Work life balance is something we all strive for. From the entry level employee all the way to the top of the executive team, it often seems like everyone is trying to squeeze too much time out of every day. It’s critical to find more balance in our lives and career, for many reasons. When people feel like their lives are in balance, they can focus on what’s important to them without feeling guilt, stress, and frustration. But when their lives are not in balance, it’s hard to know what to do first when you’re being pulled in multiple directions. Keeping professional boundaries between work and home life is becoming increasingly difficult, especial since the rise of technology. Smartphones now us connected 24/7 making it difficult to unplug from work. It’s so tempting to fire off a quick email or respond to a texted question. Then at work, it can be equally as difficult to disconnect from drama happening at home. There’s no easy answer on what to do because this reality has become a way of life for many. And it’s a reality with consequences. A poor work life balance or a large dose of stress can lead to burnout, turnover, disengagement, bitterness, and decreased productivity at work. Given how important a healthy, motivated workforce is, shouldn’t all managers be asking, “So how do we make this better?”
What is the cost of all this stress and burnout these days to companies?
The American Institute of Stress – Workplace Stress Survey shows that workplace stress is the leading cause of stress for American adults and is getting increasingly worse. In fact, stress from work is nearly half (46%) to blame for poor employee health, including high blood pressure and heart attacks. Another study conducted by the American Psychological Association states that job pressure is reported as the top cause of stress among adults in the U.S.
Once stress becomes a daily aspect of work, burnout quickly follows. The cost of burnout to companies can be insidious, but it’s becoming significant in industries and job roles where this is accepted as part of the job. One article in the Harvard Business Review shared that employee burnout costs companies in the ballpark of $125 billion to $190 billion in additional medical spending annually. This impacts the bottom line of companies paying healthcare premiums for their employees. Then there are the companies that experience costs associated with absenteeism, employees taking frequent sick days, and those who come to work but whom are producing the bare minimum due to depression and lack of interest in the quality of their work anymore.
What are some work life balance strategies to help?
There are some things that any individual can do to improve work life balance, and employers can support the effort. Here’s four to consider:
1) Time management is a must
First and foremost, everyone should be using some kind of time management system, such as a planner or calendar, to keep track of projects and tasks. This can be shareable so that management can see who has free time before assigning new projects to employees. Promoting time management by offering courses can also help employees find time to get things done on time, with less stress. Daily check-ins or stand ups can be useful as well at the start. Yes, daily. When you check in for a few minutes each morning, it helps employees manage what’s expected of them in a workday and allows management the opportunity to more clearly see who is overworked and who might be able to lend a hand. This can taper off once employees get into the habit of scheduling the appropriate amount of work per day, rather than feeling like 6 months of projects are resting on their shoulders at all times.
2) Technology tamers
Employees should be encouraged to leave their personal mobile devices turned off while at work, except for lunch breaks and to handle emergencies. This can reduce distractions and personal life stress from invading the workplace. In terms of in-office technology and practices, try to eliminate the need for so many face-to-face meetings by offering virtual meeting alternatives and promoting the use of the telephone instead of email. And a black-out communication policy for after hours is also effective. Now yes, in some roles you do need to be reachable but for those in roles where communication isn’t as time-sensitive, encourage employees not to respond to work emails between the hours of 6pm-6am. And regardless of the role or seniority, when you’re people take vacation time, make sure it’s a real vacation. No contact whatsoever. No work. No expectations. Everyone needs mental breaks no matter how important their role is and without them, productivity declines and stress builds. So let personal time be personal time whenever possible.
3) Wellness support
It is easy for employees to get so caught up in work all the time that they forget to take care of their physical and mental well-being. Make sure that every employee has access to wellness support at work. There are many, many ways to do this from direct support via benefit providers to assistance from the employer in-house. Some ideas include an on-site cafeteria serving healthy meals, daycare support, a fitness area for getting some exercise in or a gym allowance, and massage therapy for sore muscles. If you’re lucky enough to have land or gardens, create a walking path around the building for people to walk to burn off stress or get outside into the sunshine. Lunch and learns or workshops on mental health and how to protect it are also useful to educate your staff on why it matters and what they can do about it. And give people flexible time off so they don’t have to choose between work and personal life when there is a crisis. Life happens and the old idea that work comes before all is no longer appropriate in most cases. When the unexpected arises, let your people know they have the resources and flexibility to deal with it without jeopardizing their positions.
4) Social environment
When someone is suffering from low work life balance, it is often because they don’t know how to ask for help when they need it. No one wants to look weak in front of the boss or peers, so they hide their frustrations and alienate from colleagues. Instead of working in a silo, people should be encouraged to mingle. Relationships matter and they help people become better at managing life and work. A Harvard Study of Adult Development kept track of the lives of 724 working men for nearly 80 years. What they found was that quality relationships positively impact our health and happiness. Encourage more social interactions and collaborations. This can be social nights out, family day picnics, or at work celebrations. Your staff will feel appreciated and they’ll be mingling with their peers. Win win all around.
Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to work life balance?
There are methods (like those just mentioned) that work for the majority of people to reduce stress and increase productivity. But then there are some employees who may need another level of support. For example, some employees are natural workaholics and they will take on every project to prove to themselves that they are the best. They often live this way outside of work too by taking on hobby after hobby. A manager may see someone like this as a valuable member of the team. The problem is, the person’s work and health is likely suffering as a result of this behavior. Deadlines are missed. Quality starts to decline. The person often comes to work sick. They might even be struggling with self-esteem and insecurity issues. In cases like this, it’s time for management to notice and step in, perhaps providing support on self-care or offering reduced work hours for a bit of a break. A custom plan to help the employee gain some work life balance is a better approach than ignoring the issue and waiting for them to quit.
Keep in mind everyone, even those star performers, deserve a mental break from work life and when they have it, productivity improves. Providing and supporting a better work-life balance is a great goal for any organization or manager. It improves the employee’s professional life, engenders staff loyalty, and improves work quality. Take the time to step back and look at your corporate culture and flexible hour policy. Are you doing what you can to improve the lives of your employees or are there a few more strategies you can try? Not every tactic will work for every company but when management cares about the health of their workers, everyone wins.