How to Approach Your Boss About Work-Life Balance

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Do you feel like your workload is beyond your current capabilities? You aren't the only one.


Especially in this time of COVID-19, many people need to cut back on their working hours because they have family members to care for or concerns about their own health and safety in the workplace. Or you may be in the situation of answering to a boss who expects you to work overtime every day — and you're afraid to say no because you could get laid off, or at least a bad performance review.


Life commitments outside of work — such as family, education or even just relaxing and recharging — should get their fair share of your time and energy. If you don't maintain this balance, you risk getting burned out, and then you'll be no good to either your employer or yourself.


If the time has come to bring up this tricky subject with your boss, here's how to go about it for the best chance of a satisfactory outcome.


Identify the Problem

The first step to finding a solution is to list the factors negatively affecting your work and life. These could include:


  • Unrealistic demands for extra effort to save the business or provide essential services
  • Stress or exhaustion impacting your mental/physical health and quality of work
  • Children needing more supervision at home
  • Sick family member who needs care
  • High risk personal health conditions that must avoid contact with co-workers and customers


Consider Your Employer's Position

Your boss may literally have their back against the wall in asking for extra work during the pandemic. Any resolution you reach will have to ensure that the work still gets done. When you have "the talk," clearly state that you know and care about their priorities as well as your own.


Also, look at how flexible the company has been in the past towards workers needing different schedules, leaves of absence or mental health breaks. This will guide you in the suggestions you put forward for getting back your work-life balance.


Decide Who to Approach

If you work for a large or mid-size company with an in-house HR department, it's usually best to go directly to HR. Not all managers are trained in mental health issues or have the authority to agree to your proposal. What's more, your direct supervisor may be more interested in protecting their own productivity rating and will automatically push back at any suggestion you make.


A short note to your manager about what you're going to do will keep them from feeling that you "went behind their back." We also suggest that you document this process with emails, beginning with the very fist step of requesting a meeting. In case of legal action, the paper trail could be important evidence.


Explain What You Need

Go into the meeting with some concrete ideas of how to accommodate both your needs and the company's. For example:


  • Work from home
  • Flexible schedule with some days in the office, some at home
  • Different shift (e.g. nights instead of days)
  • Leave of absence or personal/sick leave — paid or unpaid
  • Short-term disability leave paid by health insurance


The plan should also spell out how you will continue to meet your job responsibilities and deadlines.


Know Your Legal Rights

If your company tries to make you feel guilty about asking for what you need to stay healthy, or just refuses to have any such discussion, you do have recourse in federal law, especially the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both of them provide protections for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.


Be aware that your employer may request documentation to make sure you're eligible for FMLA or ADA leave. So if you haven't already been diagnosed, set up an appointment with your physician or a therapist to start a medical record.


Once you begin the conversation, you may well find that others at your company — including management — are suffering from the same issues. Who knows, your initiative could end up benefitting the entire team!


In any case, you need to take care of yourself first. Only then will you be able to give your employer your full value, energy and commitment.


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