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How Can You Help Employees Find Better Work-Life Balance?
Here’s the truth: work-life balance is not a new concept, but it is taking on renewed. This is due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as general trends toward more technology and more access to employees every hour of the day. If anything, work-life balance is now more important than ever and, therefore, more important for HR to acknowledge and encourage.
In this article, we offer a legal framework for work-life balance, some impactful research about the topic, and, of course, some of our top tips to ensure your employees are getting the most from work and from life.
What Is Work-Life Balance?
The concept of work-life balance is the blend between professional and personal activities, as well as how they are prioritized for employees. Think of it like this: the amount of time an employee spends at work, the amount of time they spend at home, and the amount of time they think about work while at home. Keeping this in balance isn’t easy, but it is essential.
What Is A ‘Good’ Work-Life Balance?
The tricky part about work-life balance is that it is very topical and therefore has an evolving standard. After all, the workplace fifty years ago was a far different environment than workplaces today. Essentially, 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.
That means 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. As a very basic understanding, this is what we might define as a good balance.
Who Is Responsible For Work-Life Balance?
At the end of the day, employers can play a key role in helping employees better develop work-life balance. While it may not always be perfect, this is where the responsibility lies. Employers have to take care of their health of their employees, while preserving their productivity. This means it’s not only advantageous to ‘own’ work-life balance, but it is also the right thing to do.
Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?
Work-life balance is essential because it has a direct effect on productivity. When work-life balance is aligned, employees find meaning in their work, are able to ‘log off’ when they need a break, and their best work is completed. When misaligned, though, employees can be less productive, suffer burnout more easily, and raise your attrition rate as a result.
Work-Life Balance: The Research
The fact is that 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."
How Does Better Work-Life Balance Help Employees?
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.
Are There Laws Regulating Work-Life Balance?
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.
What Is Work-Life Balance Like In The UK?
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.
8 Tips To Ensuring Positive Balance
When it comes to a good working 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.
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 Balance||How Employees Can Help Improve Their Own Work-Life Balance|
|Provide flexible hours and schedules||Prioritize 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 perks||Manage 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 competition||Make 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 activities||Talk 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 culture||Pay 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 collaboration||Approach 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 reality||Do what you love: other than just work, make time to do what you enjoy at home|
How Can HR Encourage Better Balance?
HR has a key role to play in enabling employees to pursue a better work-life balance. All they require is the time to focus on these strategic initiatives. That’s why HR software can help teams focus on what matters: their people, along with instituting things like personal development funds, self-care days, or simply helping employees understand that they need both personal and professional lives with meaning.
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