Zia Ahmed swears that he tries not to talk about work when he goes home for the night. But sometimes it just can’t be helped—after all, his wife and sons are huge Ohio State University sports fans.
“They love it,” the senior director of dining services at the Columbus, Ohio, university says. “But at the same time, I’m very disciplined. If they don’t ask me about [work], I just don’t talk about it.”
Ahmed admits his work-life situation is unique, but because of the strong connections to both their employees and diners, many operators struggle with leaving work behind at the door—and with whether to constantly check email once they’ve left for the day.
FoodService Director spoke to a handful about their work-life balance tips.
Set and manage clear expectations
This tip applies to life both at work and at home, Ahmed says. “[Help] people around you understand what the expectations are in terms of how busy or stressed you are,” he says. “The better you manage your expectations with your team and your family members, the better you will be able to manage your stress—and the better they will be able to support you.”
Work to live instead of living to work
Eric Eisenberg, corporate executive chef at Swedish Health Services, admits he struggled for years with stepping away from work—even while on a camping trip with no cellphone service. “Several years ago, I would have been driving out daily to see if there’s anything I needed to respond to,” he says. It took a wake-up call from his wife, who was tired of her husband constantly putting his job first, to make Eisenberg remind himself why he works in the first place. “If I don’t have a life for me and my family, what’s the point of the work?” he says.
Learn to gauge urgency and let tasks wait
There’s a difference between being available 24/7 for an emergency versus being constantly vigilant about checking email, Eisenberg says. “If I had to say one thing I really do differently, it’s that I don’t respond to the false sense of urgency,” he says.
Chris McCracken, director of nutrition services at University of California San Diego Health System, agrees. “[I] don’t like to have a lot of things on [my] list, but you have to let go of that,” he says. “The list will be there tomorrow.”
Communicate often—especially during travel
When Ahmed became president of the National Association of College & University Food Services, he reached out to past presidents to glean some wisdom. “One said, ‘Zia, I’ll give you advice, and you should take it very seriously: Stay in touch with your team at home and your family as much as possible,’” Ahmed says. “‘[Past presidents] had an excuse; we didn’t have the technology that you do. You have no excuse.’”
Capitalizing on technology while traveling doesn’t have to mean a phone call. While on a monthlong trip to China for a student-life staff exchange, Ahmed met with his teammates back in Ohio via Skype, and visited a local coffee shop almost nightly to send them photos of his day.
Use commuting time to transition
Because it takes him an hour each way to travel between home and work, McCracken says he leaves the office earlier than if he had a 10-minute commute. But, “I don’t mind the drive—it’s kind of a downtime for me,” he says. McCracken uses the time on his way to work to prioritize his schedule, while the return trip allows him to process the day’s events and conversations. “When I come home, I feel like I’m ready to be with my family,” he says.