Expectations are everywhere in our life - at home, at work, in our relationships with others and self. They can be about anything we want or hope to have happen. Sometimes they are grounded in reality and other times not, and many times - especially at work - they are unclear.
When it comes to the topic of work-life balance - many times the expectations are unclear because creating a two-way opportunity between managers and their team to openly share, set, and communicate expectations is not commonly done, especially around this topic. When it comes to expectations at work, there are three ways to consider them, those for and of your team, those between you and your manager, and those you have of yourself.
Let's be honest: Employees LOVE to blame their managers for their imbalance, level of stress, workload, or lack of context. Not because your team members are ill meaning, but because it is much easier to blame you or maybe your manager than to take accountability for the choices they are making or ways they are working that might be the actual reason for the pain points they are experiencing.
It is not up to you to manage your employees' balance, workload, goals or commitments. It is up to you to teach them they have a choice in how they manage these things for themselves and to have ongoing conversations with them to provide guidance. That's about it. Your job is to understand the expectations your team members have on you and you on them, and to encourage conversations for clarity when needed and as often as needed.
Conversations that typically are avoided between a manager and his or her team include, expectations around what "on call" really means, weekend and evening work hours, e-mail response time, requests for help and meeting behaviors. Pick one to start with to begin to develop the habit of openly talking about expectations and providing clarity around common issues people feel uncertain and uncomfortable bringing up with their managers.
Your Manager's Expectations of You
You have expectations of your team, and your manager has expectations of you. Having conversations around expectations for balance and team stability is rather new, so your manager might not be proactively having these conversations with you. The good news is that you can start the conversation with your manager just as easily as you can start the conversation with your team.
Have an intentional conversation with your manager that addresses their expectations regarding you being reachable at all times and on weekends, email response time, their perspective on company policies and how they are willing to help you push back as needed for unreasonable or out-of-scope work requests. Your willingness to begin this conversation with your manager, not only can bring you clarity but can role model a new type of conversation with them that they might be willing to have with their other reports.
Expectations on Yourself
Finally, there are the expectations you have for yourself as a manager and the ideas you have around how you want to be perceived as a manager. Many managers want to be liked by their team, which is only natural as all humans yearn for acceptance. However, there is a difference between a leader who pleases and a leader who inspires.
For you to address the impact of imbalance, it is essential that you become clear on what you expect for yourself when it comes to work-life balance. Consider what work-life balance means to you, and what you need to support creating that type of balance. Examine how you want to be perceived by your team when it comes to work-life balance and in what ways you are (or are not) leading by example.
An open conversation about your expectations with your team allows you to provide clarity around purpose, needs and outcomes for your team. An open conversation with your manager allows for you to receive the same clarity you set with your team. An internal dialog with yourself can help validate alignment for the path you have chosen.
When expectations are shared, everyone is on the same page. It doesn't mean everyone will agree, but it does mean everyone has the same understanding and clarity about what is expected to move forward.