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What Is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance ensures that every employee maintains control of their individual life, not their employer. It allows each employee the ability to evaluate their priorities and balance accordingly.
The best way to describe work-life balance in one word would be “prioritize.” The goal is to achieve an ideal balance between work life and private life. When this balance is achieved, your employees have a drive for more productive and fulfilling work, which is mutually beneficial for the organization.
In today’s workforce, it can seem like family is just a by-product of a successful career, it is thought that you cannot have a happy family life if they have a thriving, successful work life. That’s where you come in! Setting your employees up for success as they balance personal lives and work will help your organization by increasing the well-being of your workforce. Let’s see how this works if played out today.
Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is critical for health and relationships, which traditionally leads to improved productivity and performance. Let’s look at a few key components of the importance of work-life balance below:
- Reduce stress. Stress is one of the main reasons employees become overwhelmed in their jobs. Maintaining a work-life balance helps manage that stress more effectively.
- Prevent burnout. When employees are happy and motivated by their jobs, they are more likely to be engaged and even loyal to their current employer. By encouraging an appropriate work-life balance, you are setting the stage for your employees to avoid burnout.
- Better physical and mental health. When your life is in balance, everything seems to have a place. If you are able to empower your employees to prioritize their physical and mental health, that health provides more energy and a positive outlook to complete tasks and engage in the workplace.
What Causes Poor Work-Life Balance?
I am sure you have heard the phrases “overworked and underpaid,” “overpromise and underdeliver” and “withdrawals but no deposits.” These are some common idioms used today in the working world. I highlight these specifically because they relate directly to what causes poor work-life balance. If you can remember these phrases that have become so common-place, perhaps you can use them to tip the scales and get that balance back. Let’s look at what these idioms look like in today’s work climate:
Increased Responsibilities at Work
As the demand on your employers continues to rise in any industry to keep up with the fast-paced economy, that demand trickles down to the employee with increased responsibilities. Often these responsibilities are given all across the board and everyone is required to “pick up the slack” and take on a bit heavier of a load to keep the organization competitive.
In order to keep up with the demand, many employers have increased hours. In some cases, these hours are not necessarily forced by the employer, but it’s becoming impossible to complete the job with increased responsibilities in the hours you were working before. There are simply not enough hours in the week to complete what you were once able to accomplish in 40 hours.
So you have an increase in responsibilities and an increase in hours, but what drives that poor work-life balance home is that often these increases do not equate to an increase in salary. Your employees are trying to keep up with new hours and workloads all while providing for their family with an inflated economy. Overall, salaries are not improving to match these demands.
Increased Responsibilities at Home
While the growth is happening in the workplace, it is also happening in your home. With new additions to the family, increased prices on everyday items and the continual economic and political stress, the responsibilities at home for any caregiver have increased exponentially. The current toll on your employees, on all fronts, is high.
What Is the Ideal Work-Life Balance?
The first thing you can do is recognize that perfection doesn’t exist. Here, you are striving for an ideal situation for your individual work-life balance and the balance for your employees, which could look different. However, if you were to take percentages to each of our “big ticket life items,” a typical work-life balance might look a little something like this:
- Work and work-related items. Dedicate around 33% of your time to work and all that entails. This percentage can include being at work and perhaps a call while at home that cannot wait, but you should try to keep all your mental capacity related to work within this 33% range.
- Family and friends. You guessed it, family and friends are also 33% of your time. Your personal life should get just as much dedication and mental fortitude as your work. You cannot stop a work crisis from happening, but you can make sure that after the crisis is handled you are doing everything in your power to be present for that same 33% you just dedicated to your employer.
- Self care. Not surprisingly, self care comes in with, yet again, another 33%. These three items should be equal for the ideal work-life balance. Now, self care for some can be spending time with family and friends or working on a huge work product. Those can be things that bring you joy and allow your mind to reset, but that’s the important part of this balance, the reset. For others, self care could be a long run, watching a movie, or reading a book. Whatever self care looks like for you, it’s important to make sure you are factoring it into your balancing act.
It is important to note here, these percentages do not equate necessarily to “time.” For some jobs, it is impossible to spend as much time at home as you do at work.Let’s face it, you often spend more time at work. It’s the mental separation from work when you leave that you are going for here. We’ll evaluate this concept a bit further as we continue.
How Can Work-Life Balance Be Improved in the Workplace?
I know what you may be thinking: there is just not enough time in the day to effectively manage my work, myself, my family, and friends — I’ve tried and it’s just not possible. Let’s start with the workplace. If you can improve the balance there, you can implement the same balance in the other areas as well.
Set Goals and Priorities
Your roles each come with requirements and demands. The easiest way to meet those demands is to set goals and priorities. Communicating these to your supervisor or direct report provides the opportunity for your boss to adjust the items on your schedule to ensure they line up with the company agenda and align with your goals and priorities.
Once you have your goals and priorities established and confirmed with your supervisor, it’s time to set boundaries and communicate those boundaries respectfully when needed. You know that chaos is out of your control, and sometimes an urgent item is going to come down the pipe to your workload. When it does, it’s your job to communicate to your supervisor that you have a full list of goals and priorities, but you would love to take on this new item that is critical to be completed right now and rearrange your other tasks. You need to set those boundaries to ask your supervisor from their perspective which one of the priorities can be pushed in order to accommodate this new one. Setting that boundary to not overwork yourself will improve work-life balance in the office.
Let me clarify what that means: it means unplug. If you are on your lunch break, be on break, unplug. It’s simple when you are done with work — unplug. You are unplugging for your priorities, for your boundaries, and for that balance!
What Are Strategies Employers Can Use To Foster Good Work-Life Balance in the Company?
Evaluating how to encourage this priority balancing act for your employees can be overwhelming, especially when you are still trying to master it yourself day to day, but let’s break it down into action items. With these you can go forward to positively reinforce this in your respective roles and organizations:
Set a Good Example
First and foremost, set the work-life balance example you want to see in your employees’ lives. You have to show your employees that you are striving for that work-life balance too. Don’t worry about being perfect at it quite yet. Leading by example is always the best first step.
Review Workloads Regularly
It can be so easy to add more tasks to your employees’ to-do lists because jobs need to get done at the end of the day. But reviewing your employees’ individual workloads and removing lower priority items or shuffling some responsibilities around to other employees is a great start to improving work-life balance.
Time Management Training
Offering time management training to your employees is an extremely beneficial way to support their balancing act. Showing your employees that the organization cares how they effectively manage their time and succeed in this balancing act goes a long way.
Providing your employees with the opportunity to flex their time, within reason, is a great way to continually help the balancing act. When employees are able to adjust their lunch hour to accommodate a mid-day run, or grab coffee with a friend before work and come in a bit later, or leave early to go to dinner with a spouse, you are saying to them “work needs to get done, but your life matters too.”
Out of Office Perks
Encourage your employees to thrive outside the office with perks that require them to do just that — get out of the office. Some of these perks could be gym memberships, gift cards to a new restaurant, movie tickets, or something similar. By providing these office perks, you’re not only giving your employees the opportunity to explore outside the office, but in some cases you’re paying for it as well, so how can they say no?
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Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!
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