A solid work-life balance is an essential element of employee well-being. If you’re an employer, it’s something you should not only care about but actively encourage your employees to improve and maintain.
Study after study has shown that an imbalance of work and life, a work-life conflict if you will, can have a serious negative impact on employees. In the office, it has been associated with poor workplace performance, reduced productivity, absenteeism, and burnout.
But the downsides of poor work-life balance go well beyond the office. It can also cause a range of physical and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, weight gain, and increases in smoking and alcohol consumption.
On the flip side, employees that feel good about their ability to balance their work and life are often less stressed, more relaxed, more productive, and produce at a higher level.
An individual employee’s work-life balance isn’t something that can be easily tracked on standard performance dashboards. That’s why it’s critical for business leaders to pay attention to how their employees are balancing their commitment to work with their personal lives.
It’s the right thing to do – not just ethically, but for the bottom line as well.
But helping your workforce balance both work and life can be easier said than done.
The pandemic effect
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of workers to work from home, many for the first time in their careers, it changed the concept of work-life balance as we know it. Where work and life were previously separated by a commute that seemed to separate the two worlds, the pandemic brought work into our homes.
On top of that, quarantine measures and restrictions meant that work and life became inseparable. Workers were required to live and work, write reports and raise families, focus intently and relax carelessly, all under the same roof. That sudden work-life collision made it more challenging than ever to balance the two.
Some workers loved working from home. Other workers hated it.
What does work-life balance look like in a remote or hybrid work environment?
Although remote work isn’t a new concept, the pandemic provided a large-scale experiment on its viability. The evidence has been clear that remote-based companies can be very successful. In many cases, remote has proven to be far superior.
As the pandemic drags on, many organizations have decided that the positive results of working remotely are enough to keep them remote indefinitely. Others are looking to implement flexible or hybrid work models so they can hold on to some of the magic that remote work brings while maintaining some office space.
In any case, the remote work experiment did reveal at least one glaring drawback to working from home. When life and work are conducted in the same place, it can become difficult for some to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
The struggle to unplug
Before the pandemic, conventional wisdom assumed that working from home would result in employees working less. The thought was that there would be too many distractions, too many opportunities to avoid work, for the average employee to handle. As it turns out, it’s more common for remote employees to end up working longer hours.
There are a few different ways that this struggle to unplug manifests itself relative to working from home.
Working from home has the positive effect of eliminating long commute times, but some workers simply fill that time with more work rather than spending that time with family, friends, or hobbies.
It also allows workers to take care of at-home tasks like laundry, dishes, or errands throughout the workweek that would otherwise be piled up on the weekend. Although this has been a big win for many, others have taken to working in spurts, which can cause them to work later into the evening, and more hours overall, in order to stay on top of their work duties.
If “out of sight, out of mind” was true when going home after working in the office, the opposite can also be true for some stay-at-home workers. When work is always within arms reach, it can be difficult for some to resist the urge to put in “just a few more minutes” or keep working through the weekend. In addition, this has led to an expectation within certain company cultures that employees should always be “on” now that their workplace is always with them.
Of course, there are personality factors at play here and not everyone has trouble unplugging, but the fact remains that removing the commute barrier that separates work from everything else can make it more difficult to create and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
So what can employers do to encourage their employers to do the work of balancing?
How to encourage employees to maintain a better balance
The most important thing that employers can do to encourage their employees to build a sustainable work-life balance is to communicate the fact that they care about their employees’ wellbeing. While employers might assume employees understand that their company values employee wellness, the boss-employee relationship is a complicated one.
Employers should be explicit and genuine when establishing the importance of work-life balance within the company. Tell them directly and outright that you want them to work hard, but not at the expense of their personal life or mental health.
Lead with culture
Beyond explicitly stating that work-life balance is important, one of the most effective ways of demonstrating that is to make it part of the company culture. Culture pervades every corner of the organization.
If the company culture is built around trust, care, recognition, flexibility, and employee wellbeing, then employees will be more likely to develop and maintain healthy habits around work-life balance.
Conversely, if employees are expected to respond to emails and messages on nights and weekends, or not encouraged to take earned paid time off (PTO) hours, they are more likely to work themselves into burnout.
Set the boundary through example
It’s also important that employees have a visible example of that culture at work within leadership. If employers are being told that work-life balance matters, but their superiors are consistently working weekends and not taking time off, they are likely to feel like the culture of employee wellbeing that you’re trying to build is disingenuous.
Create smart policy
Employers can take things a step further by instituting a work-life balance policy. Whether it’s formal or informal, set clear and reasonable expectations about when and for how long your team should be working. If the expectation is 40 hours, state it as policy. If the rule is that no one is asked to work on the weekend, state it as policy.
Just remember that there may be some nuance here depending on industry and job type. Every workforce and every employee is different. What works best for one might not be best for others.
If you are building a flexible culture that allows employees to work whenever is best for them, make sure you’re not putting them in a work-time box. For example, if they like to work in the evenings or on weekends and that’s something you want to let them do, then make sure your policy doesn’t prevent them from doing that.
Use the right tools
Just as technology has given employees the ability to effectively work remotely, it’s also given employers the tools to track important indicators of employee wellbeing. Time tracking and productivity software can give essential workday insights that help employers understand their team’s workload and also empower employees. Seek out the tools that best suit your workforce and implement them across the organization.
The employee’s ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance is an essential factor in determining their productivity. Although it might be tempting to assume that the responsibility of achieving that balance lies solely with the employee, the reality is that the employer shares a large part of that responsibility.
Employers who understand this, and take the necessary steps to encourage a healthy work-life balance within their company, will be far more successful in the long run than those who don’t.
Ryan Plank is a content marketer with a degree in Journalism and a background in technology. He lives in Orlando, Florida, and is an avid golfer.