We all have heard it before: work hard now so you can enjoy your life later. And while that might have been sage advice for our grandparents’ generation, today's workforce is not having it.
The rise of the Quiet Quitting movement is just one of the signs that employees are no longer willing to sacrifice their personal lives for their professional ones.
People have been leaving companies at extraordinarily high rates in recent years in order to live a fulfilling life amidst modern career demands.
It is true that employees need to set boundaries and manage their own time and energy, but there's no denying that employers too play a significant role in these things.
In this article we'll talk about ways to support your employees in finding greater work-life balance, and why that's good for both them and your business.
The Importance of Work-Life balance
Having enough time to unwind from daily tasks, spend time with loved ones, and pursue outside interests is a need that is self-evident to most people.
We somewhat intuitively understand that being able to relax and recharge is important for our physical and mental health, but in recent years there's been a growing body of research that has quantified the importance of work-life balance:
The list goes on.
So it's not just about being tired or not having time for a hobby. Poor work-life balance can have a serious impact on physical and mental health, relationships, and the overall well-being of a person.
And these impacts don't just stop at the individual level.
The Impact of Work-Life Balance on Employee Performance
It's important to understand that the effects of poor work-life balance don't just stop at the employee's door.
There is a direct correlation between work-life balance and overall employee performance. Employees who are struggling to find a good work-life balance are more likely to:
- Be less productive when they are at work.
- Take more sick days.
- Be less engaged with their work.
- Turnover rates are 50% higher for employees who don't have a good work-life balance.
So it's not just about being a good employer, though that's certainly part of it. There are real business benefits to be gained from creating a culture that supports work-life balance.
What Causes Poor Work-Life Balance?
There are dozens of reasons that an employee might be struggling to find a good work-life balance, and as mentioned before not all are in the employer's control.
But let's take a look at the most common reasons that employees cite for having a poor work-life balance that actually are within an employer's power to change.
Unreasonable and Unsustainable Workloads
This might be one of the most obvious causes of poor work-life balance, but it's also one of the most common.
They are also one of the top factors contributing to the attrition rates we've been seeing in recent years.
If your employees are constantly being asked to do more than is reasonably possible, or if they're regularly working excessive hours, that's a problem.
At best it leads to low morale and high levels of stress, and at worst it can cause physical and mental health problems down the road.
So What Can You Do About That?
There are a few things you can do to help your employees manage their workload in a way that is sustainable and doesn't sacrifice their personal time.
Let's take a look at a few of the most effective:
Try to get a better understanding of what a reasonable workload looks like for your employees, and make sure that you're not constantly pushing them beyond their limits.
A feedback loop is essential here. If you're not regularly checking in with your employees to see how they're doing, you won't know if they're struggling under an unreasonable workload.
Keep in mind that hiring more staff is not always the answer. In many cases, it's more productive (and cost-effective) to invest in training and development so that your existing employees can be more efficient and effective in their roles.
The type of training you choose can make a world of a difference. Investing in an informal learning culture instead of corporate training helps employees learn new skills at their own pace – which can make a big difference when they're trying to juggle a lot of different tasks.
Depending on the type of business you're in, there may be certain tools or technologies that can help your employees be more efficient, and therefore free up some time in their day.
Be it internal communication, information sharing, or project management tools, if there's a way to make your employees' jobs easier, it's worth considering.
The Lack of Flexible Work Options
Rigidity when it comes to working hours and location is one of the top complaints employees have about their jobs. And it's not hard to see why.
During the pandemic, the majority of workers were forced to work from home. While that certainly had its downsides, it also gave them a work-life balance they never had before. And simply going back to the way things were is not an option for many.
It's not just about saving time on commuting, though that's certainly a factor. Having the flexibility to work from home (or anywhere else) gives employees a sense of control over their time that they wouldn't otherwise have.
Is a Hybrid Work System the Answer?
The pandemic has forced many employers to re-evaluate their stance on remote work, and it's likely that we'll see a lot more hybrid work models in the future.
The so-called hybrid approach can work well for both employees and employers. Employees get the best of both worlds – the flexibility to work from home when they need to, and the opportunity to socialize and collaborate with their colleagues in person.
And employers get to keep their most talented employees happy, while still being able to take advantage of the benefits that come with having everyone in one place.
Of course, there are some challenges that come with hybrid work models. Ensuring that everyone is on the same page when it comes to communication and collaboration can be tricky, and there's always the risk of people feeling isolated if they're working from home too much.
But by investing in the right tools, such as internal communication apps and the like, employers can help mitigate some of these risks.
Flexible Work Hours
Allowing employees to choose their own work hours is another way to improve work-life balance.
Of course, this isn't always possible, depending on the nature of the job. But if you can be flexible with start and end times, it can make a world of a difference for employees.
Giving employees the freedom to choose their own work hours can help them better manage their time, and ultimately leads to a more productive workforce.
What's more, research has shown that happy workers are more productive workers. So, if you want your employees to be productive, you need to give them the opportunity to find a work-life balance that works for them.
Unplugging After Work
Have you heard the term infobesity? It's a witty coinage based on the words information and obesity and refers to the glut of data we're bombarded with on a daily basis.
Being available 24/7 has become the new norm, and remote work has actually made it worse. Remote workers have various tools at their disposal, that are meant to make it easier for them to connect to colleagues and get tasks done.
But that does come at a price. The constant stream of messages, pings, notifications, and emails can be overwhelming. Apart from the fact that the constant context switching is sabotaging productivity, it's also making it harder for people to disconnect after work.
So how can you help? Getting rid of all the digital distractions is not realistic (or even desirable), but there are certain steps you can take to mitigate the effects:
Reviewing and streamlining internal communications so that employees aren't overloaded with information. This includes sending emails only when necessary, targeting the right people with relevant information, and allowing enough time for employees to process the information.
Establishing and maintaining a central repository of information that employees can access for important tools and resources they need to do their jobs. This will save employees time from searching for information, but also from receiving pings about where to find things.
Encouraging employees to set aside some time each day to disconnect from work completely. This means no checking email, no logging into work chat, and no working on any projects. This "digital detox" will help employees recharge and come back to work feeling refreshed and ready to be productive.
Practicing due diligence about the number/quality of emails sent to team members, and the frequency of meetings.
Serving as an example to employees by refraining from after-hours communication yourself.
Scheduling occasional “no-meeting Fridays” to give employees a chance to catch up on work and spend some time in silence. This can be used for reading, writing, or reflection.
And last, but certainly not least: talk to your employees. Ask them which channels work for them, and which ones they find more stressful than helpful. Not everyone is the same, and what works for one person might not work for another. The key is to find a balance that works for your team.
After all, it's impossible to please everyone, but by establishing a dialogue, you can at least get a better understanding of what your employees need.
Work-Life Balance Should Be Part of Your Culture
Creating a work-life balance is not just about implementing the right policies, it's also about building the right culture.
A culture of overwork is detrimental to both employees and the company. It leads to burnout, disengagement, and ultimately, a high turnover rate.
When you have a culture of overwork, employees feel like they have to sacrifice their personal lives in order to be successful at work. This is not only unhealthy, but it's also unsustainable.
To create a healthy work-life balance, you need to start with the right mindset. Leaders need to set the tone and make it clear that employees are not expected to sacrifice their personal lives for their job.
It's also important to promote a culture of transparency and respect. Employees should feel like they can openly discuss their concerns about work-life balance without judgment.
Finally, you need to walk the talk. If you're asking your employees to maintain a work-life balance, you need to do the same. Model the behavior you want to see in your team.
The Bottom Line
It's not just employees who benefit from a better work-life balance. When employees are happy and healthy, it's good for business.
With the right policies and procedures in place, employers can create a culture of work-life balance that will help employees be more productive, engaged, and satisfied with their jobs. And that's good for everyone.