52. How Bosses Drive Better Work/Life Balance for Employees with Maura Thomas

Episode 52: How Bosses Drive Better Work/Life Balance for Employees with Maura Thomas (Summary)

Today we’re talking about after-hours emails, vacation hostility, and why words like “timely” and “emergency” might be creating stress or confusion for your team. Let’s get into it now, on Boss Better Now.

Links:
To learn more about Maura Thomas, visit her website Maurathomas.com
To learn more about Joe Mull, visit his website ​Joemull.com​.
To hear more from Joe Mull visit his YouTube channel​.
To learn how to invite Joe to speak at an event, visit ​Joemull.com/speaking​.
To check date availability or to get a quote for an event, email ​hello@joemull.com​.
To explore options for coaching from Alyssa Mullet, visit ​Joemull.com/coaching​.
For more information on the BossBetter Leadership Academy, visit Joemull.com/academy.
Email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.
To leave comments, ask questions, or to message us visit our Boss Better Now Podcast Facebook Page.
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Transcript – Episode 52: How Bosses Drive Better Work/Life Balance for Employees with Maura Thomas

Joe:
Today, we’re talking about after-hours emails, vacation hostility, and why words like ‘timely’ and ’emergency’ might be creating stress or confusion for your team. We’re enjoying time with our guest, Maura Nevel Thomas, right now on Boss Better Now.

Alyssa:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. Please welcome speaker, author, and exclamation point addict, Joe Mull. <Laugh>

Joe:
It’s true! Exclamation point! Wherever you’re joining us from and however you’re listening, we’re glad you’re here. If you are new to our show, know that you can get new episodes every week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Audible, Amazon Music, Google, YouTube, Alexa, and more. In the meantime, please welcome my co-host, professional coach, Alyssa Mullet. Hello, my friend.

Alyssa:
Hey! Hello. You know, I, the grammar stuff, I ain’t be so good, but <laugh> <laugh> the last time I remember having a very deep and delightful and enlightening conversation about the Oxford comma.

Joe:
Well done.

Alyssa:
Is there now something else I need to learn about the exclamation point? Please, sir.

Joe:
Well, I mean, from a grammarian‘s perspective…

Alyssa:
Oh, Lord.

Joe:
They are to be used quite sparingly.

Alyssa:
Okay.

Joe:
But I am not capable of not using them. Have you <laugh> have you seen that meme that goes around that says like ‘I end every sentence in my emails in exclamation points because I want you to know that I’m a warm and friendly person!!! And it’s really important to me that that comes through in this email that I’m sending you!!!’ Like that is me to a T! I use too many exclamation points in communication. I’m not as bad as my mom. What’s funny is my mom will send text messages. And why use one with you can use 13. Like, in a row. She’ll be like, ‘I’m so excited for what we’re doing this weekend!!!!!!’ And ‘Oh, I got your card and it was so great!!!!!!!!!’ Like one will do. My overuse, my addiction is in the general use of them too frequently at the end of too many sentences. My mom on the other hand is dropping piles of them. It looks like she stacked Lincoln Logs up at the end of the sentence there.

Alyssa:
<Laugh> Big dumps of them.

Joe:
Yes. <Laugh> Yes. You don’t type a lot with exclamation points, Alyssa.

Alyssa:
I do not. I think, well, maybe I have a tendency to when I am overly familiar with someone.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
Like if I’m making an email to you, I would probably most likely overuse my exclamation points. In fact…

Joe:
But I like it that way.

Alyssa:
I think I might have done that just yesterday, <laugh> in a text you. I have to go back and look now. What I recently learned though, from, whatever you regarded yourself as. Grammarians? Some other person who I wholly trust in this area. Recently, I learned that no more than…like, if you’re doing a dot-dot-dot, you know, like.

Joe:
Ellipsis.

Alyssa:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Three. Maximum three.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
It’s a thing.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
It’s a rule.

Joe:
It’s an actual specific form of punctuation. Of three dots. And if you do it in Microsoft Word and you type three periods, you will see it convert to the ellipses, which has different spacing.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Yeah. So I feel like the same rule shall now apply in my usage of exclamations in batches. Like no more than three. And generally, we’re talking about texts. Like, I don’t think I would use that many in an email. I don’t think I would.

Joe:
Well, I’m pretty sure that at this point, we now have no more than three listeners left to this episode because of the deep exploration of grammar again. I’m sorry.

Alyssa:
The deep exploration of the exclamation.

