The Role of Leaders in Better Work – Life Integration

No Regrets: Work-Life Integration Part 6


This article is part of a 7 part series No Regrets: Integration Work-Life. 

Part 1: Who will make all the Mai Tais?
Part 2: What amount of work is the right amount?
Part 3: The might of Retirement
Part 4: The Four Burner Theory
Part 5: Let’s Get Personal
Part 6: The Role of Leaders in Better Work-Life Integration



The role of leaders


Smattered throughout this article is the role of leaders in creating organisations and more broadly a society that makes work/life integration possible. But I thought it would be useful to summarise where leaders can and should step in.


Role Modelling


This is huge. What are you communicating by your actions. It is absolutely great that you get up at an all hands and say that the organisation embraces flexibility, but if you and your peers are working a 10 hours day and sending emails at mid-night people will generally believe your actions rather than your words. What you are communicating is that successful people work longer hours than anyone else.


The modelling you, and other senior peers should be doing, is choice. If you choose to work crazy hours that’s fine but with every fibre of your being you need to show the choices you make and the empowered choices you give others. Hold up those examples of successful people who opt for more flexibility. As well as working those crazy hours, share a picture of taking the dog out for a longer lunchtime walk, or take a day mid-week to hit the surf at its best.


This isn’t just about unconsciously suggesting that others need to work hard, it’s also about putting off top-talent from staying who know that it isn’t healthy to work that way.


Patchwork Talent Solutions


One of the benefits of a post-pandemic world is that talent can be a little more flexibly employed. The idea of cramming all skills into one role and aiming for full time work is partly due to the costs of employment and people’s willingness to commit to the 9-5. Now some of the costs are falling because you aren’t giving someone a location to work in (or at least you might be aiming for say 40-50% of the workforce needing the space at any one time) so cost ‘per head’ are getting closer to ‘per full-time equivalent’ i.e. job shares and part-time work is getting cheaper. In addition the willingness to commit to the 9-5 is decreasing – if we assume at least some of your talent is in the pool of [people rejecting it, you will increase the cost of recruiting but sticking rigidly to it yourself.

So what’s the solution?  The patchwork.

This could easily be mistaken for a metaphor for diversity, and if done right it will support your DEI efforts. But this is actually about not assuming one-size-fits-all employment contracts.

If you start with the assumption that you can articulate the need for your organisation (this is instead of writing a role profile or job description) before you go to recruit or promote for that role, you can think about the creative ways in which that requirement could be fulfilled. Have you ever seen a job ad that says this is a part-time position if you x capabilities or a full time one if you also have you? Me neither, but why not? If you get the ‘x candidate’ in this instance then you will already have a plan for getting the rest of the role by means of FTC/other part-time/contractor solutions. Knowing what the minimum requirement is will also help clarify the core expectations and get more realistic with the requirements which help with hiring more diverse candidates and challenging the hiring manager to be clearer in their expectations. That’s just one example.

Starting with that requirement again, it may also be easier to spot internal talent who could fulfil some of the need. How can you make that happen? What flex can be put in place for that role? What does that mean about what you are looking for? Where could you bring in experts to support – remote first and hybrid working environments are transforming how easy it is to find the expertise you need, anywhere in the world. Cloud-based infrastructure means access set-ups can be almost instantaneous.

It may seem like a bit more work up front, because it is. But, as is often the case, work completed at this earlier in a process helps further down the line. For instance how many times have you spent 6 months recruiting for a key role? Doing the ‘Patchwork Analysis’ first gives you lots of fall back positions to ensure you almost never end up in that position, as soon as the right candidate(s) isn’t forthcoming, switch to a different mix.


Challenge the status quo


It’s pretty simple really. You may well be in a leadership position because you have benefited from the way things are. But my belief, and that of many, is that once you are in such a position you need to make it easier for everyone else – lower the rope ladder.

So even if you have slogged and sacrificed to get where you are, it doesn’t mean that it has to be the same for everyone. I was astonished to hear from a 3-time divorcee that he didn’t have plans to adopt flexible working because “Everyone has the ability to compromise if they want [success] badly enough”. The attitude may be entirely unrelated to the marriages breaking up but I’m not sure.

The challenging then can take many forms but two of the areas already outlined above: challenging the role model set by others and the assumption made about how roles are filled. But may other ‘fights’ are also worth it:

  • Assumptions about age and capability (both old and young)
  • Assumptions about availability and commitment
  • Assumptions about the value of face-to-face/meetings and what can be done asynchronously
  • Assumptions about year-round commitments (i.e. set working patterns for the whole year
  • Assumptions about ‘presence and ‘working time’

By the way, being able to challenge these assumptions effectively, begins with challenging your own assumptions.


Manage by outcomes


This relates to the last bullet above and I maintain is the greatest thing you can do as a leader/manager irrespective of the culture of flexibility in your organisation. In this article, I humbly name a rule after myself and suggest that the only thing that leaders need to know about how to lead is ‘Does it work?’. This approach is effective because it allows leaders to cut through a lot of the red tape, HR speak and self-talk that encourages you to question your every move. “Am I allowed?”. The truth is whether the company articulates it or you, leaders are measured on success. Whether success comes from graft, micro-management or true leadership, people don’t really care. But over the long term, engaging your team and creating a culture of success will return success for the leader. So ‘what works’ might be slightly different depending on the timescales but a true leader should always aim for sustainability.


This works on two levels when it comes to work-life integration. Firstly, realising that for the most part, you don’t have to do it how other people do it to be successful allows you to challenge the assumptions in the previous section and carve a way that works for you. Secondly, it opens up the possibility to manage more bit outcome (the impact of what your team does), than the input (dictating what they do) or output (expectations of deliverables). The likelihood is you may need to dip into all three but if you get the ratio right – with the outcome being the dominating style, you will be further ahead than most.


For a team being managed by someone who is mostly interested in the outcome, they are likely to feel highly trusted and able to experiment. You can be very clear on what needs to be achieved but allow expertise and research from within the team describes how. This is why OKRs becoming more popular – they help to give structure and philosophy to this approach. With the outcome being the main concern the specific needs and expectations around working hours, time put in and approach become less important.


If you have a team member who is incredibly experienced but rather than moving up the ladder they stay in a role that they can do with their eyes closed, why not allow them to do the work in half the time and lie back in the (metaphorical) hammock. Forcing them into a ‘full working week’ might just result in them moving for a higher paid job. Another example I regularly see is leaders who have done the job before, expecting their subordinate to do it the same way. If they did business development by ringing around all day occupied with busy work then great. But if the team can get the same result by being more attentive to fewer clients they should. And if they have met their targets, they should have the choice of pushing further (presumably for commission) or relaxing a bit.


Managing by outcome = more choice for the employee in how they do their job = less stress and more flexibility, allowing for greater enjoyment and integration.


Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash