How tech women can maintain work-life balance

Balance scale, Balance, work life balance

As a business leader it’s not always easy to turn off ‘work mode’. The temptation is always there to check emails before bed and set tasks for the team before the working day begins, and that has an impact on your work-life balance

Technology means that personal and work life boundaries are becoming blurred, and lead to an “always on” culture. Personally, I’ve become very aware of that as there was a danger coronavirus would make us all feel as if we were living at work rather than working from home. Partly it can be avoided by building that time in to your working day, for example having a regular check in time with the team so you’re reassured that there will be time to cover it and there’s no need to contact people out of hours.  It’s a struggle as there’s always that temptation to “just glance at my emails”; discipline and self-control is the answer!

Seniority affects your perspective as a leader around work-life balance, along with being a working parent.  In our twenties we all had lots to prove and there was almost a pride in demonstrating that you were working ridiculously early in the morning or late at night.  Seniority obviously allows you a bit more freedom and I am very aware of the juniors at Ballou and that I don’t want them to be infected with that “always on” culture.  I’d much rather they had an “always well” culture and that they are learning and working hard but happily and well within their own stress limits.

I have developed a few tricks to help maintain my own work-life balance and that of my team. For example, I try not to look at emails on holiday (as CEO I usually glance at my emails twice a day to keep on top of things) or just before bed. Obviously, I can’t impose that on the team but I try and avoid sending anything late at night or too early in the morning as that sends out a message that “I’m working, you should be too” and that’s absolutely not the case.  I leave my phone downstairs at night to charge and have an old- fashioned alarm clock by my bed so I’m not tempted to do that last minute terror scroll that ensures a terrible night’s sleep.   I’ve also found that it helps to set my own plan for the day, including downtime, before I turn my phone or laptop on, so that I feel in control of my own time and mood so whatever’s in the news or my emails isn’t going to set the agenda for me.

At Ballou, we really encourage our staff to respect their own time.  For me it’s all about working out when you work best and what’s going to help you get there. Staring dully at your screen at 2pm when you could be taking a revitalising walk that would actually make you more productive on your return makes no sense. It’s about trusting people that the work will get done and leaving them to get on with it.  Having said that, we do take various precautions to ensure that our teams get proper downtime – discouraging WhatsApp as a way of communicating with each other is one of them.  It’s too informal and too easy to send someone a work message at 8.30pm.  We do our best to encourage people to demarcate clear lines between work and home life, and we tried to foster a culture where we would only contact each other outside core work hours in an emergency.

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Time management methods such as the Pomodoro Technique can help increase spells of productivity, reduce fatigue and ultimately promote a healthy work-life balance.  Pomodoro, or anything that allows you to keep your brain calm and focused with the reassurance of a short burst rather than a long haul, works very well.

If ever I am concerned that a member of my team was over-working to the point it was having a negative impact on them personally, I sit them down and have a chat about what the rest of us could take off their plate. There’s a relief in that and also in being listened to.  I’d try to establish whether they were in a good place mentally too as serious overworking can sometimes mask something else. I would make sure they have taken their annual leave and if they have some owing, really encourage them to take it and get a break.  We have in the past threatened to cut people’s email off if they don’t go on holiday, but so far that hasn’t got past the threat stage.

With the arrival of hybrid working, it has become increasingly important to separate working hours from down-time. As an employer, embed it in your company policy that unless it is absolutely critical no-one should be messaged after hours. Your managers should make it clear that they are not always “on” and don’t expect other people to be either. This is vital, because unless the lines of demarcation are clear then, for working parents particularly, people can end up feeling guilty when they’re not with their family and guilty about work when they are.  That works for no-one.

Replying after hours gives the impression that the employee is expected to be working the same hours as you. It’s the responsibility of an employer to respect these boundaries.

My work-life balance resolutions are to be a little more structured in my day-to-day planning. I am constantly on my phone during the day and I do need to be a bit more strict with myself about it, carving out online time and separating that out from real life time. As a company we are fortunate to have lots of new business coming in so that’s obviously a very positive reason to be working hard, but maintaining work inside a boundary is an ongoing process that requires a bit of reflection; noticing new habits and checking unhelpful behaviours.

Cordy GriffithsAbout the author

Cordy Griffiths is CEO of tech agency Ballou, bringing in revenue of more than £4.5m a year and working with clients like Zendesk and Mozilla.  Over the course of her career Cordy’s clients have included Expedia, Egencia, Trivago, HotelTonight and Trip.com, developed Hotels.com’s PR presence across Europe and Latin America and in her time at Google, launched Google Street View.