Why Leaders Need to Show the Way With Work-Life Balance

Leading Others

13th October 2021

The 11th-15th October marks National Work Life Week, annually run by the charity Working Families to get employers and employees talking about wellbeing and flexibility at work. 

A healthy, fulfilling work-life balance is not a new want. It his however endued with new meaning, repositioned after the unprecedented experiment in personal and professional resilience we have all recently lived through. As such, this week we’re looking at how the promotion of ‘wellbeing’ and ‘flexibility’ from buzzwords to workplace imperatives creates a compelling Call to Action for leaders at all levels. 

For us at FranklinCovey, the idea of balance has always been an age-old principle. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey describes the P/PC balance – P equals productivity and PC equals the capability to produce. When productivity outweighs productivity capability, then output is not only unsustainable but also damaging to performance in the long term.

Traditionally work-life balance has often been considered to be an employee engagement/commitment issue, but really it’s a leadership issue. Making it a business-wide ethos starts with leaders setting an example of how to get it right, and with recent Glassdoor analysis of employee reviews revealing that mentions of burnout increased 128% since April 2021, the time to start has to be now. 

How does personal work-life balance change how leaders influence organisational effectiveness?

First, there’s the matter of personal effectiveness. As tenacious as you may be, no amount of dedication or determination means you can be everything to everyone. 

If you’re stressed, tired, overwhelmed, distracted you cannot perform to the best of your ability. Conversely, if you are energised, revitalised and fit for work then it will show in how you perform and relate to people.

Your behaviour as a leader will influence your employees

Stressed out, fatigued, over-burdened people can be resentful. When resentment creeps into a business, it can cloud your judgement and influence your behaviour and decisions.

If you have to miss out on your child’s school play, how sympathetic would you be to an employee who is asking for flexibility to enable them to meet family commitments?

If you haven’t made it out of the office before dinner time every day for the past week, what would your subconscious make of the employee who rushes out the door at the clocking-off time every day without fail?

If you, as a leader, feel that work is taking over your life, eating into your family and leisure time and stressing you out, how would you approach a relationship with an employee who wants a better balance between life and work?

Resentment could cloud your judgement. It may not be a conscious thought process, but you’re human, and humans experience envy.

Behaviour is learned 

A boss who preaches about the importance of punctuality, but shows up late? A boss who claims that openness and honesty is a highly regarded company value, but who lies and keeps important information from employees? People see through these double standards.

“Do as I say not as I do” does not fly with today’s aware and awakened employees.

So what about leaders who advocate wellbeing and work-life balance and claim these are part of the company culture, but whose outward behaviour is that of a workaholic who just can’t let go? Anything you say about wellbeing just sounds disingenuous when you don’t take care of yourself.

The actions of your leaders build your culture

Creating a culture where work-life balance is the norm, and wellbeing is important to everyone, means you as a leader need to demonstrate that these are rules to live by.

If leaders are obsessed with working all the time, engaged in presenteeism and missing out on holidays, nights out, family and leisure time, then your team are watching. You lead, they will follow.

“Leaders encourage others to have a life by having one themselves.” — Sue Dathe-Douglass, Co-author, The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

The message you give is: This is what it takes to succeed here. This is what we value. This is what we want you to aspire to. Your team will want to measure up to your tacit expectations, and then they will burn out just as fast as you will.

Flexible working may be a right, but there is still a stigma

Even when people have a right to request flexible working, they are often reluctant to do so because of how they will be perceived.

It’s often the case that even when the law states employees have the right to request flexible working, and you’ve made an effort to create policies that are there to support work-life balance and wellbeing, employees are still reluctant to put their hand up.

The reason is often that people are afraid of being looked upon unfavourably. Employees are afraid of being overlooked for promotion or making themselves stand out for the wrong reasons. What employees have noticed is that people who are the most visible appear to be working the hardest. We all know looks can be deceiving.

Much of this misconception can arise from the implied messages that come from leadership behaviours and standards. If your boss is not considerate with themselves, they’re not likely to come across as considerate or open-minded to the needs of their team. People are not going to feel confident in asking for home working or flexible working patterns even if they would ultimately make them a better employee.

Great leaders set a great example

Truly effective leaders unlock capabilities in their teams and inspire people to grow. Inspirational leaders make others look up to them by demonstrating integrity and value-driven decision making. When employees are proud of their leadership and the organisation they work for, engagement and organisational effectiveness follow.

Setting an example of maintaining a good work-life balance means your workforce does not feel pressured to achieve standards that ultimately put them under undue stress and strain. Like the Goose Who Laid the Golden Egg, expecting only what your employees can achieve at a comfortable, winnable stretch maintains that important P/PC balance and avoids stress.

“This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life — investment in ourselves.” – Stephen R. Covey

Avoiding stress is the key to improving employee engagement

Stress equals burnout. Stress kills productivity. Stress negatively impacts engagement. Stress results in absence, illness and injury. Work-related stress, depression and anxiety resulted in an estimated 17.9million working days lost in 2019/2020, according to the Labour Force Survey.

Modelling stress avoidance is as much a leadership quality as punctuality and integrity. Demonstrating via a top-down approach that achieving positive work-life balance is an integral part of your business’s culture is just one way for leaders to influence organisational effectiveness through their own behaviour.


Your organisation’s success depends on strong individual performance. Download our guide Manage Your Energy to Do Your Job Well: 5 Tips to Constant Self-Renewal for practical insights into often side-lined habits that transform our ability to perform- based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.