Thermoforming Report

Work-Life Balance

by Keith Brown, President & Owner, Siena Group.

Several times a month at least, I get questions about how and why I made the transition from Manufacturing Director to owning my own niche recruiting business.

The short answer? Burnout.

My previous two leadership roles were very challenging. One was a turnaround situation. One was a major FDA and supply crisis. Both required a significant investment of time. If you’re in manufacturing leadership, you’ve likely been there to an extent, right? 

For me, I went from one crisis directly into another. Both were a bit over 2 years each – that’s about 5 years of 6-day a week, 10-12 hours a day, in high-stress situations.  And that doesn’t include the time on the laptop on Sundays trying – and failing – to catch up. 

I was cooked. With a young family at home, I was either absent or too tired to do much of anything. It was not healthy, and a change was needed. Don’t get me wrong – I love manufacturing! It is in my blood. And I miss it. What I don’t miss is what I call “the constant”.  Those who aren’t in manufacturing do not understand this feeling (though I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight that there are plenty of other professions that endure this same type of always-on pressure).

As I made the transition into this new career, I made myself several key promises: Do Not Get Burned Out! Make My Work-Life Balance Work!

Want to read more about my journey from manufacturing to recruiter? Check out My Story.

It’s been nearly 10 years now, and I’ve kept my promises.

  • Yes, I do what I must do when needed.
  • Yes, I take calls on weekends and evenings. 
  • Yes, there are stresses. 
  • Yes, weeks can be long. 

But I work to control it. I regularly turn my “Owner Brain” off, and protect my “life” time jealously!  I very deliberately do not allow owning and operating a business to consume me. I have to. There is just too much at stake!

So, how can you maintain this work-life balance as a manufacturing leader?

You know the familiar question: Do you work-to-live or live-to-work? 

I think most of us fall into the first camp… and those in the second bucket should consider a change! In my opinion (as well as actual experts), to stay grounded and happy, professionals must have a life outside of work. This includes both individual contributors and leaders… but especially leaders in my opinion. 

A recent Harvard Business Review article published research that found that “constantly thinking about work may hurt rather than help your performance as a leader… because it drains your mental resources“. A key finding: “… leadership effectiveness was highest on days in which leaders mentally turned off from work the night before and were able to recharge“.

Finding ways to do this as a leader can be challenging. Being a leader of a team or a company takes a lot of time. People constantly rely on you, and you can feel like you are always on call – because in manufacturing, you typically are!

Here are some tips to help you work out how to create a life outside of work. 

1. Establish a routine. Routines give you a clear idea of what your day will look like: when you will be doing your work, what work you’ll be doing, and when you will be off of work. This means you can prioritize what you should be doing at any moment in time because you know, based on your routine, what your priorities are and what works best for you. Once you know what works best for you, it’s much easier to have that life outside of work. 

However, we all know that “manufacturing happens” – crap hits the fan and you have to adjust and deal with it. And that will blow up your routine. So, when the crisis is over and your routine is shot, find ways to detach after work. Another HBR article, Want to Be a Better Leader? Stop Thinking About Work After Hours, provides some great insights based on a short study they did.  “… leaders may be wise to find activities that they enjoy in the evening to turn their thoughts away from work.”  I couldn’t agree more! 

2. Delegate to others. As with so many aspects of leadership, delegation is key… and not as easy as it sounds.

Just as your employees rely on you, you can and should rely on them. When you create a team, choose people you trust who can make decisions when you are off the clock. While there is obviously a lot you must do as a leader, remember that if you have a good and cohesive team, there is a lot your team can do without you constantly being present. One sign of a good leader is to foster a team that can manage without you! 

Micro-managing is the outcome of not learning how to do this well as a leader. And, pretty much no one likes to be micro-managed! Invest the time to learn this delegation skill, from previous leaders and mentors and any number of leadership training opportunities. It will help you be balanced! 

