Striking that perfect balance between career and family has always been a challenge for American workers. Our schedules are getting busier than ever before, which often causes our work or our personal lives to suffer.
Work-life balance involves juggling workplace stress with the daily pressures of family, friends, and self. Modern employees demand greater control over their lives and a bigger say in the structure of their jobs. According to a recent Business Information Review publication, “The search for work-life balance is a process in which people seek to change things in accordance with changes in their own priorities, physical, psychological or both, and these can be triggered in their turn by factors such as: age; changes in working conditions; the demands of new technology; and poor management.”
Why Work-Life Balance is Important
When employees feel a greater sense of control and ownership over their own lives, they tend to have better relationships with management and are able to leave work issues at work and home issues at home. Balanced employees tend to feel more motivated and less stressed out at work, which thereby increases company productivity and reduces the number of conflicts among coworkers and management.
Companies who gain a reputation for encouraging work-life balance have become very attractive to workers and will draw a valuable pool of candidates for new job openings. These companies also tend to enjoy higher employee retention rates, which results in less time-consuming training, more loyalty, and a higher degree of in-house expertise.
Studies have shown that employees who have a positive work-life balance do a better job at work, so promoting this balance is beneficial to individuals and the company. This is a practical guide for employers who want to promote a healthy work-life balance for their teams.
Benefits Employers Can Consider Offering
These are some of the many ways that employers can promote work-life balance in the office without compromising productivity or efficiency.
One of the most positive ways to reduce stress is exercise, and every able-bodied adult should be getting at least 30 minutes of it per day. Employees who eat healthy and exercise are less at risk of getting sick and missing days from work, which could ultimately detract from your company’s productivity.
Many office buildings have a gym facility onsite, so encourage your employees to use it regularly if your building has this amenity. If not, consider offering your employees a membership discount at a local gym.
To hop onboard the fitness tracker trend, you can encourage your employees that have Fitbits or other fitness devices to connect with each other for a little healthy competition and motivation. If a local nonprofit is hosting a 5K charity race in the near future, post signs about it around your office to promote a good cause and encourage your employees to get active to support it.
As a parent, childcare duties don’t always stop when you leave for work in the morning. A family-friendly work environment has proven to benefit both employers and employees in a variety of different industries.
You can consider providing an onsite childcare facility that employs a trusted staff and takes the guesswork and frustrations out of other babysitting and daycare services. If this is not possible, you may want to offer your employees a childcare service discount to alleviate the stresses of caring for children during the workday and reduce the amount of missed work.
If neither one of these options is feasible for your business, try to allow your employees at least some flexibility to care for their children. This can include the ability to take time off to pick up a sick child from school, the ability to see a child’s school play at lunch time, or flexible start/end time for parents who drop off or pick up kids from school.
One of the best ways to boost employee morale and help workers get to know each other in a non-stressful capacity is by offering an occasional company outing. This type of outing can be as low-key or as extravagant as you like, depending on your company’s culture and budget for such things.
For example, you could organize a company-paid lunch either to be catered into the office or at a favorite group-friendly restaurant nearby. Happy hours, holiday parties, birthday celebrations, and park days are other fun ways to get out of the office and bond in a non-traditional setting. However, you don’t have to even leave the office to achieve this feeling of camaraderie. Some small companies have found great success in “breakfast club” programs in which employees take turns bringing in their favorite breakfast foods (either homemade or store-bought) to share with co-workers.
Ways to Encourage Balance in the Office
Project managers have a unique role in helping companies and employees work together to accomplish a reasonable work-life balance. These professionals are often tasked with the responsibility of supporting team development and challenging industry working condition standards. Ultimately, these are tasks that are crucial to individual and organizational productivity in the workplace.
To help you begin fostering a culture of balance in the workplace, here are 10 ways to encourage work-life balance among your employees.
