In the first article of this series, we looked at overall stress and why it’s important for employers to pay attention to stress levels in the workplace. To recap, high levels of stress can impact an employee’s health, increase the likelihood of workplace accidents, and affect productivity. We also discussed steps to take to identify and address the causes of workplace stress.
In this article, we’re going to dig deeper by looking at one of the top stress sources that impacts workplace stress: Work-Life Balance.
What It Is
Work-Life Balance is the amount of pressure the employee may feel in their organizational position, and the conflict between organizational (work) and other roles outside the workplace (life). An imbalance between work and life can make it difficult to get work done, even if the reason for the imbalance is too much work. This kind of stress is often distracting and can impact the quality of the employee’s work.
What Causes It
There are several work-related factors that can cause an imbalance between work and life. Bad or overbearing bosses, consistently having to work beyond standard business hours, inflexible work hours or rigid time-off scheduling, incompetent co-workers, or long commutes can often cause an imbalance between work and home life.
While technological innovations have improved the workplace, the ability to always remain connected to work, via phone calls or urgent work emails outside of working hours, has helped to disrupt employees’ work-life balance.
Work-Life imbalance isn’t solely triggered by work. An overload of an employee’s life can also cause that imbalance. For example, caring for an elderly parent, having a new baby, or chairing a committee for a cause important to them may demand considerable energy that might impact the employee’s work.
How To Improve It
Identify the Problem
As discussed in the first article, step one is to identify the problem. In this case, the issue is with Work-Life Balance (or imbalance). Determine the source of the stress – is it the “work” side or the “life” side? Have group discussions or one-on-ones with key employees to help pinpoint the source.
It can be tempting to disregard this stress source as one that “can’t be helped.” Changing work hours or hiring help may not always be possible, but there’s still ways to improve the stress the employees are feeling.
Design and Implement Interventions
Once you’ve determined whether the work-life imbalance is coming from the work or life side, the next step is to design and implement interventions. Below are some potential interventions to help employees balance their work and personal lives. While there may be some limits to what an employer can do for issues caused by the life side, several of the potential interventions below can affect both.
Offer Flexible or Remote Hours
Employees will value an employer who shows that the employer trusts the employee to manage their own time, and the ability to be flexible with their schedule will help to improve work-life balance. Having the ability to take time off to go to the doctor, schedule a home repair, or go to their child’s sporting event will help to lessen the feeling of not having time for “life.”
Focus on Productivity Rather Than Hours
Completion of tasks should be more important than the number of hours worked. There are days where an employee may need a full day to complete a task, and days where the full day isn’t required. This gives employees more autonomy with their time and can allow them to better participate at home. It can also open opportunities within the workplace to learn and grow within their career.
Regularly Review Workloads
It’s important to ensure employees have manageable workloads, so employers and supervisors should have regular conversations with their employees and teams. This will help to know who is busy and stressed and who has the capacity and desire to take on more. Encourage employees to be open with their supervisor on their capability to take on more or need to lessen their workload to help avoid a larger issue.
Lead By Example
Employers, senior leadership, and supervisors can help their employees have a healthy work-life balance by leading by examples themselves. Prioritize leaving the office on time, taking breaks, and not contacting employees outside of regular office hours. If the organization offers flexible schedules, employers and leadership should utilize it themselves.
Acknowledge Every Employee is Different
While some employees may have issues with imbalance between their work and life, otehrs may be satisfied with the time they spend working. Each employee is different, so solutions to fix work-life balance should not be one-size-fits-all. Some employees may want to start later but would be happy to work later as well. Others may be willing to work extended hours but want to be able to get home at a certain time. Having a more personalized approach can help employers attract and retain employees, as well as provide greater satisfaction in the workplace.
Set Boundaries with Clients
It’s important to set boundaries with clients to help boost productivity and retention, as well as showing the employer cares about their employees’ work-life balance. Defined business hours, respecting employees’ vacation and weekends, and encouraging leaving on time, when possible, can improve efficiency during work hours, set client expectations, and retain valuable employees.
Restrict Work Hours
As mentioned in the points above, long hours do not necessarily mean more productivity. To combat burnout and high stress related to work-life balance, it can be helpful to set dedicated working hours that are enforced companywide. This encourages employees to get their work done efficiently while also giving them more flexibility when it comes to their personal lives.
Evaluate the Interventions
The last step of the process, as discussed in the first article, is to evaluate the interventions that were implemented to determine if they’ve been successful. It can take time to see the effects of any new intervention, so measuring quarterly can provide valuable insights into whether the needle is moving in the right direction.
Remember, workers tend to remain more committed to the organization and perform at a higher level when they’re experiencing a motivating, rather than damaging, level of stress. When an organization shows that it is committed to ensuring employees have a healthy, low-stress work environment, employee retention, productivity, and engagement improves. As Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, says regarding work-life balance, “I truly believe that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business.”