3. Model a healthy work-life balance. As a leader, you serve as a model for the company culture. When you model a healthy work-life balance, you help to create a culture in your company where having a strong work-life balance is valued. That value in the company culture then further enhances a work-life balance for everyone.  A great Forbes article succinctly discusses this very thing: How Leaders Can Model Work-Life Balance.  “Remember, the pursuit of work-life balance is not just about improving your own life; it’s about setting a positive example for those around you and creating a culture that values and respects the multifaceted nature of human existence.” 

One way to model this is to communicate a distinction between “work hours” and “non-work hours”. In a recent HBR article, “clearly delineating one’s hours of availability to one’s employees may be helpful in ensuring adequate time each day to recover after work. Furthermore, creating guidelines for oneself about when work-related interruptions are allowed during non-work hours (e.g., what situations constitute leadership emergencies) may be a helpful practice both for leaders, and the individuals a leader supervises.

4. Follow your interests. What do you like to do? What interests you? Forget about impressing others. How do you want to spend your free time? Avoid the urge to just be social. You can be social while doing something you love. Or, maybe you like spending time by yourself but want to do it in a more meaningful way. 

We all have a lot of things that pull us in so many different directions!  It isn’t all bad… but don’t forget about you and your own needs. I’m not talking about going all in, 100% selfish here. I’m saying that taking some time for yourself can – and usually does – positively impact all the other things that require your attention, both personally and professionally. 

5. Unplug. Be careful how you invest your downtime, specifically when using the internet, your phone, the TV, or video games. They can be refreshing (“turning your brain off for a bit”), but they can also leave you feeling empty and annoyed that you consumed – or over-consumed – a chunk of valuable time. Balance is important and because we are all so plugged in all the time, make sure to unplug – go for a walk, garden, read a book, cook/bake, and similar activities will provide a different level of rest and renewal. 

6. Ask others to spend time with you outside of work. It can be very lonely as a leader and spending time with people that you are not leading is refreshing! I know that sounds weird, but it’s true! 

Be proactive and ask a few people to do things with you. Reconnect with old friends. It’s all too common to lose track of your friends over the years, even friends that live close by. Much like everything else already highlighted, you must be deliberate and actually invest time to make this happen. Yes, for you introverts out there, some alone time is imperative.  But, pick up the phone, reach out to your friends, and go hang out!

7. Make a schedule. By the time you go to bed on Sunday night, try to make plans to do something outside of work at least once over the next week. Create plans and put them on your schedule. Again, this one seems a bit silly. But, I bet most of us are spending time on Sunday evenings thinking about our week ahead and planning out our work week. 

Why not do the plan for life too?!? There is a reason it is called “work/life balance” and not just “work balance”! 

We all get it: Work is important! But, despite it being a key and critical part of who and what we are, it is only one aspect of the total!

There is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance. The right balance looks different for everyone. Some days you’ll focus more on work and some days more on life. The key here is that balance can achieved over time, not each day. But, it takes work to make work-life balance work!

As a result of my dramatic career change, I began to do things I enjoy. I started coaching my son’s baseball teams – and that’s now been 10 years! I am heavily involved in church. We have great friends who also love to cook, and we’ll plan a full day of cooking and invite other friends to come enjoy the feast. We go see family down in Florida – typically for a bit longer than I ever would have been able to previously. The list goes on, but the point is, I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor, not just stockpiling it in the hopes I would be able to at some distant future – and missing the fun ride along the way!

A balanced life includes meaningful activities outside of work. Plan, invest, and do things outside of work that bring you fulfillment, joy, and satisfaction.  It will positively impact all areas of your life! 

At Siena Group, we are your Thermoforming Talent Partner! We’re here to help in any and every way possible! With more than 30 years of experience in manufacturing, hiring & recruiting talent, we bring a greater understanding of the companies we partner with and the candidates we pursue. Let’s Strengthen Your Search!

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