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How Can You Help Employees Find Better Work-Life Balance?

work-life balance

Are your employees struggling with their work-life balance? Is your HR department, too? In this article, you’ll discover legal frameworks for work-life balance, some impactful research, and, of course, top tips to keep your employees thriving while balancing their jobs and their personal lives.

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What Is a Good Work-Life Balance?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, work-life balance is “the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy”. A good work-life balance is about finding a way to balance the stresses of work and life with personal joys, triumphs, moments of delight, and happiness. Having a good balance of work that earns income and provides meaning, with a life outside of work that is positive and joyful overall could be considered a good work-life balance. So why should employers care whether you have a good work-life balance or not?

Is It Challenging To Find Work-Life Balance?

Once upon a time, work was work and home was home. Before the internet, the ubiquity of laptop computers, smartphones, and the ‘always on’ culture of modern life, the separation between work and home life was sacrosanct.

Or, was it? Even 30+ years ago, being able to find a balance between the demands of work and the relative calm of home was stressful. Research on the history of the term indicates that the first reference to the concept of work-life balance appeared in the USA in an article in Industry Week entitled “Time to diversify your life portfolio?” back in 1986, so it would appear that burning the candle at both ends is certainly not a new problem.

In balancing the demands of work and life, it’s also important to remember that some people actually find work less stressful than home. In an interesting study reported in ScienceDirect entitled “Has work replaced home as a haven?” researchers analyzed the presence of the stress hormone cortisol in volunteers’ saliva samples. As this article explains, “Cortisol levels didn’t spike when the volunteers were at work. They soared when the volunteers were home.”

What Happens When Work and Life are Not in Balance?

Regardless of whether being in the workplace does increase stress or not, there is a large body of research indicating that spending too many hours at work is not good for us.

According to research done by RescueTime in 2019, who analyzed 185 million working hours of anonymized and aggregated time: 40% of people use their computers after 10 pm, workers average at least one hour of work outside of working hours on 89 days/year (and on approximately 50% of all weekend days) and a whopping 26% of work is done outside of normal working hours!

While some companies see this as ‘the way things are done around here’, long hours backfire for both people and companies. Research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2019 indicated that long working hours make people very sick. They found it increased the risks of cardiovascular diseases, chronic fatigue, stress, depression, and anxiety. It reduces sleep quality and increases ‘all-cause mortality’, alcohol use, and smoking.

In addition, research reported by the Harvard Medical School revealed that working more than 55 hours a week raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In addition, according to an article published in The Atlantic, “long work hours affect romantic relationships, too. One study found that women whose male partners worked 50 or more hours a week were more stressed and felt their relationships were of lower quality than those partnered with men who worked 35 to 49 hours.”

What Are The Advantages Of Better Work-Life Balance for Employees?

So what’s the alternative? Giving employees choice and control about how to do their work and keep their lives under control. As the acas guide on Flexible working and work-life balance puts it, “employees who have a better work-life balance often have a greater sense of responsibility, ownership, and control of their working life.”

Employees with a good work-life balance are more efficient, productive, and motivated. Having a good work-life balance makes people happier while benefiting the company (click here to read more about corporate culture and the cultural web model today).

Employees who feel they have more choice and control of their lives feel better at work. This results in lower levels of absence, sickness, and stress. Similarly, happier employees provide better customer service. In addition, employees whose time and work are respected and appreciated show greater loyalty and commitment and they’re even more likely to stay with the business for longer.

What Are The Laws Around Work-Life Balance?

The importance of work-life balance is so critical that even the European Commission has recognized it. According to Eurofund, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, “On 17 November 2017, the European Parliament, the Council, and the European Commission formally proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights, which included an initiative to support work-life balance.”

This came 14 years after the EU Working Time Directive was issued which, in essence, “gives EU workers the right to at least 4 weeks in paid holidays each year, rest breaks, and rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours; restricts excessive night work; a day off after a week’s work; and provides for a right to work no more than 48 hours per week.” (You can find more legislation relating to work-life balance in the UK on the employers for work-life balance website. This includes legislation around equal pay, flexible working and part-time workers’ rights.)

How Does the UK Compare with the Rest of Europe?

According to the OECD’s Better Life Initiative and their ‘How’s Life? 2020’ report on measuring well-being, “In European countries, the full-time employed generally have more time off than elsewhere”. While people in England have among the most generous annual leave packages worldwide (almost all workers in England are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual paid leave (28 days) a year, according to gov.uk) the same is not true for the number of hours they work. Many British companies expect employees to opt-out of the EU Working Time Directive, and most employees are happy to do so – or, at least, they sign the opt-out clause regardless of whether they are happy about it or not.

How to Ensure a Good Work-Life Balance for Your Employees: 8 Top Tips

When it comes to a good work-life balance, employers can certainly do things that make employees more comfortable. This includes providing flexible working, helping employees have fun at work, and reassuring them with a good benefits package. They can also give their employees autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

These three key elements of Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us are described as follows:

  • Autonomy is the ability to have control over the tasks we do.
  • Mastery is the ability to become better at something that matters.
  • Purpose is about giving employees a reason to get up and go to work in the morning.

The best companies provide a combination of all of these. Here’s a list of some tips you can try, too, to ensure a good work-life balance for your employees.

How Companies can Help Employees Improve Their Work-Life BalanceHow Employees Can Help Improve Their Own Work-Life Balance
Provide flexible hours and schedulesPrioritize your time: Be realistic about what you can actually get done in a day
Communicate your benefits clearly – including vacation time, time off for community initiatives, health coverage, and even office perksManage your work life: Plan a schedule and factor in time to be human, have conversations, eat, drink and take bathroom breaks. And stop at a decent time at the end of the day
Promote exercise – not just as part of your company health programme, but also as a way of enjoying collegial or sporty collaboration to encourage healthy competitionMake exercise a must-do, not a should-do
Give people time off over weekends (for example, responding to emails over the weekend should be discouraged) and let them take all the holiday they’re entitled to take (or force them to take it, if necessary)Take holidays: Even if you can’t take an overseas vacation this year, be sure to take time away from the office (especially if ‘the office’ is in a room of your house) and disconnect properly
Encourage social and team-building activitiesTalk about problems and challenges at work – from unrealistic deadlines to unfair responsibilities or time-consuming demands that could be simplified
Make workplace giving, volunteering and support part of your culturePay to your strengths: Don’t try and be all things to all people
Have an open-door policy. This encourages employees to communicate openly, talk about grievances and share ideas: reducing stress and improving collaborationApproach others when you have ideas and try to find inspiration in your work
Encourage employees to work with autonomy, develop mastery of their work and share your company’s purpose as well as their role in making that a realityDo what you love: other than just work, make time to do what you enjoy at home

HR Leaders: Take Care Of Your Own Work-Life Balance!

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