A Look at Work-Life Balance and Ways to Get it Right
According to Deloitte’s “Workplace Burnout Survey,” 77% of U.S. full-time professionals have experienced employee burnout at their current job. As a result, “work-life balance” has been a buzzword for years as employers and employees seek ways to be engaged personally and professionally.
Jeff Parker, owner, 24 Hour Signs; Charity Jackson, owner, Visual Horizons Custom Signs; and Christine Edgren, creative director, Suttle-Straus, share their perspectives on the topic.
Q: What does a healthy work-life balance look like for you?
Jeff Parker: Like most business owners, I work hard. Someone once told me, ‘As a business owner, you only work half a day, and you can get to choose which 12 hours it will be!’ I choose to put my hours in early. I am up every day at 3:30 a.m. and in the store before 5 a.m. This gives me three-and-a-half to four hours to do all the things that need to be done before my store opens at 8:30 a.m. I leave work at 4:30-4:45 p.m., and I’m usually on the phone as I head home. Almost every day, I arrive home by 5 p.m. for dinner and family.
Charity Jackson: I was 20 when my soon-to-be-husband and I started our business together, so our entire marriage and raising of kids has been done under the umbrella of owning and operating a business. For 18 years, our kiddos have literally been raised in the sign shop. My mom runs our office, so the kids came to work with us from the start because both parents and grandma were at work. Being self-employed also meant that the entire time they were in school, we had more flexibility to volunteer at school, take time off for school award programs, pick them up after school where they came back to the shop, or when sick, they could come to work with us where they had a comfortable place to sleep. Even our dogs come to work with us every day, and when we need a mental break, we take them for a walk. Not surprisingly, both of our boys are artistic and great with computers, and our oldest was recently helping me with some design and organizing for a new business I’m starting.
Christine Edgren: I’m not sure I have it figured out, it’s continuous effort. It’s also not a one-size-fits-all scenario. I make a conscious effort to give my kids my time when I come home from work. Every chance I can attend or volunteer at my kid’s school events/extracurriculars, I am there. It’s important to me, as I do have mom guilt about not being home with them after my maternity leave ended and pursuing my career. I also use my PTO and VTO; I know a lot of people that don’t. It’s important to take the opportunities you can for yourself to re-energize.
Q: What type of time-off flexibility do you offer employees to ensure they also maintain a healthy balance?
Parker: Striving to have a team of happy employees is my central focus. I listen to my people and take the time to understand their out-of-work lives and invest in the time and money needed to help them have quality of life.
Jackson: It’s always been important that our employees maintain a healthy balance too. We close at 5 p.m., and we’re closed on weekends. We rarely allow overtime, not because we’re unwilling to pay but because we don’t want employees getting burned out. We plan the extra days needed to get a project done. Every so often, there will be optional weekend jobs, and they have a chance to earn extra money. We also provide time off for paternity leave, flex time for making doctor appointments for themselves or their kids, paid vacation, and paid holidays.
Edgren: We’re huge advocates for taking the time you need as you need it, so we offer a good paid time off plan. Another opportunity we offer is VTO, which is volunteer time off, which has been great for getting paid time to support a cause you believe in. For our team, we do it as a group, so it’s team building as well. For example, we took half a day to make cat blankets for the Humane Society.
I know it’s small, but even taking a break for lunch helps a ton – get a lunch buddy or break buddy. You get a paid break. Use it and step away; it’s good for you. I have to remind myself of that as I can get in a rut of continuing to work through that time.
Q: Do you have advice for that business owner that can’t say no and is starting to feel burnout?
Parker: Not saying no doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If customers can count on you to get the job done, it only stands to reason that over time, your business will grow. The key to never saying no is in managing customer expectations. If customers are “taught” to understand timelines, and they know what it takes to get their job done alongside all the other jobs we have, they will be better prepared in getting and giving us the time we need to get their job done correctly and on time.
