According to one study, 66 percent of full-time employees in the United States don’t believe they have a healthy work-life balance. In addition to long days at the office, the always-connected nature of modern life means that most people are answering work emails and calls on nights, weekends, and even holidays. This leaves precious few hours for quality time with family and friends, self-care, and fun.
All of this can lead to work burnout, which is ultimately destructive for productivity and morale. And while work-life balance is often described as something an employee must manage themself, it is essential for savvy employers to take ownership over establishing a work culture that promotes this balance.
So what does it mean to lead a balanced life, and what are some ways that managers can help create an environment that supports it?
What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is simply a comfortable state of equilibrium between your professional and personal life. What that balance looks like is different for everyone—a married father of four will have different needs than a single woman who just graduated from college, for example. And that balance will likely shift over time. The bottom line for everyone, however, is that the demands of work must not stand in the way of an employee having a satisfying life outside of the office.
What causes work-life imbalance?
A survey of American workers found that these were the three most common reasons why employees felt they didn’t have work-life balance:
- Bad or overbearing bosses (60 percent)
- Having to work outside of regular business hours (39 percent)
- Lack of flexibility with work hours and time off (39 percent)
What do those three things have in common? A lack of control. When employees feel like they have little say in how they perform their jobs, they aren’t happy. And they aren’t healthy, either; employees who work longer hours have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, and higher levels of daily stress.
Impact on employees
Work-life balance has a major impact on employees and can affect everything from workplace engagement to well-being. When employees aren’t able to sign off, they have less time available for physical activities, healthy eating, and social interactions with friends and family. Over time, poor work-life balance can lead to burnout, anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, and other mental health challenges.
On the other hand, a healthy work-life balance is one of the top qualities people look for in an employer, and word gets around. There’s a huge upside to being known as a company where employees feel like they’re thriving both at work and at home.
Five ways to promote work-life balance at your company
Employees—especially millennials—want balance between the office and home, and employers are starting to catch on.
Companies that publicly advocate for solutions that promote better work-life balance are no longer an anomaly, and this consideration is now essential for remaining competitive when acquiring and retaining talent. Any manager that’s hoping to improve the status quo at their company can consider the following five tactics.
Flexible work arrangements
Giving employees the ability to set their own schedules and work from home means that they can better align their professional and personal responsibilities. For example, if regular work hours are 9:00 to 5:00, but an employee has a 45-minute commute and has to get a child on the bus at 8:45, giving them the ability to work 9:30 to 5:30 instead allows that employee to better manage competing responsibilities.
Paid time off (PTO)
Traditionally, employers have offered sick time, vacation time, and personal days, which doesn’t always align with an employee’s needs. More and more companies are shifting to a PTO approach, in which an employee has a set number of days they can use as they see fit. With this approach, an employee who has the flu won’t use all of their sick time for the year in one shot, and an employee who never gets sick can use that time for vacation or volunteer work.
The ability to unplug
Most employees want to be able to enjoy time with family and friends when they aren’t in the office, which they can’t do when their bosses are emailing them at all hours and expecting an immediate response. Allowing employees to ignore work communications outside of work hours without being penalized is essential for work-life balance.
Nixing long hours
Sometimes a project comes up that requires employees to spend more time at work, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is the expectation that employees will work long hours all the time, especially for no additional pay. Giving employees the freedom to leave work when their scheduled day ends allows them to better plan for activities and responsibilities outside of the office.
Modeling work-life balance
The best thing managers can do to help their employees better achieve work-life balance is model the behavior. Leave on time. Don’t email outside of work hours. Don’t make employees feel that there are unwritten rules about how dedicated they should be—lay out your expectations and then follow them yourself.
Employees can also set expectations
Employers can establish a healthy environment that supports work-life balance, but employees must also set boundaries and advocate for themselves in the work environment. The first time you respond to an email at 10:30 p.m., you’re telling your employer that you’re always available. Don’t be afraid to ask employers about work-life balance in job interviews, or if you’re already employed, have a conversation about expectations.
Work-life balance benefits employees by fostering increased health, happiness, and fulfillment. And it benefits employers, too—happy workers are loyal workers. Plus, the more programs and perks you devote to giving your employees a sense of equilibrium between their professional and personal lives, the more successful you’ll be when recruiting and retaining the best people for the job.
This article was originally published on July 30, 2019, and has been updated throughout by the editors.
Jessica Hulett is a freelance writer, editor, and content marketing specialist based in Ossining, NY. She has previously written for Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, DealNews, and more.