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Employee Experience

Work life balance – what does it mean and why does it matter?

A healthy work-life balance drives engagement, productivity, and retention. Support your employees with these tips and resources.

Rewind to just a couple years ago, and the way we defined – and approached – balancing our work lives with our personal lives looked very different than it does today.

For many people, remote and hybrid work have completely changed our work habits, schedules, where and when we get work done, as well as the boundaries we have between work and home.

While some employees used to groan about commutes, they signaled a beginning and end to the workday – something many remote and hybrid workers now struggle to recognize. And while some knowledge workers already had access to work-issued technology like a smartphone, the pandemic exacerbated our technology use. For many, video calls were the only means of communication and socialization for a moment in time.

With our constant access to work – and workplace technology – creating a good work-life balance is more critical than ever. As such, we’ve taken a closer look at what goes into a good work-life balance, why it matters so much, plus actionable tips to balance work and life in our always-on world.

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What is a good work-life balance?

By definition, work-life balance involves the minimization of work-related stress, and the establishing of a stable and sustainable way to work while maintaining health and general well-being.

While there’s no magic formula for balancing work and life, nor one sure-fire amount of time you should allot to one versus the other, work-life balance means you’re equally fulfilled by the duality of your personal life and your professional life.

It also means one facet doesn’t dominate the other, and that when it comes time to switch gears, you feel energized by what’s in store for you that day.

Of course, achieving this balance – especially in our new normal of work – is not achieved without being intentional about it. As a manager, it’s important to not only find that balance for yourself – and lead by example – but to also help your employees find their balance, as well.

The key to achieving work-life balance relies on not just what you do while you’re working (i.e., doing meaningful work, finding purpose in your work, feeling like what you do matters, and that you make a positive contribution), but what you do outside of work, as well.

In other words, finding fulfillment in hobbies or having go-to methods for restoration are equally important to striking that balance.

And again, work-life balance will look different to everyone. Helping employees achieve a work-life balance takes attentive listening to your people, as well as a flexible and iterative approach to find what works best.

Why does a healthy work-life balance matter?

Since the start of the pandemic, employee well-being has suffered. Especially for those working from home for the first time, remote and hybrid work meant working more – and not knowing how or when to switch off.

If an employee isn’t feeling their best, they can’t focus on their work. Therefore it’s critical to take care of your people – and help them establish a healthy work-life balance – so they can be productive for your business.

It’s also critical to support your people with well-being and mental health resources. Why? If you don’t invest in employee well-being, you risk employees burning out, not being as productive as they can, and increased safety risks. These risks include accidents at work, which can have detrimental emotional, physical, and financial implications.

A recent study we carried out revealed burnout and stress among the top reasons why employees say they will look for a new job in the next year. And we’re already seeing this taking place, in what many are calling The Great Resignation.

10 ways to balance work and life

Promoting a healthy work-life means looking at the big picture – workload, health, well-being, socializing, restoration, and more – and taking a holistic approach to integrate all of those facets into a careful balance that sustains, nourishes, and motivates your employees to be their best selves in and outside of the workplace.

Not sure where to get started? Here are 10 ways to help your employees establish a better work-life balance:

1. Help employees manage their workload

Workload is a powerful buffer to workforce safety, resilience, and well-being. Research from Qualtrics’s 2020 Global Workforce Resilience Report revealed that employees who were at capacity in terms of workload felt the best about their safety, resilience, and well-being.

Conversely, those employees with workloads far below their capacity expressed negative views of the same factors.

2. Prioritize your employees’ physical health

Employees’ physical health plays a major role in their overall well-being, as well as their engagement and attitudes towards work. When employees practice unhealthy habits – such as not getting enough sleep or eating diets low in necessary nutrients – not only do they not feel their best, they can’t perform their best at work.

Wellness programs, such as on-site (or virtual) yoga classes, fitness challenges, nutrition coaching, sleep coaching, and more, can help promote healthy habits and a better work-life balance.

3. Provide mental health resources

As mentioned above, stress and burnout are two of the biggest threats to employee well-being. To help employees cope with stress and find a better balance, organizations can offer mental health resources – such as counseling – through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other stress management resources. These could include (on-site or virtual) stress management classes, courses in meditation or yoga, or chair massages.

4. Support employees with making social connections

Employees who have supportive connections in the workplace are more likely to feel connected to their jobs and more engaged with their work. For those employees who lack social connection, organizations can help by facilitating like-minded connections in a healthy setting.

Whether it’s through book clubs, running (or walking) clubs, on-site fitness classes, or virtual fitness challenges, employees feel more engaged (and happier!) when they can connect with their colleagues outside of work, as well.

5. Encourage restorative time

One of the more common misconceptions about burnout from work is that work alone is the problem. When, in reality, what we do outside of work is just as important to preventing burnout.

Talk to your employees about how to engage in restorative activities that are meaningful to them outside of work. The key here is to choose activities that aren’t work-related – and better yet, don’t involve looking at a screen. No one activity is better than the other; encourage employees to pick one or rotate through their favorites – it’s completely up to them.

6. Support occupational well-being

Work-life balance and productivity go hand in hand. Employers benefit from supporting healthy habits that boost work performance.

For example, companies can encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day, go for a walk when they are feeling stressed, and provide healthy, energy-boosting snacks in lunch and break rooms.

Some organizations are going a step further to reimagine the workweek, and have adopted working four days a week instead of the traditional Monday through Friday 9 to 5.

7. Create boundaries between personal and workplace technology

When you’re working from home, keep your phone out of your office/workspace to prevent the blurring of home life into work hours. Likewise, create boundaries with your personal phone and work.

For the bold, try removing work-related apps, such as email and Slack, from your personal phone. Or, try moving the apps to a folder so they’re less visible when you’re using your phone when you’re not engaged in work. And definitely turn off work-related notifications after hours, weekends, and when taking time off.

8. Take time off from work

For many people, taking meaningful time off was difficult during COVID because they couldn’t travel for a vacation. And while a staycation can be restorative, the temptation to check work tech might still be there.

In this instance, always encourage employees to fully step away from work – and work tech – while they’re on vacation. Doing so helps them recharge and return to work with renewed energy.

9. Be mindful of the example you’re setting

Practice what you preach, especially if you're a leader setting an example for your team. Instead of sending an email after work hours or on a weekend, use technology to your advantage and schedule emails and Slack messages to send during work hours only. That way, the recipient won’t feel pressured to respond or even passively check in when they’re not working. 

10. Tune in to your employees’ needs for balancing work and life

Striking a healthy work-life balance takes listening to your people, and taking action on their needs. For example, a recent study by the Future Forum revealed that flexibility is now one of the top factors influencing attraction and retention at organizations. Indeed, nearly all (93%) knowledge workers want a flexible schedule, while 76% want flexibility in where they work.

Knowing what employees’ expectations are can help organizations understand their needs and preferences – including how and where they want to work, as well as what matters most to them – and then take action on those expectations.

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