Joe:
Exclamation. Yes. All right. Well, why don’t we get to the reason that we’re here? Which is to help our BossHeroes with some advice, some humor, and some encouragement. And I’m really excited about a guest that we have for this week. So a couple of weeks ago, I did an interview with a colleague of mine named Maura Nevel Thomas. I’m gonna tell you about Maura in a minute, but we had this really delightful, and I thought very interesting conversation. This was recorded exclusively for subscribers to our Boss Better Leadership Academy. Every month we push out a piece of microlearning content that helps leaders in our subscriber organizations become better bosses. And we were doing a micro-course on how bosses drive better work-life balance for employees. Because as we know, we’re living in this moment right now, where that might be perhaps the most important thing that people are looking for when it comes to finding and, and keeping staff. And I’m breaking a rule that I have the stuff that we do for our Leadership Academy subscribers, we typically keep it exclusively for them because they’re paying for it. And it’s a part of what we put out for them and produce just for them. But this conversation, I thought, just lent itself so well to this podcast that I got Maura’s permission to share it here as well. So here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna hit play here in a minute and you’re gonna get to listen to my conversation with Maura. We will come back and do the Camaraderie Question of the Week, and then you and I, Alyssa, are gonna sort of process through a couple of really interesting ideas that I think she floats in this conversation. How’s that sound to you?

Alyssa:
That sounds amaze-balls! Thank you.

Joe:
All right! Here we go with my interview with Maura Nevel Thomas.

Joe:
I’m really excited today that you’re gonna get to learn from my friend and colleague, Maura Nevel Thomas. Maura is an expert in productivity and work-life balance and a pioneer in the concept of attention management, which she calls ‘the new path to productivity’. You may have seen Maura’s work before in places like TEDx, or the Wall Street Journal, or one of the many books she’s written or contributed to. Or maybe you’ve seen her columns in Forbes or the Harvard Business Review. So she is an expert and I’m thrilled that she’s with us today. She also tells me that she’s great at pretending to exercise. I feel that well, my friend. And that you much prefer TV shows, movies, and books that have a happy ending. That is very much in my wheelhouse too. Hi, Maura! Thanks for being here today!

Maura:
It’s no wonder we get along so well, Joe! I’m well, thanks. How are you?

Joe:
I’m doing well. Thank you so much for taking some time to check in with us around this topic. Obviously, we are, nationally, experiencing a kind of collective reckoning around how work fits into our lives. And that conversation is focusing, perhaps more than ever before, on work-life balance. It is and will continue to be, one of the most important factors in employee engagement and retention. So why don’t we start here? What role do bosses play in driving better work balance for their employees?

Maura:
Yeah! So a Harvard Business Review study done by The Energy Project in collaboration with the Harvard Business Review, said one of the biggest factors in an employee’s work-life balance is the work-life balance of their boss.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Maura:
And so there are so many leaders and especially small business owners, but also just all kinds of leaders that feel like, ‘Well…because of my position, I need to, you know, burn the midnight oil and I need to be really dedicated. I need to be really responsive and I need to be there for my team.’ And all great sentiments. But sometimes, you know, if the boss’s work-life balance…if the boss is a workaholic, then he or she just creates a team of workaholics. And that’s probably not the best thing for the team.

Joe:
So this idea of the boss as a role model, it cuts both ways, right? Because if I see the boss as a workaholic, then that may recalibrate my internal expectations for how I think they think I should show up and that can cause problems, right?

Maura:
Yeah. There’s that. So it’s like, well, ‘If you work this way, then you must want me to work this way.’

Joe:
Right.

Maura:
But there’s also the driven ambitious employee who says, ‘Well, I guess that’s what it takes to be a leader here. And so, therefore, if I also wanna be a leader, then I need to behave the same way.’ But the problem is they might burn out before they get promoted to that leadership position.

Joe:
Right. So what’s the inverse then? What does a strong role model as a boss look like when it comes to work-life balance?

Maura:
Yeah. So people will do as you do much more than they will do as you say. And so your actions speak much louder than your words. We’re told this all the time. Right? So for example one of the most…one of the very first articles I ever wrote for Harvard Business Review became the most popular article on the site that year. And it still remains pretty popular. I still hear from people about it. And the title is Your Late-Night Emails Are Hurting Your Team.

Joe:
Ah!

Maura:
And what I heard from…I’ve heard from so many people. And I hear from a lot of bosses who read it and said, ‘I’m just…thank you! I was guilty of this. My colleagues are guilty of this. I’ve sent it to everybody. I didn’t even think about it.’ And then I’ve heard from employees who say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so right! And I sent it to my boss.’ <Laugh> And so, right. So it doesn’t matter if you preface the email by saying, you know, ‘Don’t worry about this’ or whatever, it doesn’t matter. If you are sending emails at 11 o’clock at night, then people are gonna think that they need to respond at 11 o’clock at night. And a study out of…I can’t remember if it was the University of Texas or the University of Virginia that said, or Virginia Tech that said just the expectation that an employee is going to receive an email from their boss after hours not only stresses out the employee, but it stresses out the entire family.

