Employees all over the world are turning their backs on jobs they no longer enjoy due to burnout, unfulfillment, and low pay. In a phenomenon dubbed ‘the Great Resignation,’ the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported a record-breaking four million quits in April 2021.
So, what has been the driving force behind these resignations? For many employees, the COVID-19 pandemic saw employees reevaluating their priorities and what matters most to them. Many employees faced the fact they were feeling burnt out, while others did some soul searching about what they wanted from their career and work life. In a recent study, 37% of the respondents stated that work became less of a priority while 48% claimed the work was okay but experienced more happiness outside their work.
The fact that burnout is one of the main reasons for employees quitting their jobs should act as a warning sign to employers. In this article, we provide 10 ways for organizations to foster a culture of employee work-life balance, create a psychologically safe environment for workers and offer support to employees so all teams can thrive and grow together.
This Article Includes:
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- The ‘Burnout’ phenomenon
- What are the causes of employee burnout?
- Why is it important to encourage a better work-life balance?
- 10 ways to foster better employee work-life balance
- Get improved team results with work-life balance
The ‘Burnout’ phenomenon
The World Health Organization recognizes burnout as an occupational phenomenon that has since increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. Burnout is defined as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion occurring from long-term stress in one’s job, or when you work in a physically and emotionally draining role for prolonged periods.
It first came to use in 1970 in the context of air traffic control where an increase in human precipitated collisions was linked to frustrations from the increased traffic, work monotony, and poor human-machine interface. Since the onset of the pandemic, workers have reported being prone to extreme levels of stress as compared to periods before the pandemic.
1 in 5 people in the workforce is unable to manage the pressure and stress levels from work, meaning that more employees will experience burnout. Furthermore, gender and age also play a significant role in the prevalence of burnout, with women and young people reportedly feeling more prone to extreme stress and pressure at the workplace.
What are the causes of employee burnout?
Unless addressed, burnout can harm people’s mental and physical well-being. In some cases, people can experience reduced energy levels and find it increasingly difficult to meet job demands.
But when you better understand what causes employee burnout, it becomes easier to detect it before it unfolds. Learning how to recognize an early stage symptom such as irritability or tiredness is critical to managing burnout, as is understanding the variety of causes across different levels of an organization:
- Personal circumstances. Difficult personal situations, inadequate support systems, and poor personal relationships can lead to burnout.
- Personal coping and regulation mechanisms. How well one is able to self-regulate emotions and process them impacts burnout.
- Underlying team structures. The size of the team, lack of collaboration, and ineffective ways to get things done can cause unwanted stress.
- Workloads. High workloads, inefficient allocation of tasks, and a lack of role clarity can cause issues.
- Communication. Poor communication amongst team members can cause burnout.
- Level of transparency within the organization. How readily leadership shares salient information with employees can lead to employees feeling unfulfilled.
- Poor employee benefits. Limited vacation time, the culture of no work-life balance and lack of employee recognition are detrimental at an organizational level.
- Lack of control. An organizational culture where employees aren’t encouraged to influence decisions and take risks in their job roles can increase the risk of burnout.
Considering the cost of burnout to both employees and employers alike, organizations need to put measures in place to identify and address burnout before its chronic effects kick in. In practice, this means providing leaders and managers with training and support on how to spot and prevent work-related stress accordingly. Moreover, employers need to start openly talking about stress levels and reducing the stigmatization associated with workplace burnout.
Why is it important to encourage a better work-life balance?
For employees, work-life balance means carving out appropriate time for their professional and personal lives. For organizations, employee work-life balance boils down to how organizations can achieve maximum productivity at a reasonable cost to their employees’ time and well-being.
A healthy employee work-life balance ensures employees are engaged, happy, and motivated to do their best work. Today, multiple generations make up a diverse workforce: a work-life balance will always mean something different to everyone.
Fostering a flexible work environment remains the best way to satisfy the work-life balance needs of all employees. A flexible environment will reduce stress, boost job satisfaction levels, and help employees maintain healthier habits. Failure to achieve this can lead to employee burnout, decreased business performance, and higher quit rates.
