it is an absolute exception/necessary. Once your colleagues realise that you are not obtainable out with normal working/office hours, they soon get the hint that if they need to reach you it should be within office hours.
- If you have a personal phone and a work phone, switch the work phone off outside of working hours.
- To achieve a life-work balance, which works for me, I negotiated compressed hours to work nine out of each 10 days. It’s important to use that non working day to completely disengage from the workplace.
- My top tip is to talk to your manager openly and find a solution which works for you and your particular concerns on finding the right balance.
- You need to have an honest and open conversation with your executive to set boundaries and know what is expected. You need to be flexible, but it is a two-way street, which is not always easy to achieve.