Work-life Balance

April 6, 2012

Do You Have It and Why Do You Need It

Everyone has felt the squeeze of the economy and employees and executives alike are feeling the pressure of needing to do more with fewer resources. When trying to balance the demands of the office and the home, workers are finding it more difficult to maintain work-life balance. Within the past ten years, the number of employees who claim to have work-life balance, or a healthy separation between their professional and personal lives, has continued to drop from about half to less than 40 percent.

With the advent of technology, such as smart phones, tablets and wireless internet, more employees are unable to maintain a clear distinction between their work and home lives. A need to feel connected 24/7 makes it difficult to take time off or schedule vacations and 30 percent admit they feel a need to constantly be plugged into their work. It is difficult to achieve work-life balance when 63 percent of workers who use email at their office report checking work emails over the weekend, 19 percent check it five or more times and 50 percent check their inboxes while on vacation1.

What is a “healthy balance?”
When workers consider their work or career to be an important part of their identity, they are more likely to use technology to remain connected, especially among those with high ambitions and job involvement2. Stress due to overwork, which is often self-inflicted, can cause burn-out over time, increasing sickness and turnover in the workplace.

There is no “one size fits all” for a healthy work-life balance. Creating harmony between time spent at work and home is beneficial to both employers and employees. Employees who claim to have work-life balance work 21 percent harder than other employees, providing an incentive for employers and executives to reduce the stress and pressure on employees to maintain consistently hectic schedules. On the other hand, individuals with high-stress jobs – a primary contributing factor to a poor work-life balance – are twice as likely to quit3.

There are a number of easy changes to make both at home and in the workplace to swing the balance back in the right direction.

Living healthier
Planning well-balanced meals that are high in nutrients and proteins and lower in carbohydrates and fats will give workers more energy throughout the day. Instead of feeling weighed down with stress and oily meals, employees may prefer to hit the gym or spend more time outside with their families.

Turning off cell phones
Contrary to popular belief, most likely the world will not end if a phone is turned off for a few hours. Expecting instant responses, no matter the day or time, places undue pressure on employees. Executives can set the example by eliminating this expectation except under extreme circumstances.

Making the workspace unique
Instead of office walls that lack character or decoration, encouraging executives and employees to make their workspace their own helps remind workers why they work in the first place. Employees should not dread spending time in their office.

Take short breaks

Removing the stigma from taking quick breaks for walks or even a quick stop for coffee helps break up the work day and encourages productivity. Staying engaged on a single task for many hours can increase stress and frustrate workers. Allowing quick breaks keep employees productive and make the work day more enjoyable.

While these simple solutions are a great start, for high-stress careers, long-term solutions may need to be implemented to avoid employee burnout. Providing flexible work schedules, encouraging employees to relax and use their vacation time and to make the most of family or relationships are answers to the larger problem, but may require changes to company culture or need to be implemented over time.

Executives who set a good example and have work-life balance in their own lives are more likely to have employees who mirror their productivity and satisfaction with their personal work-life balance. Encouraging executives to display an active role in their own health or wellness or showing appreciation for employees are among the first steps to a better work environment, reducing turnover costs and instilling company loyalty, as well as improving work-life balance for all.

Written by Leeann Garms