Organizations that focus on flexibility and work-life balance report improved productivity in their employees. Why? Because employees can choose when, where, and how they work. In return, employers report lower turnover rates and are able to source great talent thanks to a focus on well-being and personal growth.
10 ways to foster better employee work-life balance
The financial cost of neglecting employee wellbeing has become glaringly apparent, with burnout alone now costing the global population $322B each year.
As the responsibility of work-life balance shifts from employees to employers, it is becoming increasingly important for HR and L&D teams to implement initiatives that will promote a healthy work-life balance.
Below, we list ten key ways employers can create an environment that fosters better employee work-life balance.
1. Offer flexible and remote working
With the advancement and acceptance of the hybrid work model, flexible working hours can encourage a healthy work-life balance. Employers should look to form a flexible working policy to set clear expectations for both the employer and employee.
Get started with our sample flexible work schedule policy and learn why you need a flexible work arrangement.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working has become an increasingly common option for organizations looking to offer more flexible working options while improving productivity. Be sure to provide enabling technology such as instant messaging and project management tools to maintain communication and collaboration amongst team members.
Flexibility can be achieved through methods such as allowing employees to spend time in the office on some days and work from home on other days. Flexible work arrangements enable employees to have a life outside of work to meet family and personal needs, allowing them to appreciate the flexibility and in turn produce high-quality work.
2. Offer time management training
In some cases, employees suffer from burnout due to high workloads and poor time management. Often, they struggle to admit this and discuss it with their manager. One of the best ways to promote a healthy work-life balance is to teach employees about the importance of talking about burnout with your teams. Through this education, employees will feel more comfortable confronting their issues with work-related stress in a psychologically safe environment.
If you notice excessive absenteeism or increased error rates amongst your team, it might be because members of your team are suffering from burnout. If this is the case, you should bring up this topic with them and ask how you can help. Often, high workloads can be managed through prioritization and time management training. In-house seminars by managers or health experts and career coaches can help employees better understand the importance of time management which will have a positive impact on their work-life balance.
Furthermore, you can roll out Time Doctor’s work-life balance widget that allows you to track employees most likely to suffer burnout and take precautionary measures beforehand. It allows managers and administrators to define metrics for measuring employee work-life balance.
3. Regularly review workloads
As a follow on from the previous section, workloads should be reviewed often. Employees with huge workloads and limited time to complete tasks can eventually suffer from physical and mental stress. When employees are overloaded, the opportunities to restore balance in their work-life do not exist. To address the stress of your team’s workload, assess how you as a team are planning workloads, prioritizing work, delegating tasks, and saying no to projects.
Regularly review the allocation of duties among employees to ensure individuals have achievable workloads. Where required, proactively reduce employees’ workloads as this can significantly decrease feelings of burnout and provide space to rest.
Cross-training employees can also help distribute the workload to different departments and ensure the smooth running of operations. Furthermore, when there are urgent tasks to be completed within deadlines, you will have more employees on board to help reduce the workload.
4. Lead by example
Even when employees are aware that you have mechanisms in place to mitigate and manage burnouts, they will not necessarily follow these practices if you as a manager aren’t doing so yourself. While managers may encourage employees to take their unlimited PTOs, workers tend to follow their departmental heads’ actions. Managers and departmental heads should create the work-life balance models they expect their employees to exhibit.
Take being on vacation as an example. If a manager spends their entire vacation responding to emails, this sends a powerful message to employees regarding their own actions when on vacation. Employees are likely to feel they need to do the same when their vacation comes around.
As a manager, lead your team by example. Some ways you can promote a healthy work-life balance in your team are by:
- Making it clear that you do not answer work-related emails and calls after working hours
- You switch off completely on vacation
- You take your lunch breaks to encourage employees to do the same.
Once your employees see you value your personal time, they will prioritize theirs without feeling guilty.
5. Promote a collaborative learning approach
Collaborative learning should be a key component of your L&D strategy. This approach allows employees to learn new things from each other. Providing a training platform for employees to learn while giving them space and time to pursue cross-collaborative projects will keep employees happy and motivated. In addition, promoting a culture of continuous learning and focus on professional development will drive employee engagement, performance, retention, and your business’s competitive edge.
