Work-life balance, or the ability of an employee to allocate time and energy reasonably between their work and other aspects of their life, has become a luxury in the U.S.
In one report, the U.S. ranked 30th out of 38 countries in terms of work-life balance, noting that 11.4% of American employees work 50 or more hours a week. The negative impact this has on employee life has made it urgent for both employers and employees to make reforms in work systems and environments. The question is: is it even possible?
The Toll of Poor Work-Life Balance
The logical conclusion is that more hours at work means more time that an employee is productive. This runs on the assumption that people spend all their time in the office working regardless of other circumstances. On the contrary, there is a lot more that goes on psychologically in the background when employees don’t have enough time for themselves, their interests, and even their families. Employees use the time off work to cope with workplace stress, making them ready for their next day at work.
Not being able to destress has proven to have a tremendous impact on employees. A Global Benefits Attitudes Survey by Willis Towers Watson found that employees under high stress are more prone to absenteeism, work disengagement, and dips in workplace productivity. The World Health Organization just recently added “burnout” as a syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The organization states that reduced workplace efficacy is an unfortunate result of burnout.
These studies emphasize the now-undeniable need for improved work-life balance and generally healthier work settings. But can you do anything to resolve this need?
What You Can Do as an Employee
In most instances, creating a set-up conducive for work-life balance is entirely up to the employer. That doesn’t, however, mean that employees caught in this system are completely helpless. There are little adjustments that you can make as an employee to the way you do things to reduce workplace stress.
This is easiest to accomplish before employment. While you’re looking for work, be sure to keep an ear out for your prospective employer’s attitudes toward time flexibility, telecommuting, paid leaves, and so on. Fortunately, more and more companies are beginning to see the merit in newer models of productivity, so finding an employer with these workplace policies is likewise getting easier to do.
For parents, it’s been said before but can’t be said enough – find a company located at a manageable distance from home, your child’s school, and a hospital. Not only does this allow you to be more responsive to emergencies, this also gives you the satisfaction of being able to spend more time you’re your children, thereby motivating you for the daily grind at work. Founder of the Virgin Group Richard Branson took this concept to its ideal by working at home as he was building Virgin, but did so to fantastic results. “I suspect I’ll see more of my kids and family than almost any father,” he claims.
Another thing to look into is assessing and managing what you do at work and during your downtime. At work, it pays to be organized and clear about what you’re set to do for the day. Simplifying and clearly defining your tasks every day not only motivates you, as people are more driven to finish tasks perceived as “small” or easily accomplishable, but also allows you to fit in much-needed breaks into your daily schedule. When you’re not at work, don’t think of work.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella keeps his work life out of the time he spends with loved ones. This is because, he claims, work tends to have a “residual effect” on the rest of a person’s life that affects their ability to be fully physically and mentally present for the people closest to them.
Employers Benefit from Work-life Balance Too
The first thing you need to come to terms with as an employer is that the data is entirely against 50-day work weeks. With the negative impact of a low work-life balance out of the way, let’s take a look at how an improved work-life balance will work in your favor as an employer.
As established earlier, employees with more flexible and reasonable work schedules have proven to be a lot more productive. But another interesting effect that a good work-life balance has had is a tangible decrease in turnover rates. This, as supported by a number of studies, may be due to the fact that stress has been found to have a correlation with turnover intention.
Lastly, happy employees make for better employer branding, making your company more appealing to both clients and prospective employees. This is the case in Lexmark, which has been working on employer branding and has enshrined work-life balance in their employee policies. The company, the largest B2B imaging solutions firm in the world, implements a flexible work schedule and requires each employee to take at least an hour of break from work every day.
Yes, Balancing Work and Life IS Possible
Companies and employers around the world have seen the merit of incorporating the value of maintaining a work-life balance in their policies, resulting in management practices that have been to the benefit of both management and employees. Where employers have failed to do so, individual employees have developed methods for achieving that balance in their own capacities. With this, the point of inquiry has moved past the feasibility of work-life balance and on to what your company can do to get started on that shift.