If you're struggling with your work-life balance, chances are, your manager or direct boss is causing some of those issues. Does your manager constantly give you work over the weekends or ask you to work late every night? Do you get in trouble if you're a few minutes late or are you constantly worrying about how your manager views your performance?
It’s time to do something about the issue–and no, we don’t mean simply venting to your co-workers and friends. We spoke with human resources professionals to get a few tips on how to have a conversation with your boss about improving your work-life balance. What do you tell them and what do you ask them to change about the way they manage you? What's appropriate and at what point should HR intervene to help resolve the issues? Here’s what the professionals think.
The first step is identifying the problem
If your work-life balance is nonexistent, think about why that is. Are you pushing yourself too hard and constantly competing with your co-workers? Or, is it, in fact, the pressure you feel your boss is putting on you to go above and beyond each workday?
Try making a list of the projects your boss has given you that are causing you the most stress. Then, think of some ways you could help yourself. If you don’t want to work on the weekend, don’t do any work and see if your boss notices.
“I think some employees could be a little more strategic about how much information they share about their whereabouts,” says Cassidy Solis, workplace flexibility program specialist at the Society for Human Resource Management. “If you need to leave early for personal reasons, for example, you could just say, "I'm leaving early today for an appointment." You don't need to say you're going to watch your kid's soccer game.”
If you try those things and realize your boss truly is the issue, it’s time to call a meeting.
Have an honest conversation with your manager
HR professionals suggest you meet with your boss and that when it comes time to have the conversation, to be honest.
“The focus should be kept on the nature of the position and how job responsibilities will be able to be accomplished while working flexibly,” advises Solis, who also suggests being prepared to discuss different options to solve the problem.
For example, suggest to your boss that you work remotely one day or offer ideas for scheduling a more compressed workweek. Be sure to show your boss a plan for being able to make those ideas work while continuing to meet deadlines and potentially exceeding your job responsibilities.
Give praise and ask questions
Sarah Green Carmichael, senior editor for the Harvard Business Review, recommends trying positive reinforcement by praising the behaviors you’d like to see your boss do more often.
“For example, say you have a boss who typically sends scattershot emails at all hours, leaving you feeling hounded at nights and on weekends,” explains Green Carmichael. “Then one Monday morning, she happens to send you a single email full of to-dos. You could say something like, "Thanks for that super-organized Monday morning email. It really helped me focus on what was most important."”
If that doesn’t work, try asking open-ended questions because you might not know what’s motivating your boss to behave in this manner – maybe their boss is putting pressure on them!
“If you have a very good relationship with your boss, and she is open to more direct feedback, you can give it -- just be tactful and specific,” says Green Carmichael. “That's just good advice whenever you're giving feedback.”
When you should go to HR
First, make sure you understand your company’s guidelines and policies because every workplace is different.
“HR can be really helpful in making sure employment laws and policies are followed, though, so if your boss is ever doing something that seems like a violation of employment law, that is probably something HR wants to know about -- because part of HR's job is to protect the company from risk,” says Green Carmichael.
But if your boss is way too tyrannical, even after talking to them about their behavior, it’s probably time for HR to intervene.
Solis agrees, mentioning that it’s also a great way to get an understanding of an organization’s experience with and overall openness to work-life balance. Doing so will help you understand how the company tries to help its employees and getting this background information will help you determine if there are organization barriers or if the challenge really is just dealing with a reluctant manager.
You’ve had the conversation…now what?
If nothing changes about your boss’s behavior, life’s too short to stay trapped in a bad situation. Green Carmichael suggests trying to transfer to a different team or department and framing it as a “growth opportunity” instead of a flight from a bad boss.
Or, if nothing changes after talking to your boss or going to HR, then maybe it’s a sign that you need to move on to a different company whose values about work-life balance are more in line with yours. It might seem like a big, scary decision to make, but you’ll be much happier when you have a boss who understands you have a life when you leave the office!