Jackson: This is tough because it’s hard to turn down work, but if you’re feeling burnt out, I would guess that a few things are happening. If you’re taking whatever job you can get because you’re not making enough money but you’re still feeling overwhelmed and busy, then I would venture to guess you’re not charging enough or you’re not organized enough. Evaluate your profits and raise prices if needed. I would rather lose the pain-in-the-butt jobs I’m not making anything on anyway and free up time for better money-making projects. Also, give yourself enough time to finish a job so you’re not always in rush mode. If the customer has to have it in a rush, then charge a rush fee to cover your extra time. If the jobs are coming in, you’re making money, and you’re so busy you’re getting burnt out, then it’s probably time to hire. You also have to ensure you have an efficient workflow and that you’re delegating your workload to employees as needed.
Edgren: I think some people think they have to exhaust themselves to meet a deadline, but they don’t. I think setting the appropriate expectations before committing to a date helps. ‘Never overpromise and underdeliver’ is a concept a previous boss always mentioned to me.
Q: When’s the right time to hire more help?
Parker: Always hire before you need it. Training takes time, and creating synergy within a team takes a lot of work when you add someone new. It’s important to get them up to speed, fully equipped, and involved with everyone before the pressure of being busy sets in.
Jackson: I would recommend getting your business streamlined – good workflow in place, proper tools and equipment, trained staff, defined job descriptions for those already working for you, and see how efficient you are. There are only four of us in production in our business, and we run a very busy, full schedule. Right now, we’re booked out for four weeks on installs. Some weeks it feels like we could use another person or two, but then we’ll get caught up, and we have a little extra time on our hands. This is just because of the natural ebb and flow of how projects start and stop in the industry. If your job calendar is full and you have to turn away work that you could accept with another one or two employees, it might be time to hire.
Edgren: This is a tough question. I monitor our workload and do a lot of check-ins with our team to help understand what is too much. I look for consistent time periods that are busy throughout the year so I can have some sort of expectation of what our busy time and what our downtime is, but since the pandemic, things have changed dramatically. I’m not sure there is a downtime anymore or at least from what we’ve seen, so I am trying a couple of new approaches to help keep an eye on it from a scheduling standpoint. It’s hard to predict but try to look to the future so you can plan time to train before that busy time comes. I always try to have a Plan A and Plan B in the event those circumstances happen for overflow work.
Q: What business tools can PSPs invest in to work smarter and make the most of work hours?
Parker: Communication tools and software systems are the most important thing when you have many jobs in progress at the same time. There are many software solutions out there. We use Trello and ShopVOX to keep up communication and monitor workflow.
Jackson: I keep mentioning a good workflow and efficiency, and that’s because it’s essential in running a profitable business that doesn’t overwhelm you. We use computer programs to manage our jobs and Google Calendar to schedule our installs. You can turn on/off what events are visible on different computers, so on my personal computer, I also have our family calendar to see both scheduled business projects and family appointments or events. We also use QuickBooks to streamline our accounting, time clock software to manage employee hours, an outside payroll service, a trusty CPA for end-of-year taxes, and an insurance broker to keep on top of all the insurance we have to carry.
Edgren: From my experience working in the office environment, blocking off distractions in your calendar to set your own personal goals and priorities helps a lot. I have used a schedule template for myself and others in the past that helps with this type of prioritizing. Sometimes, a meeting reminder doesn’t always do it, so printing off a template (daily or weekly) may be the trick. We’re currently investing in a project management tool so we can have less back and forth on projects via email and phone calls and all have a central repository for information on a print or mail project that may span over multiple months.
Work-life balance can look different for everyone. While leaving work at work can be tough, it will inevitably overlap with home life. “Sometimes we need to vent about a big project or a pain-in-the-butt customer, but we’re also quick to say, ‘Let’s not talk about work,’ Jackson says of her and her husband. When work does creep in at night, she makes a list and addresses it the next day. Edgren shares a similar sentiment, saying she focuses at-home time on family. One exception to the rule: Don’t forget to celebrate work wins! It’s natural that work and personal lives intertwine, but it’s how you manage that intersection that will keep you at your best personally and professionally.