Maintain Structural Consistency
It is important to maintain a sense of consistency and organization in your company structure because employees generally feel less anxiety if they know what to expect day-to-day as often as possible. Don’t be afraid to shake things up from time to time, but a steady and reliable work environment can counteract stresses that employees feel at home.
Offer Community Engagement Opportunities
Another great way to connect the dots between work time and out-of-work time is to offer community engagement activities that are meaningful and beneficial. For example, you could consider offering eight hours per year of paid volunteer time to your employees as an incentive to get involved in important community causes.
Create a Designated “Quiet Space”
Every employee has a bad day from time to time, so it’s nice to have a space for employees to go to when they just need to step away for a moment. Create a designed quiet space in your office where employees can take a mental break when they need to.
This space should be uncluttered and free of all company materials. Instead, fill it with luscious plants and flowers, comfortable seating, some light reading material, and perhaps some soft music. Establish a precedent that this space is not an employee lounge that welcomes chatter, laughter, venting, or meetings. This should be a calming space for silent reflection that respects solitude and peace.
Allow Schedule Flexibility
Not every business is well-suited for a virtual workforce, so don’t compromise the productivity of your company if you need your employees to arrive at work in-person. However, it is another thing entirely to give your employees the option to work remotely when they really need to because of an emergency that requires them to make up time later.
For example, if your employee’s child is sick, consider offering her the opportunity to work from home that day or come into the office over time weekend to make up for lost time. This way your employee doesn’t have to worry about missing work and wages from taking the time off and your company’s deadlines can still be met.
Engage in Team-Building Exercises
Team-building exercises may sound too cheesy for your company environment, but some of them really do foster a much-needed sense of team work around the office. If your employees feel like they can depend on each other for support, they will feel like they have someone to go to when feeling stressed out or overwhelmed.
Many companies stick to the old standard of two weeks of vacation per year, but studies and surveys have shown that 14 days off per 365 days in the year simply isn’t enough to achieve a work-life balance. Employees who work at small companies and growing start-ups often feel the most pressure to work every day without regard to personal time and self-rejuvenation.
One way to encourage your employees to take vacations for their own benefit it to implement a “use it or lose it” vacation policy, whereby employees’ allotted vacation time expires at the end of the year if left unused.
Encourage Short Breaks Throughout the Day
On a smaller scale, it’s important to workers’ mental and physical health to take frequent breaks throughout the day. The human body was not designed to sit still and stare at a screen for eight hours, and doing so can lead to a wide variety of health issues. Taking breaks at work also makes employees better at their jobs because they are more focused, less burned out, and more productive in the long-term.
Allow Unpaid Time Off for Life Events
Some life events merit paid time off, but other life cycle needs are a bit more complicated. Be considerate about your employees’ emergency family needs and their desires to better themselves.
For example, you could offer unpaid leave for events that don’t qualify under the Family and Medical Leave Act, such as helping care for a parent with a serious illness or extending maternity leave for a couple more months after the birth of a child. You may also wish to offer unpaid leave to valuable employees who want to attend graduate school or are exploring the option of moving to a new place for a spouse’s job.
Ask Employees for Guidance
Who better to consult about what employees in your office truly need than the employees themselves! If you get a sense that your employees are struggling with work-life balance, ask them what changes around the workplace might help. You might be surprised what you hear and collaborate on some mutually beneficial strategies together as a result.
To facilitate these discussions, which can often be difficult ones to bring up, consider having regularly scheduled meetings either as a group or as one-on-one discussions to talk about balance issues. These types of meetings can be held quarterly, semi-annually, or annually depending upon the size and individual needs of your workforce.
Be a Good Model for Balance
No one likes to take life advice from a hypocrite, so make sure that your words and actions are in line. If managers in your company are responding to emails while on vacation, it sends a message to employees that they are expected to do so as well. Be sure to respect the balance and privacy of your employees and avoid contacting them after normal work hours unless it is an absolute emergency.