Joe:
Right.

Maura:
That…Anybody who lives in the house with the employee. Because…And people can imagine this, right? Maybe it’s a situation you’ve been in now as an adult or maybe when you were a little kid. It was like, ‘Oh, we’re doing this family thing.’ Right? ‘We’re Having family dinner. We’re going to the zoo.’ Or whatever. ‘Oh, Unless Mom gets the call from work.’ Or ‘Unless Dad gets the call from work.’ And then it ruins everything. And the kids know it ruins everything and the spouse knows it ruins everything. And then the employee is trying to sort of straddle both worlds and be like, ‘No, no! I’ll come to the zoo but I’m just gonna sit over here on this bench and talk on the phone at work and…’ You know?

Joe:
Right.

Maura:
‘I just gotta find this file for somebody and…’ You know? And it just disrupts everything.

Joe:
Yeah.

Maura:
And so it’s super disruptive and it’s super stressful. And I, one, I talk to leadership groups a lot. And one of the things I tell them is that I am just always sort of surprised at how much leaders underestimate, how much influence they have really on the world.Right?

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Maura:
Because if you influence employees, people, right. For example, if somebody’s unhappy at work, they’re probably gonna be unhappy at home. Right.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Maura:
If that’s gonna carry over to their home life, if they’re super happy at work, they’re probably gonna have energy and, and, and you know, and time to give to their family, if they’re not sort of rung dry by their Workday, then they’re gonna say yes to like coaching little league and, and to, you know, yeah. Being in the PTA and doing all this stuff. And so, leaders influence employees, and if they influence employees, they influence employees, families. If they influence families, they influence communities. If they influence communities, they influence the world. Right. And I think that we just, I, you know, I think just leaders, I just love it when, when sort of the light bulb goes off. When I talk about this, because it’s not, of course, people know that when people are unhappy at work, they’re unhappy at home, but you forget. Oh yes. And then that makes other people unhappy too. And

Joe:
When we can trace that back to even the little things like after hours, email communication, which really is, is not a big sacrifice to tweak that. Right. We have tools nowadays, like scheduling emails to go out later. So if you wanna be productive at-home boss and knock out a couple of things, you don’t have to instantly send them to be delivered to people’s inbox. You can schedule them so that you avoid the kind of pressure and stress that you’re talking about. Right.

Maura:
Exactly. Right. Exactly. Right. And yeah, there are so many ways to model good behavior or model healthy boundaries and healthy work-life balance.

Joe:
And I think your other point is so well taken more that even if we give people permission, even if we say, Hey, I don’t expect you to touch this until you’re back in work mode or back in the office, we have to save people from themselves because we know we have those people on our teams who will dive in and just, oh, this will only take second. And they don’t feel the pressure, but they love the feeling of being productive. We get to kind of high from that. Right. And so they’ll do it anyway. And so restricting ourselves in this way helps us save others from themselves. Is that right?

Maura:
Yeah. And, and we, you know, we think they don’t, they do want to reply and, oh, it’d only take me a second and I don’t mind it all. And I think maybe it’s not necessarily that they don’t feel the pressure. I think that it’s, that they don’t realize the pressure. I think a lot of times we’ve become so accustomed to this elevated level of stress, stress, and pressure that we don’t really even realize it anymore. And so, yeah. Even if it, even if every time I tell people, I mean, here’s the truth. No one can give an employee a work-life balance. Every employee has to take it. It is up to you to take your own work-life balance, and you are responsible for it. And the bosses have to help the leaders have to make it okay. And have to create an environment where people can feel comfortable with that. And both of those things are true. They’re not mutually exclusive.

Joe:
That’s such a great point. And so help us figure out, I guess, where the line is when, you know, if an employee is trying to set some boundaries, because they need to have a lesser encroachment of their work on their personal life and they’re sitting across from their boss, what kinds of things are reasonable for them to ask for? And what kinds of things are reasonable for bosses to ask for, to find that kind of, you know, to use the overused word balance?

Maura:
Yeah. So I think expectations are really important. Very clear expectations are really important. And sometimes leaders behave in ways that are contradictory to the ways that they speak. So for example, I totally don’t expect you to answer this just because I sent it over the weekend. I definitely didn’t mean for you to answer it. But then Monday morning in the meeting, the leader says, Joe, thanks so much for being so responsive over the weekend. I really appreciate that. <Laugh> all right. Well, which is it, you know,

Joe:
Or, or did you see my email from Saturday, even though they just got into the office 10 minutes ago.