Ensuring employees have the skills required to fulfill their job roles will also reduce the risk of burnout. In addition, be sure as part of your L&D strategy to offer training and support on burnout and healthy work-life balance. This will not only help employees but will help employers nurture a positive company culture.
6. Encourage employees to get out and exercise
An integral part of fostering employee work-life balance is prioritizing personal health. Long working hours and frequent long commutes force employees to sacrifice their health and fitness.
It is advisable to take breaks every 75-90 minutes to improve concentration, reduce stress, and keep engagement levels up. Be sure to check in on your team members, particularly if they are working remotely, to make sure they are taking their breaks.
A good way to encourage team members to take breaks and exercise is by organizing walking challenges, offering free access to health apps, and giving discounts at gyms to help your workers maintain healthy lifestyles. Such initiatives promote work-life balance and build your company’s employer brand.
7. Increase support for parents and caregivers
Since the onset of the pandemic and the start of remote working, some workers have struggled to achieve a work-life balance due to care responsibilities. As a minimum, be sure to offer flexible working or the option to reduce working hours/job sharing so that parents and caregivers can manage both job and family responsibilities.
Your organization should aim to offer other benefits to support parents and caregivers including, equal maternity and paternity benefits or shared parental leave, catering childcare costs such as school fees, medical cover, and onsite daycare.
This additional support for parents and caregivers will greatly increase job satisfaction, reduce burnout, and help retain top talent.
8. Create policies around working hours
Working more hours can often result in reduced productivity. For instance, Britain has more working hours compared to its European counterparts but still has lower productivity. To ensure employees work efficiently, encourage them to work for certain hours when they feel more productive and take a break in their least productive hours.
Encourage employees to turn off their notifications between certain times for them to focus on their current tasks or breaks. This is likely to increase productivity. Be sure to set the expectation that when an employee leaves the office (or their home office), they should honor their time off. Whether it’s in the evening, on weekends, or PTOs, employees shouldn’t feel the need to send emails or slack messages.
In addition, employers should only allow limited carryovers for PTOs into another calendar year. Set a policy that workers utilize their PTOs within the given year in order to have ample time to rest.
9. Schedule time as a team
An open line of communication with your team can help employees build professional relationships. Without this, low morale can occur which feeds directly into the company culture. Be sure to encourage time to gather as a team as a way to stay engaged and foster a positive attitude amongst your workforce.
Team building and community-based activities can help employees to bond with each other across different business functions. In addition, encouraging employees to work on company initiatives outside of their day-to-day roles can significantly improve engagement. For example, teams may work together to organize a charity event in collaboration with the local community.
Be sure to put aside a budget for team-building activities and aim to organize events once a quarter. This allows employees to get together face to face and keeps people happy and engaged.
10. Gather employee feedback
When it comes to burnout, it’s not always obvious for managers to know which areas exist. Even when employers value work-life balance, this alone cannot help in establishing strategies for good work-life balance in your organization. The best way to understand, improve and create an enabling opportunity is to seek feedback from employees about what constitutes their definition of a good work-life balance.
Be sure to take pulse surveys where employees can address the effectiveness of various balance-related factors in your organization, such as hours worked, support, and flexible scheduling. Gather real-time feedback with tools that encourage anonymity as they encourage workers to be honest about issues in the workplace. In addition, ensure your leaders and managers have ongoing training and support to spot and prevent burnout in teams.
These methods will help you identify the specific areas your company needs to improve and allow you to focus on implementing achievable solutions to real problems that actually affect your employees. Feedback also helps employees feel valued since their input is recognized when making vital organizational decisions.
Get improved team results with work-life balance
Work-life balance is an important aspect of a healthy work environment. Employers have a key role to play in fostering an enjoyable, stress-free place to work. One of the best ways to achieve work-life balance is by equipping managers and leaders with the training and support they need to prevent burnout before it happens and by arming them with helpful tips on how to foster a better work-life balance in their team.
We hope these ten ways to foster a better work-life balance for your employees have been useful and initiatives you can roll out in your organizations right away!
Freddie is Content Lead for the UK market at 360Learning—a collaborative learning platform that enables companies to upskill from within by turning their experts into champions for employee, customer, and partner growth.