Putting Ideas into Practice
As you can see, the long-term benefits of encouraging employees to find a balance between their work and home lives greatly outweigh any temporary inconveniences and policy changes. However, it’s also important to recognize the early warning signs of burnout, which is a continual state of physical and mental exhaustion. According to a American Journal of Nursing publication, a state of burnout can cause employees to become disconnected from both work and home because they don’t have enough energy to sustain both lives. Employees who feel unrecognized or dissatisfied at work can lead to burnout, and this type of exhaustion at work can be a health and safety hazard.
Overall, it’s important to encourage employees to be self-aware about their own personalities and tendencies, as some people are more prone to imbalances than others. Through your words, actions, and example, emphasize the need to continually assess one’s goals to determine what brings satisfaction, inner peace, and balance. Empowering your employees to take control over their work and home lives can have a profound impact on their job satisfaction and performance, enabling you to do what’s best and most effective for your company.
Spotlight on: Seniors
Reducing stress to increase performance in all aspects of life – including one’s job – is the ultimate goal of work-life balance. Adapt your benefits to address the needs of your work force, and watch as stress is reduced, work-life balance is enhanced, and satisfied, happier employees are driven to succeed in their roles.
Happy hours and supportive childcare do not exactly cater to the needs of older employees, who are often accustomed to the earlier, more traditional workplace culture that was less oriented towards serving its employees. This creates a disconnect that can exacerbate any generational gaps, and push older employees towards retirement unnaturally or prematurely.
Why does this matter? A huge segment of the US workforce is aging, with the threat of a massive wave of Baby Boomer retirement looming over. Losing older employees also means missing out on highly skilled, organized, dedicated employees with experience, who also represent a significant portion of the consumer population.
The best way to retain an awesome workforce is to serve the needs of your employees so that they can best serve your organization. With some simple tweaks, work-life balance can be sustained to meet the needs of seniors and keep them employed.
Here are some things you can offer your senior employees… although the best part is that all of these benefits can be made to serve all of your employees, directly and indirectly:
- Provide good health coverage for all employees, even part-time – Ask your employees what they would like to see improve about their health and life insurance coverage, and act on it. Take your employees’ health and wellness seriously, and they will return the respect.
- Wellness benefits including gym memberships, healthy snacks, and even massage treatments can help all of your employees, but they are particularly important for elderly employees who might not otherwise pursue (or afford) these measures in their downtime.
- Preventive benefits account for the real human need for increased health intervention after age 50. If your current health insurance policy does not cover measures like colonoscopies or prostate exams, consider adding these benefits.
- Self-care benefits like personal care, legal services (particularly targeting wills and estate planning), and discount programs can also address the concerns of senior employees and enhance their life.
- Let employees telecommute – Don’t push seniors to retire in order to finally pursue their dreams. By letting seniors work remotely, they can move to their ideal location, travel, and spend more time with their families – while still contributing to your organization’s success.
- Flexible hours – The perfect complement to working remotely is also offering flexible scheduling. In addition to pursuing what they want to pursue, this gives employees the option to take care of their needs – such as doctor’s visits.
- Retain employees as part-time and/or contractors, or using phased retirement – Adopting flexible employment models allows you to hold on to valuable business insight and skills that will enhance your team’s value. Additionally, older employees can guide training for less experienced workers, providing tested knowledge and transferring experience. One option for this is even a phased retirement model, which allows employees to work part-time while also drawing out a portion of the retirement income – stretching out their salaries and benefits further.
- Encourage employee training, workshops, and education. The fast rise of social media and new technologies can render everyone’s knowledge base quickly outdated. Help employees master new tech by supporting training and workshops.
- Embrace that learning feeds the mind. Consider offering continuing education benefits to allow your workforce to pursue its “bucket list.” Different companies offering this benefit vary on how tightly the connection to the company’s work must be for the classes taken (or if any connection is needed at all). Whether at a local college or even online through MOOCs like edX or Coursera, there are plenty of ways to support your employees to keep learning.