Maura:
Right, right. <Laugh> yeah. So, so expectations of, of work, but again, it’s, it is important to be clear and we can talk about some of these terms that should be defined, but, but it’s also important to model yeah. To model healthy behaviors. And so, you know, leaders us have to remember, even if you feel like for yourself, you know, my job requires this and I have to work more and I, I should do this as a leader. If you remember that, your employee’s work-life balance is in many ways determined by your work-life balance. So if you don’t do it for you, do it for them, you know, have a better work-life balance for them.

Joe:
Well, let’s talk about some of those terms, cause I find this really intriguing. You and I talked about this a little bit as we were getting ready to do this interview. And so tell us a little bit about how some of that terminology creates that ambiguity that may cause problems for us or for our teams.

Maura:
Yeah. So, work-life balance is one of those things that I definitely think needs to be defined because we, you know, we started to migrate towards some of these other words, like work-life integration. Mm-hmm. Work-life integration, to me sounds like isn’t it awesome that you can work from your kids’ soccer game on your smartphone, right. That’s work-life integration. Or isn’t it great that you can, you know, work from the hotel when you’re on vacation? That’s what work-life integration sounds like to me. And so if somebody, if somebody’s using that word, I think it, it really needs to be defined, but even work-life balance. I mean, to me, work-life balance, it’s not hard. It means don’t work too much. That’s it? And if you, if you wanna of what too much is, studies show that our productivity starts to go down after about 50 hours a week. And it really falls off a cliff after about 50 hours a week.

Joe:
Mm-Hmm.

Maura:
And if you are sitting on the couch watching TV, but also scrolling your work email that counts, that counts towards those hours. Right? Yeah. And so we need to think about really how much work are we putting in and right. And, and so that’s, that’s a really important one really important thing to define. Another thing that we need to define is the word like timely or responsive when it comes to communication. Right? And so we say, you know, I want you to respond in a timely manner or we need to be responsive in our communication with clients. Well, if you don’t define that, what, what I think people hear is fast, right. Timely or right. Responsive. Yeah. Yeah. It means fast. And if it means fast and you wanna be the very best version of fast, that means immediate. Right.

Joe:
Mm-Hmm.

Maura:
And so, and so people translate that into it means now. And so if every email requires a now response, or if only customer emails require a now response, but other emails don’t, it doesn’t matter because now I have to check every email as it arrives, still to see is this one from a customer, is this one from a customer? Is this from a customer? Right. And so then we’re still constantly distracted all day long. Yes. Those are a couple of examples I can go on. And on. I

Joe:
Remember you talk to me about the word emergency and how the word emergency gets us in trouble. Tell us about that.

Maura:
Yeah. So we always say like, you know, here’s the thing, unless, of course, it’s an emergency. Well, a lot of people treat an emergency as I would really like to have this now. So therefore it’s an emergency, especially if it’s the boss, right. The boss is like, well, my work is important work because I’m the boss. And so if I’m asking you for it now is a good time to respond. Right. And so, everybody treats, some people define anything from my boss automatically means emergency right. Automatically means now. And I think some bosses maybe foster that. Other bosses are like, oh my gosh, that’s not what I meant at all. And then they don’t realize, I just did a talk this morning with a group of leaders. And one of them was saying, you know, I realize I’m the worst offender. I send an email and I don’t need it. Now, in fact, I might have even said in the email, like, if you can get this to me by Friday, that’s fine. But then I leave my office to go get a cup of coffee and I see the guy I just emailed. I’m like, Hey, did you get that email? <Laugh> yeah. It’s like, and he is like, I don’t

Joe:
Guilty. Absolutely guilty is charged. Yeah.

Maura:
Right. So, so behaviors, not just what we say, but what we do. Another thing that some people consider an emergency is. So, I talk about this idea of brainpower momentum, right? We need undistracted time so that we can fully muster, our full range of knowledge and wisdom and skills and abilities, but also compassion and empathy and creativity and kindness. Right. It’s hard to muster all those things in one-minute increments between emails. Yes. And so, we need this undistracted time where we can fully apply ourselves to a task, right? Yes. But sometimes people will get that. They will build up that brain power momentum. They’ll be right in the middle of something. And then they’ll realize, oh, I can’t finish this until I ask Joe. And so I’ve got all this momentum. I need to finish this. I need to know right now, Joe, can you just tell me right now? Cause I just it’s really important. And so then that becomes this emergency. That’s not an emergency. That is almost the very definition of failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part. Right. That old saying. And so we really need to talk about, and even leaders tell me all the time like, oh, I don’t wanna hold up my team. I wanna be able to keep things moving. It’s like, if you’re too available, though, you might be teaching them to rely on you. You might be unintentionally disempowering them instead of letting them figure things out on their own. And if they say, yeah, but I don’t wanna hold up the work. I’m like really, there’s only one thing on their to-do list today. And if they don’t get that question answered from you, there’s nothing else they could be doing really. Right. So those kinds of situations, probably not emergencies, but we look at them as emergencies or as, at least as timely. Right.

