Work as we know it is moving away from the traditional in-office, 9-to-5 model, making work-life balance the in-demand perk among job seekers. In an effort to win top talent, competitive employers are offering greater flexibility, more autonomy, and an increased level of respect for the division between personal and professional responsibilities.
Remote work has gotten a lot of attention and many employers have already made it a full-time or part-time option for employees. So aside from the ability to work from home, what can employers do to help their staff feel a better sense of balance between in-work and out-of-work priorities?
Read on to learn about the importance of work-life balance and some strategies for how to promote it in your organization.
What is Work-Life Balance?
The exact definition of work-life balance depends on who you ask.
For some, it means a clear delineation between work time and personal time. For others, it means not feeling guilty about unplugging from work to be present in your out-of-work life. Some consider work-life balance the ability to move freely between the two areas, without feeling overwhelmed by one or the other.
For most people, work-life balance means appreciating that both work and life can be priorities for a person, and one shouldn’t take precedence over the other.
Here are just some examples of what a good work-life balance might look like:
- Work-related stress doesn’t follow you home
- Disconnecting from work-related messages once you’re off the clock
- Feeling energized and excited to come into work
- Stepping away from work to deal with personal matters when necessary
- Taking time off when you need it
- Being honest with your manager if things outside the office are impacting your work
These are just a few of the many examples of work-life balance in practice. It’s easy to see why they’re desirable qualities for job seekers.
Why is Work-Life Balance Important?
Work-life balance has a significant bearing on employee wellbeing, which impacts everything from employee engagement to a company’s healthcare expenses. When employees feel a sense of harmony between their personal and professional lives, they feel more empowered, take fewer sick days, and are less likely to quit their jobs.
In the age of remote work, where work life and home life are physically blended, employees are finding it harder to mentally turn “off” after the work day has ended. This can lead to disengagement and burnout. So, as an employer, it’s more important than ever to find new ways to prioritize work-life balance and retain the workers you’ve put so much effort into hiring and training.
7 Creative Ideas to Promote Work-Life Balance Beyond Remote Work
1. Choose your own hours
If your top performer is most productive from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., why force them to show up mere hours after sunrise? If your operations allow for it, consider letting employees choose the configuration via which they log their 40 hours on the clock each week.
2. Summer Fridays
First instituted by New York City publishers on a mission to beat the weekend traffic to the Hamptons, Summer Fridays have become a beloved tradition in workplaces across the country. The custom consists of taking half-days on the final day of the work week from Memorial Day through Labor Day, which is a great way to get a jump start on the weekend recharge.
While it’s tricky to put a quantitative value on having a more relaxed seasonal schedule, a recent poll shows the intrinsic benefits are clear; 85% of workers at companies that observe Summer Fridays said the perk makes them feel happier at work.
3. Lead by example
The culture around work-life balance is set from the top down. If your managers are accustomed to firing off emails at 10 p.m., their employees will naturally feel that the same level of after-hours communication is expected of them.
To avoid this, encourage team members to save non-urgent communications for office hours, or use a tool like Boomerang to easily schedule them for the next morning. Make it the default to disable push notifications on platforms like Slack during the hours people aren’t at work.
4. Take synchronous vacations
We’ve all been there: you’ve just stepped off the plane on your long-awaited trip and are finally easing into vacation mode when a message pops into your inbox. “So sorry to bother you on vacation, but…” One of the major downsides of modern technology is that you’re never truly off the grid.
Synchronous vacations are when an entire department or company takes a break at the same time. They’re more feasible than you might think with a little planning, and more companies are adopting them. They’re great for pushing employees to truly disconnect because there’s no guilt or pressure to check in when no one is working.
If you’re thinking of trying out a synchronous break, the typically-quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s is a great one to start with.
5. Set clear priorities
Work-life balance doesn’t mean that work is never stressful. Rather, it means that the stress that arises from work doesn’t spill over into employees’ personal lives in an unhealthy way. One way to make this happen is by setting clear priorities.
When everything at work is a priority, nothing is. Instead of acting as if every task is equally urgent, managers should help their reports see what’s truly most important among their projects so they can prioritize their attention accordingly and keep stressors in check.
6. Treat employees as individuals
Another benefit of setting clear priorities is that it allows you to hold employees accountable for their work rather than micromanaging their every move. Once you’ve established priorities, trust your employees to accomplish them how and when they see fit (unless, of course, it becomes a performance problem, which you can then address on an individual basis).
Also, don’t assume that what sounds like a perk to you will be a perk for everyone. For example, while some employees might love the additional day off that a four-day workweek affords, others might resent spending additional time in the office on the days they’re working.
Have conversations with employees directly to learn what work-life balance initiatives are most valuable to them, or consider instituting an employee focus group to guide your work-life balance efforts.
Related: Empowerment in the Workplace
7. Make it part of your culture
It takes effort to achieve work-life balance. The most successful employers instill it into their company culture.
The specifics of what that looks like will depend on your company, but here are some examples of the norms at companies with a strong culture of work-life balance:
- Asking for help is acceptable and encouraged
- Workers and managers use their available vacation days
- Employees take a dedicated lunch break rather than eating at their desks
- Mental health days are offered in addition to sick days
- Meetings are automatically scheduled with a break in between, rather than back to back
As you can see, these are incredibly specific examples, and instituting one or two of these things isn’t enough to shift the company’s culture. It takes a concerted effort beginning with the company’s management to build a strategic culture that prioritizes work-life balance.