Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Modeling work/life balance

Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

Leaders, it's okay to go home!

Leaders model the way. We are expected to greet everyone we encounter, practice great customer service, actively listen, and ask for recommendations. So why has it become an acceptable practice to NOT model having a healthy work/life balance? 

I was recently with a group of long-term care leaders. Most everyone was struggling with finding this balance. I'm certainly not being critical as I, too, struggle with this at times. However, I also know the team I work with models what I do. They encourage me to leave and enjoy a junior high basketball game. They don't want me to miss a high school swim meet. As team members, we are invested in each other and we trust each other. I don't want them to miss important life events either. Why? Because the more fulfilled we are at home, the more fulfilled we are at work.

Working too long and too hard is a common occurrence, but it's quite simply wrong. Other people are looking to you for leadership. If you are in at 6:30 a.m. and don't leave until 9:00 p.m. every night of the week, others will think they can never measure up. That is not healthy for you, your team or your community. And, quite critically, the number of hours you put in on the job does not measure your passion or commitment to your work. Let me say that again: If you work long hours, you are not a better person. There is no competition for hours worked. For salaried employees, there is no reward for staying late or checking e-mails all hours of the day. Our work in long-term care is never done. There will always be more we can do. Our love for residents means it's hard to be away, but, just as they loved their families when they were working, we have to find time to remember our families. We must also remember to care for ourselves. 

Which brings us to the question of interests, or having a life outside of work and family. Recently someone I consider a leader told me she was struggling because her life focuses on two things — work and her children. There was nothing else. It had become terribly difficult to relate and build relationships with her team because she didn't feel like she had any room or any time for anything else. My assignment for her was simple: Find some joy outside of work and children. The next week her outlook was much improved by actually forcing herself to so something fun and joyful. This could be anything from taking up knitting to joining an adult soccer team, but it's a question of finding something that speaks to your inner self. 

We measure everything in long-term care, whether it is outcomes, quality, performance, you name it. We are constantly considering ways to improve our business. We fill out performance reviews, we have difficult conversations and we model the way — most of the time. 

If you are a long-term care leader, find a way to strive for work/life balance, even though it's difficult to measure. I don't have it all figured out, but I have made a commitment to be present, whether it is at home, with my friends, and when I'm at work. It has very little to do with quantity of time and everything to do with quality of time. 

There will be days when all your responsibilities and tasks take more than eight hours. But on other days, it's a very simple but powerful step to model that it's okay to go home.   

Julie Thorson is the president and CEO of Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge, IA.
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