Joe:
And, and it’s, it is interesting to me the degree to which we get intoxicated by completion, right? When we, we, we want to finish the project or the document or the email. And so we will encroach on others and ask for right now if it is in service to us being able to finish this, move it off our plate, cross it off our list. And we end up doing some of the things, the very things that you’re talking about. Whereas being a better role model, give people the time and space they need to get to that work product with better work. Life balance may sometimes mean that we need to sacrifice being able to get everything done all at once. We need to sacrifice the allure of that completion. I think it’s such a great point in there about how hard this is sometimes for some bosses to do.

Maura:
Yeah. And it is because accomplishment motivates us.

Joe:
Mm-Hmm.

Maura:
I ask audiences all over the world, what makes a good day at work? And the first thing people say is getting stuff done, getting stuff done makes a good day at work. Right. And then they say other words that mean getting stuff done. Right. They say helping customers and, you know, completing projects and, and solving problems. Yeah. Getting stuff done makes a good day at work. So, you’re right. We can’t underestimate the importance of that forward progress, cuz it is really important. But I mean at any given moment, let’s face it, everybody’s got 17 browser tabs and six emails, half-written and you know, and 17 things on their sticky note that they’re supposed to do today. Right. And so just because one of them might be stalled because perhaps you didn’t think about it before you sat down to do it and you didn’t realize that you had information missing or whatever. There are still other things that you can move forward process.

Joe:
Absolutely. Well, we’ve only got you for a few more minutes and you mentioned something a moment ago that I wanna make sure that I circle back to you on, and this idea of the way in which work intrudes on vacation time. Obviously, time off is more important than ever before. We also know that only about half of the American workforce uses all their vacation time. And you know, the number one reason why people don’t use all their vacation time is because they’re afraid of falling behind at work. So how do bosses encourage and support employees getting away for real to recharge and get all of the benefits that vacation time gives to us?

Maura:
Yes. And this is a, this is a tough nut to crack sometimes. I mean the first thing is, is that I think people have to really, really appreciate the benefits that that vacation gives us. And there’s all kinds of research, right? A lot of people tell me, oh, but I feel so much better if I just you know, spend the first hour of every day of my vacation, reading my email, I, and then I can just, you know, go enjoy myself because I know everything’s handled well. What if you find out that everything isn’t handled <laugh> right, right. And even if you do find out that everything’s handled, you’re still, your brain is still sort of chewing on that. You can’t get a fresh perspective on something you never step away from. Right. That’s just one of the many benefits of vacation time. But studies also show, I mean, it’s good for our physical wellbeing. It’s good for our emotional health. It even tends there, there are some studies that show that people who take vacation are more likely to get promoted.

Joe:
Mm-Hmm.

Maura:
So believing in being fully disconnected is really the first important thing. The boss has to believe it. The employee has to believe it. Everybody has to believe it, but there are then all kinds of other ways. So one is to make sure that everyone has a designated backup so that they know. So, here’s a, a thing that some large companies do and it’s growing in popularity since there was some attention to it years ago, and that is the opportunity to have emails deleted while you’re on vacation.

Joe:
Mm-Hmm.

Maura:
So the way that looks is if you send me an email and I’m on vacation, you get an honor response that says, thank you so much for your message. In my absence, please feel free to contact D on my team. Her email address is da, da, da. She’ll be happy to help you. If this message is specifically for me, please resend it after the 10th, when I will be back and I will be happy to answer it. And every, and your initial message has been deleted.

Joe:
Yeah. Some people are quaking right now at the idea that they’re waiting for them.

Maura:
Yeah, they are. But companies have done it successfully. Yes. Right. And even, maybe you don’t delete it. If that makes you nervous, maybe you just tell people that it’s being deleted <laugh> or maybe you just, or maybe you just don’t say it’s being deleted and you say, please contact So-and-so. Or if you really need me, please resend. And then you create a rule that says any email that came in between this date and this date goes into this folder over here, and then you only look at it if you have to.

Joe:
Right. Right. And, and vacation time where we’re spending a little bit of time doing work isn’t vacation time. Right. It’s just a really expensive commute. And it robs us of the kind of healing that makes us better when we come back. You and I both speak at a lot of conferences and the number of folks who tell us, okay, I’ve enjoyed the conference, but I have a lot of anxiety around what’s waiting for me when I go back to the office, cuz I have 147 emails that I haven’t been able to answer. And so then the next time they just don’t go to the conference. Right. And vacation acts the same way. So aside from email management, are there any other beliefs, habits, or routines that we need to see leaders commit to, to be, to make sure they don’t become as you call it a vacation hostile workplace?

