The term “work-life balance” is defined as an individual’s ability to balance the commitments, responsibilities and goals relating to their paid work with their personal commitments, responsibilities and desires.
An individual’s ability to maintain a balance between their work and personal life may be affected by factors relating to their workplace environment and working conditions. This includes the average number of hours they work, and work flexibility, annual leave quotient, benefits, and the availability of support structures within the workplace. Individuals who maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal lives will benefit from a sense of wellbeing and feel that they not only have control over their working life, but also get to lead a more fulfilling personal life.1
Advantages of improved work-life balance
Introducing employment policies that encourage a healthier work-life balance for employees can bring real benefits to employees and organisations.
A good work-life balance can enable staff to feel more in control of their working life and lead to increased productivity through:
- less instances of sickness and absenteeism
- a happier, less stressed workforce
- staff feeling valued through understanding that their personal life and family is important
- improvements in employee mental health and well-being
- more engaged staff
- greater employee loyalty, commitment and motivation
- staff less likely to leave
The benefits of a rolling out work-life balance programme are not confined to just benefitting the workforce. Work-life policies and flexible working practices can also benefit organisations and lead to:
- lower levels of absence, sickness and stress
- a boost in staff morale
- improved customer service
- the wherewithal to effectively react to changing market conditions more effectively and meet customer demands through flexibility. For example, shift work, part-time work and flexitime can help an organisation extend the working day without making employees work longer hours
- meeting seasonal peaks and troughs in your business
- more committed and positive attitude in your staff
- a reduction in staff turnover and recruitment costs
- becoming recognised as an organisation that people want to work for, therefore helping to attract top talent
Here are three challenge areas that can affect employee work-life balance – and possible solutions
- Unrealistic work or personal demands
The demands that work and life may throw at an employee can easily mount up, adding considerably to pressure, resulting in stress. Unreasonable demands at work such as weekend meetings that eat into personal time or technology that creates a “never off” work culture can pile on the pressure. By the same token the demands of an employees’ personal life can add to the pressure of work by eating into work time. Consider mothers who need to ferry their children to extra-mural activities or take off when they are ill, or a single parent who shoulders all of the domestic and parenting responsibility. Having to meet too many personal demands is also a threat to healthy balance.
- Making informed choices. Everyone is different. It is important for each individual to get clear about what they want from work and life. When facing choices that may prove to create a challenge to work life balance it is useful to answer these questions:
- What will I gain from taking on this particular challenge and what is the price I will pay?
- Who else will gain from my taking the responsibility on, or else pay a price if I choose not to?
The answers will provide a sound starting point from which to make informed choices.
- Establishing boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day, so it is important to encourage employees to set some work-life boundaries. This could mean making a rule not to expect employees to check email from home in the evening, or take a work call after a certain time of day.
- Real or perceived lack of control
Lack of control over work-related decisions can create stress. For example it may feel impossible for an employee to navigate their way out from under what is perceived to be an outsized workload with unrealistic deadlines – or perhaps even to negotiate a larger workload if they are feeling under-utilised. By the same token, personal circumstance such as unexpected illness, having to cope with children or relationship issues can result in one feeling a distinct lack of control in someone’s personal life.
- Encouraging open dialogue at work. Start by encouraging the employee to initiate an open conversation with their superior with the objective of coming up with an effective plan for managing the work stressors which have been identified, from the perspective of improving job performance.
- Advising getting support at home. Recommending the acceptance of help from trusted friends and family members can improve an employee’s ability to manage stress on the home front.
- High workplace stress levels
Stress is both physical and mental. It can cause physical, emotional, and behavioural problems which can affect employees’ health, energy, well-being, and personal and professional relationships. When employers consider stress in the workplace, understanding the components of stress and situations that may induce stress, as well as employee responses to stress, can help both management and employees effectively manage the effects of stress and change.
Offering an EAP stress management programme. Stress management resources can be made available through an employee assistance program (EAP). This includes online information, available counselling and referral to mental health professionals, if needed.
The following may be elements of EAP counselling:
- Information and understanding about stress and the physical and mental effects
- Relaxation and breathing control help to reduce the level of stress. Regularly practiced relaxation also repairs some of the stress to the body caused by chronic anxiety and improves sleep. Slowing the breathing reduces symptoms of anxiety or stress.
- Cognitive therapy aims to assist one to understand the role that thoughts play in increasing your level of stress.
- Structured problem solving techniques can also help many people with stress when high anxiety freezes an employee’s ability to make a decision.
- Physical activity and programming “breaks” into employees’ daily routine
- Mindfulness meditation is optional but can be very useful in helping one to understand the way the mind works. Regularly practiced meditation calms the mind and body.