Having the Talk: Approaching Your Boss About Work-Life Balance

Having the Talk: Approaching Your Boss About Work-Life BalanceAre you feeling overworked? Is the concept of “work-life balance” far fetched? You’re not alone. Working longer hours is becoming more and more common. Overwork can have negative effects on your health, happiness and productivity.  This month we’ll focus on how to tell if you’re overworked and what you can do to change your situation and become a happier, healthier employee!

The thought of approaching your boss with any request, let alone asking to work less, can bring a rush of anxiety and dread. Like any appeal to your superior, you want to be strategic and purposeful, but especially with an issue as sensitive as work-life balance. If you are feeling stressed, overworked, and stretched to your limit by work, the time is now to start thinking about your plan of action. Life is too short and your skills are too valuable to be wasted on being unnecessarily overworked.

The first mistake people make when thinking about having “the talk” with their boss about their frustrations around work-life balance is focusing all of their attention on their boss. How will they react? Will they understand? How can they help? All of these are important questions, but they are secondary to the most important person in the equation: YOU!

Before you ever approach your boss, you want to take some time to ask yourself several questions so that you will be as successful as possible in negotiating a happier, more balanced work life.  Here are three suggestions:

1. What does balance look like for me?

Work-life balance is never the same for any two people, so you have to take some time to define what this looks like for you. Will having a 9-5 type schedule where you can leave your work at work bring you balance? Would the flexibility to leave early and finish some tasks later in the evening allow you to handle other responsibilities you may have? It may be helpful to make a list of all of your demands and prioritize them. Spending time thinking about your ideal balance will make your efforts more focused when you finally approach your boss. Lastly, although the problem of work-life balance affects millions of workers around the world, many companies have already made great strides in making more options available to improve their employee’s lives. Before you have the talk with your boss, ask yourself if you have already exhausted every available option from your company. It is possible that our exhaustion and stress may be the cause of our own inability to stop working, and not our boss’s demands for us to continue.

2. What is my plan of action?

In addition to defining your personal balance goals, you want to be clear about a possible plan of action to make them come to fruition. Most bosses are busy, so you want to be as concise as possible when you approach them. And the last thing you want to do is come across as whiny and complaining. A detailed solution for addressing your work-life balance issues will show your boss that you are committed to the company and have dedicated time to solving the issue. Bosses are also busy, and may be lacking in work-life balance themselves, so involving them in the solution is a great way to relieve you of the burden of feeling too needy or out-of-place.

3. What is my value to the company?

Tim Ferris, in Four Hour Work Week (which has become something like the work-life balance bible for many people), argues that one of the beginning steps for carving out more balance in your life is convincing your employer that your value far outweighs their demands to always have you present. I think Tim’s four-hour ideal is far-fetched for the majority of us (although it would be nice!) but the principles apply. Your greatest asset in appealing to your boss is your current productivity and value to the company. You should spend time thinking about the ways you contribute to the company’s goals and how indispensable your skills are to their success in preparation for talking to your boss. If you cannot make a good case for your value, it may not be the right time to approach your boss. For many bosses, productivity is the number one priority, so you must make this your primary focus as you make your case for more balance.

In short, before you have “the talk” with your boss about your work-life balance, you want to spend some time “talking” to yourself about your personal balance goals, your solution to reaching them, and your value to the company. The answers to these questions will highly increase your chances of being heard and attaining your desired outcome.

Overcome Being Overworked!


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