Maura:
Yeah. So one way the bosses, I think create a vacation hostile work environment is that, is that they are the boss that says, all right off Aruba with the family, have a great week. I’ll see you when I get back. Oh, but the plane lands at 10. So if you need me just call, call my cell, it’s fine. Right. <Laugh> it’s like, no, no, that doesn’t help. That gives the impression right off the bat. And if you are checking in, if you’re, you know, if people are getting emails from you, they know that you’re, that you’re working. So right. There are, I’ve seen lots of clients after I work with them, get really serious about this and they will, people get in trouble if, if they get caught working when they’re away.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Maura:
Right. And it’s, it’s, it’s like, we need to talk about, you know, why did, why were you working when you were on vacation? And what is that about? And you know that, you know, we need you to be, we need you to get this downtime. And so taking it that seriously is really important. Most people think that and in many cases, they, in some ways they are, I see a lot of companies where people don’t have a reliable backup, right. And so if, if it’s like if I don’t do this, it doesn’t get done. And so I don’t take my vacation time because I have to work so hard to get ready to be out. And I have to work so long and so hard when I get back to catch up, it’s just not even worth it. Or I’ll go, but I have to work every day while I’m gone. And so, and so that’s a structural problem, right? That’s an organizational structure problem that bosses need to solve. Everybody needs to have a trusted, backup and vacation time, and not working when you’re on vacation needs to be taken very seriously.

Joe:
And I’m so glad we’re sharing this conversation because I think a lot of the time when we talk about the things that bosses need to do to be more effective most people are thinking of it through the lens of I’m a frontline or mid-level manager. And I’m thinking about the team that I supervise. But so much of this dialogue today, Maura, I think, is really important for executive and C-suite level folks to hear and think about because it’s their mid-level managers and their frontline managers who are showing up in all the ways that you talk about who are unable to get away for a vacation because they’re the only person who is there to answer questions for the team or to drive processes or handle schedules and whatnot. And so for the folks who have been listening to this today, please make sure you think about it through that lens as well. Not just frontline leaders working with their direct reports and individual contributors, but how do we as executives and senior leaders role model and help our mid-level and frontline leaders show up better with more work-life balance. Maura, thank you so much for being here today. If people wanna learn more from you or connect online, what’s the best way for them to find you or keep in touch.

Maura:
Thanks for asking MauraThomas.com is the best place to go. I have a column for Forbes. You can follow me there. Also, have a whole bunch of articles for HBR, or my column for Forbes specifically deals a lot with work-life balance. So it’s a great place to start.

Joe:
Wonderful. Well, we should hang up and go, pretend to exercise, or watch a movie with a happy ending. <Laugh>.

Maura:
Sounds great. Thanks, Joe.

Joe:
Thanks, Maura. Thanks for being here.

Joe:
All right, Alyssa, I think you can certainly see why I thought that conversation was worth sharing with our BossHeroes and I can’t wait to hear about your kind of takeaways and, and highlights from that conversation, but there is something we have to do. First. We have a promise to keep, we have to do our Camaraderie Question of the Week. Bosses build camaraderie on teams, by making it easier for people to find things in common with each other. That’s why here on our show, every week we give you a question you can use at meetings to facilitate connection and build camaraderie. Alyssa, I found this question online and I just thought it was a really kind of mysterious, interesting question. I have no idea how this would go over on a team, but listen, we’re 52 episodes into our run here on Boss Better Now. So any question that might have potential is probably gonna make it on the show because you know, we gotta keep the questions coming. Here’s the question? What is something you believe but can’t prove?

Alyssa:
<Laugh> Okay. So here’s the two ways this question could go for me. Okay. And, and possibly maybe the teams as well you can get the deep, which is like the existential, like a higher power or, you know, something like that. Right. Or you can get like the wide wacky, which is Oreos are the best food ever invented. I don’t care. Okay. It’s

Joe:
The truth belief or opinion. Yeah,

Alyssa:
<Laugh> right. And probably all of those things are true. Although I wouldn’t go that strongly with like the whole Oreos. I’d have to really think about a food group or a thing that is like the best, most ideal thing. And you could not prove anything to me otherwise. But yeah, those are the two ways that I go with that question. I don’t have a true like answer if you will. I just have those thoughts. <Laugh>

Joe:
I know your answer to this question.

Alyssa:
Oh, okay. Okay. Tell me

Joe:
At the foundation of your entire coaching practice and all of the work that you do with leaders is the fundamental belief that clarity around our values is the most important work that a leader can do. And I don’t know that you can prove it, but you believe it.

Alyssa:
Damn straight. I do. Geez, Joe, that it was really good. Why didn’t you feed me that before?

Joe:
Well, I didn’t know if you were to come back and be like unicorns, Joe, I can’t prove it. But what I really believe in is unicorns they’re out there.

