As a leader, you know how important you are to your employees’ experience. Employees don’t quit jobs or organizations. They leave managers and leaders. How you lead is hugely critical to keeping them satisfied and motivated to stick around.
Motivating employees to stay at an organization through work-life fulfillment can come through many avenues, but a 2018 study identifies particular elements that help employees achieve better work-life satisfaction—especially what helps them perform better, reduces their physical and emotional stress, and motivates them to go the extra mile. This research, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior (and involving 2,892 employees), found that three elements are necessary for employees to have a successful work-life fulfillment. They need to believe in their ability to manage tasks effectively, perceive they can handle negative emotions, and have the ability to empathize with coworkers.
These capabilities and perceptions echo the brilliant work by Patricia Voydanoff, an author and expert on work and family. She says that perceptions of capacity drive work-life conflict and fulfillment. The more people believe they can handle the demands that others place on them, the less stressed they feel. It’s not about the demands themselves. It’s more about perceptions of the ability to handle them.
So, as a leader, how can you support work-life fulfillment for your employees? The answers might seem straightforward, but they also illustrate some distinct behaviors to avoid.
Provide choice, but don’t lock people in
Choice is a significant contributor to work-life fulfillment. People need different things at different times when it comes to navigating the demands of work and life. Providing as much choice as possible helps employees feel like they have the support they need to perform at their best. You can do this by giving people a choice of when they work, where they work, or how they work. Of course, it’s essential to set boundaries and take company needs and job requirements into account, but in general, the more choices you can give people, the better.
As much as possible, avoid locking people into the choices they make. Consider a dad who, during the school year, may appreciate being able to choose to work from home in the afternoons, but during the summer, may want to work from home on Wednesdays. The demands of life change continuously, so let people keep their options open, and allow them to adjust their approaches to work as their needs and priorities change.
Foster transparency, but don’t be invasive
Openness, trust, and liberal sharing of information are the lifeblood of healthy organizational cultures and thriving teams. When people feel in the loop and trusted, they tend to behave in a more trustworthy way. When they have access to crucial information, they can be more proactive, innovative, and effective in their roles. This applies to work-oriented details, but also the goings-on of their lives. For example, if an employee’s wife is sick, and he has to miss critical client meetings or deadlines, it’s helpful if team members are aware. This way, they can support him, rather than assume he is slacking.
While it’s essential to be transparent, make sure that employees don’t feel pressured to divulge personal details of their lives. Understand employees have differing levels of comfort when it comes to being open with personal information. So, make room for all levels of transparency in an overall culture of trust, empathy, and openness.
Recognize strong performance, but don’t overload great employees with too much responsibility
When people feel valued for their work, it contributes to their sense of work-life fulfillment. Feedback and recognition from leaders and colleagues fuel the experience of feeling valued.
However, avoid overloading great employees with too much work. Often the reward for stellar performance is more work. A leader perceives capability and gives that employee a new task, and then another, and another. Give new challenges and exciting projects to great performers. But be sure to balance their workload. Otherwise, you’re inadvertently rewarding excellent performance with a heavier workload and reinforcing their value with unrealistic demands. This can detract from work-life fulfillment and effectiveness.
Make strong contributions, but don’t take everything on yourself
Leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves and who have a deep understanding of their team’s work are especially credible. They tend to be more respected and have teams that achieve better results.
However, it’s vital to avoid taking on too much of the team’s work. Often leaders seek to help team members achieve work-life fulfillment through doing work themselves in order to shield their employees. For example, if there is a need to move the project deadline ahead, the leader might do the weekend work instead of asking the employee to do it. The problem is, the leader’s behavior is a significant factor when it comes to how their employee chooses to accomplish their own work. When leaders work all hours, they unintentionally put pressure on employees to do the same. Leaders need to demonstrate choices that lead to their own work-life fulfillment for their employees to feel free to make the right choices for themselves.
Great leaders want to achieve exceptional performance, but they also want their employees to have a positive experience and fulfillment in their work-life. The key is to help people feel capable, valued, and empathetic toward team members. When leaders provide choice, foster transparency, recognize strong performance, and make personal contributions, leaders not only help achieve success for their companies but also work-life fulfillment for their employees.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.