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Work life balance: A controversial concept or the key to employee engagement?

Eve Davies-Greenwald Dec 4, 2018 9:00:00 AM

Years ago, company leaders pretty much scoffed at the idea of work life balance. They expected employees to put work first; personal life second. However, this changed as organizational leaders recognized the benefits of having a workforce with a little more work life balance. When employees can manage their time both at and away from work, they tend to be more productive when they are working.

The controversy about work life balance is who is responsible -- employers or employees? If it’s employers, then they can create a culture that respects the life responsibilities of employees. If it’s employees, then they can demand to have their personal time respected more. Does anyone care about this issue?

These days, some companies are seeing a trend toward creating benefits designed to increase work life balance. Perks like unlimited vacation, wellness programs, and a whole range of onsite lifestyle services can appeal to employees. But, do employers really care if employees take advantage of these benefits? Are employee needs aligned well with employer goals?

Comparably’s Best Companies for Work-Life Balance list, which gives a glimpse into both large and medium/small companies, details why work life balance matters from an employee standpoint. In the number one spot is Starbucks, which has a people-focused culture. The most recent survey found that “63% of Starbucks employees are satisfied with their work life balance while 42% feel they are burnt out.” This indicates at least some employees are not having their needs met.

Pro-Tip: Employee engagement starts right from their first experience as a candidate for a job

The disconnect between what employees need to be satisfied at work and what employers are offering

The 2018 Global Talent Trends study by Mercer collected data from 2,600 executives and HR leaders, plus 5,000 employees from 21 industries in 44 countries -- focusing on the changing trends in the workforce. Instead of work life balance, flexibility and purposeful work are growing in importance, particularly in an increasingly digital work environment. Some of the survey findings indicate a disconnect between what employers are offering and what employees want:

  • More than half of employees want more flexible work options so they can experience better work life balance.
  • One in two employees want to see employers place a greater focus on physical, mental and financial well-being.
  • Many employees indicated they would give up some perks for more meaningful work opportunities that give them a sense of purpose.

What impact does work life balance have on employee engagement?

Employees with poor work life balance devote a lot of energy to being stressed out, feeling guilty for working too much, and being pulled between career and life responsibilities. They cannot enjoy their work experience because they are in a sink-or-swim mode most of the time. Some of this is self-inflicted by employees who take on more than their share of responsibilities. But often, this is imposed on them by managers who assign project after project without checking first to see how the employee is managing.

Employee engagement metrics can indicate there is a problem with work life balance. Taking a pulse survey to evaluate engagement levels can indicate there are issues stemming from too much work, too little time to recover, and too little recognition from management. Consider if someone comes into work in a bad mood because something is out of balance in their personal life? This negative attitude certainly doesn’t make them very productive at work if they spend the majority of their day ruminating on it. This negativity also spreads to other people and they become disengaged too.

Read more: What's the link between employee engagement and turnover?

What are the pros to having a work life balance in your company and enforcing it?

It’s important to focus on ways to increase work life balance for all employees, but it’s equally just as important to make sure employees are taking advantage of work life benefits. There are always employees who make it a point of pride that they don't take any time off or make use of offered benefits to their full extent. Managers can do their part by making it mandatory for employees to take their paid time off, work from home when they need to, and get help for any ongoing problems. They can also help by walking their talk and maintaining a balance in their own lives. This has the double benefit of ensuring your management team is rested and productive as well as setting an example for the employees they manage. Other employees then see they don’t have to stress out or worry that if they take time off they will be judged or miss out on something important at work.

What are some things employers can do to try and bring balance into their company/corporate culture?

Employers should be empowered to rethink work life balance. They can review current programs and benefits to see what’s working and what’s not working. They can gather feedback from employees on engagement surveys. They can create benefits that address the deeper needs of employees, whether they decide to offer more flexible schedules, more paid time off, or incentives for volunteering.

At the same time, employers need to enforce these benefits to ensure everyone is taking advantage of them. Management can do their part by demonstrating work life balance and monitoring employees’ use of time off benefits, wellness support, and more. They can stop negativity from pervading the organization by meeting with unhappy employees to improve issues they may be facing. And they can create a culture of balance and health so that it becomes natural for all.

Work life balance and employee engagement go hand in hand. What is your organization doing to help promote a healthy lifestyle for all employees?

Topics: Employee Engagement, Talent Management

Eve Davies-Greenwald

Written by Eve Davies-Greenwald

Marketing Manager