Alyssa:
<Laugh> A Loch Ness Monster. <Laugh> Oh, that was really good. Yeah. I like that a lot. I like that. I like that for me.

Joe:
All right. So now I gave you your answer. I feel like you should give me my answer, cuz I feel like I didn’t have a great answer for this question. I will tell you what my answer was to this question. I had to think about this one for a while. And what I came up with is this: that planning for failure actually prevents it from happening. And I know like, like on the surface, that sounds like something that most people are like, well, yeah. Duh of course that’s true, but not necessarily. Here’s what I mean. Here’s what I have found. If, if your organization hires me to be the keynote speaker at your big annual leadership meeting or for your conference, and I don’t ask for the cell phone number for my primary contact in the event that a flight gets delayed or something happens, that’s when I will need it. But by asking for, okay, gimme your primary contact cell phone number. And I also need a backup plan for the rental car. I always make a backup be of any materials that I am taking, like on a flash drive to a site. And in addition to backing them up on the flash drive, sometimes I’ll take two flash drives, and then sometimes I’ll put it in a cloud storage so I can access it from any computer anywhere. I believe that if I didn’t do those things, those failures would be more likely to happen.

Alyssa:
Ah, that makes sense. A karmic yes. A deep karmic tie. Yeah. Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Joe:
Yes. It’s as if I don’t test all the links in the email that we’re sending out to everybody, then there will absolutely be a bad link in there. And the one time when you’re like, I’m in a little bit of a hurry and I gotta get to this meeting, or I have this call and I know, I know I put the links in, right. And it’s gonna be fine. So I’m gonna click send the one time you do it that way. There’s a broken link. <Laugh> It’s just the way the universe works.

Alyssa:
It may feel that way. I concur. I, it is not unrelated to what I would put forth for you. It, my I don’t have the exact wording thought process that I would use, but something to do with space and time continuum that there’s like an alternative, like <laugh> earth out there because you’re really into like space and science. And I feel like, oh, you,

Joe:
I see where you’re going.

Alyssa:
You might have some level of belief and faith in that something exists in this, in the space-time continuum. <Laugh> I dunno.

Joe:
It got very like interdimensional there for a minute. But I, yeah, I do believe that there is absolutely life out there in space. See, there we go. If every star is a sun and every sun potentially has planets orbiting it, then come on. I mean, the chances of there being another one other planet that can sustain sentient life, it’s just that the odds are way too high. So yes, but I’m, I’m gonna come, I’m gonna bring it back down to my ultimate belief, which is that if you put an umbrella in your car, it prevents rain. I actually think that’s the argument that I’ve just made. <laugh>

Alyssa:
But we live in Pittsburgh.

Joe:
And that’s the Camaraderie Question of the Week.

Alyssa:
Are you planning a meeting conference retreat or event? Why not invite our own Joe Mull to be your keynote speaker?

Joe:
How many people here who supervise have had their time, attention, and energy devoured by someone who is not committed? If yes. Say yes, yes.

Audience:
Yes! Amen!

Joe:
And an amen. See, like I said.

Alyssa:
Joe teaches leaders, how to boss better and cultivate commitment in a way that is funny, captivating, and filled with takeaways.

Joe:
Do you believe that these people are coming to me and telling me that I’m sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong?

Keynote Attendee:
Oh my gosh. Wonderful. Really engaging and thought-provoking, which is really great with lots of good tools. Take home. You felt present. Like you wanted to lean in. You didn’t wanna pick up your phone and scroll through Facebook.

Alyssa:
Whether your event is virtual or in person, your audience doesn’t want another boring 60-minute lecture. They deserve to learn and be inspired by a world-class program. They simply cannot turn away from. That’s what you get, guaranteed, from Joe Mull.

Joe:
We can all agree. We want our employees to care and try but care and try isn’t about competence. It’s about commitment and commitment can’t be bought. It can only be earned. Your number one job as a leader is to cultivate commitment.

Alyssa:
For more information, visit JoeMull.com/speaking.

Joe:
Well, all right, friends I hope you got as much out of that conversation with Maura as, as I did. And as I know our leadership academy subscribers will. And if you have feedback or additional questions, you’d like us to tackle, well, we’d love to hear from you here at the show. You can always email us at BossBetterNow@gmail.com, or you can drop a comment in the box below the episode on our Boss Better Now podcast website, or if you’re watching on video streaming this on video. Alyssa, let’s just take a few minutes here. As we wrap up this episode, I would love to hear what were some of the big highlights or takeaways for you from the conversation that we had with Maura, about how bosses drive better work-life balance for employees?

Alyssa:
I think the direct throughput of how it is absolutely you as the boss that sets the tone.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
For work-life balance for your employees and how that directly impacts their families. You know, like for me, as a leader, when I think about, oh, you know, I, well, it’s just an email for, or me, blah, blah, blah. And you can say all of those things that you and Maura both said, right?

Joe:
Mm-Hmm.

Alyssa:
Don’t answer it or it’s not a problem or blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. When you get to it, no actions, actions, actions. It is absolutely your responsibility that if you think about, well, it’s me, it’s not just you, you are taking away somebody’s mommy or daddy from them. Ooh. In those minutes. And whenever I think about it, that way I go, oh, lordy no, I ain’t gonna do that. I’m not gonna do that!

Joe:
A powerful line of sight to create, I think for BossHeroes, that might be, I think the most powerful line on the show so far. Yeah. When you do that outside of traditional work time, or when people are expected or understood to be working, you are robbing mommies and daddies from their kiddos, from their families, or if you’re the primary caregiver to an elderly parent, you know, or you’re robbing people of the very restorative things that are gonna make them better for you the next day. Absolutely.

Alyssa:
Absolutely. Yeah. And I think the other thing that I got from so many of the really tactical and practical things and sometimes scary, like the whole email deletion thing. Right? Woo right. A nail-biter. But what I got from that is this is trying to understand for yourself as the leader, what it is that you are feeling when you do things that align or misalign with work-life balance. Meaning I can tell you right now, the reason I send emails late at night, or the reasons that I do this right, is because I want to feel needed. Right?

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
I want to tell people, oh, you can just call me on vacation because I want to know that I matter and I belong and people need me and people can’t function without me. Right? That’s about you. And, and you are creating your own demise. You are not invincible. That added pressure, that continual pressure that Maura talked about, it’s always going to be there because you’re always pumping yourself full of it. You can exist in this world where your sense of belonging and need is not derived from being available to your work and not making other people believe that that is their worth as well.

Joe:
This is the unhealthy codependency that a lot of bosses create between themselves and their teams. Maura said you’re teaching them to rely on you. And that is what in some places, maybe we derive our self-worth from that. Or maybe it’s the only way that we believe that our supervisors are gonna see that we need to take to be employed and paid the way that we’re paid because this place can’t run without me. When the truth is the best bosses, teach their teams, how to operate without them. Right. I don’t wanna teach my direct reports, how to rely on me. I wanna teach them how to operate without me. I wanna be able to walk out for a week’s vacation and know that I don’t need a backup because everybody on my team there knows exactly what to do and how to do it without me. And in the event that something really out of the ordinary happens, then maybe there is a point person who is a backup and a question answerer or has authority that they can use in those moments. But they’re not relying on that backup person to continue directing the day-to-day while I’m gone. I also think too, Alyssa, that one of the really interesting takeaways from that conversation is, you know, we started out by saying that bosses drive work-life balance for their employees and what I think most people assume, and rightfully so, is that how demanding a direct supervisor is, will correlate to the quality of the work-life balance that I have. And while that’s certainly true, Maura took it a step further. She said, no, no, no. It’s not just that. It’s the boss’s boundaries. It’s their ability to self-regulate, it’s their values around work and communication. And all of those things, not just to impact the work-life balance of the employees, but it affects the whole household. And so this idea of being able to manage ourselves better as leaders resisting the urge to send that email, to hold fast to our boundaries. I’m so glad we talked about that whole aspect of sending the email at night but saying, Hey, I don’t need you to look at this in the morning. Like if just don’t do it, because you’re still trying to have your cake and eat it too. Right. I still wanna go to bed at night knowing, okay, I got that off my plate. It’s done that question was asked or that information was shared. And I feel the sense of completion. The satisfaction that comes from that while also saying, but you don’t need to worry about this. And what Maura was teaching us was that it doesn’t work that way. Yeah. You’re still creating the stress. You might as well have just said, I need you to do this now. I know you’re at home, but I need you to do it now. Saying, I need you to do now and saying, don’t worry about this until tomorrow has the same impact. It’s still a stressor.

Alyssa:
Yeah. So, so many important lessons that we, if we’re willing

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
To listen, can learn from that discussion and very practical, not easy

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
Can look really scary to not be needed over vacation, but really practical, important strategies to use immediately as a leader.

Joe:
Absolutely. Well, that’s our show for this week friends. Hey, if you happen to be listening on Apple Podcasts, we would like to ask you a small favor. Would you take just 60 seconds right now to leave us a review? Reviews are important to shows like ours. On the screen of the episode you’re listening to just tap the linked show name, Boss Better Now with Joe Mull. And when the show page opens, scroll to the bottom and tap, write a review. If you’ve found any of what we do here helpful, know that Alyssa and I both would be truly grateful for your review. Thanks for listening. And thanks for all that you do to take care of so many. We’ll see you next time.

Alyssa:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember commitment comes from better bosses. Visit JoeMull.com today.

 

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