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To be entirely frank, most of us aren’t that great at achieving a balance between our work and personal lives. That’s why there is so much content dedicated to the subject. A poor work-life balance can even be celebrated in some cultures when an individual works long hours on a regular basis. The hustle culture of the modern day caters to this idea.
But people are burning out. Employees are more stressed and more distracted than ever. In a recent study it was even found that employees aren’t that productive despite all time spent at work—in fact employees are generally only productive for about 3 hours out of every day. That’s a very BIG imbalance. And we can do better.
As we learn more about work-life balance, let’s remember one key thing: sometimes work takes more time, sometimes your personal life takes more time, and it’s all part of the great balancing act we participate in day after day. And that’s okay. Balance often isn’t about being perfect at everything. It’s about consistent effort over time, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.
What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is being able to consistently dedicate largely equal time to work and personal life. That may be overly simplistic, but it’s a good framework to start from. True balance comes from knowing when to set some things aside to focus on something else.
Work-life balance for employers.
This is a no-brainer. Helping employees achieve a better work-life balance is arguably the entire career of an HR leader, and that is as it should be. Organizations need an employee advocate, someone who is watching out for the best interests of each and every employee in every way.
The Great Resignation of 2020-2021 (and all the data says it’s still ongoing at this point) means a lot of things, but one thing we can take away from it is that a basic benefits package is no longer enough to attract and retain good talent. What else can we do?
It’s statistically proven that changing jobs is one of the best ways to increase your earning potential. Job-hopping, especially in today’s red-hot job market, is often used by employees who are looking for a little more. There’s a simple solution to this issue: pay your employees what they’re worth. Paying market value, and bumping pay as often as necessary, will help retain employees, keep your workforce balanced, and will engender goodwill all around.
Health Insurance Premiums
Health insurance is generally part of a basic benefits package, but how can we improve it? Many organizations are offering to pay the entire premium for every employee, meaning each employee gets to take home more of their paycheck than they would otherwise. The other benefit? Employees truly feel like their employer cares about them, their health, and the health of their families.
Extended Maternity & Paternity Leave
When an employee or their partner welcomes a new child into their life, there is no better time to support and encourage them than through extended leave options. Those first few months with a new child are arguably some of the most important and formative moments of any relationship, and should not be missed. Maternity and Paternity leave is often offered as a standard package, but is it enough? Consider offering more: more time, more support, and more flexible work options. Employees will feel more cared for, and they’ll care more about their work as a result.
Adequate Vacation Time
The old standard of 2 weeks vacation and a handful of holidays isn’t enough to attract and retain employees. Think about it this way: if you worked hard to make a meal but only got to enjoy roughly 5% it, and then still had to clean up afterward, that would be pretty disappointing. You might not want to cook for people ever again! While it may not be a perfect metaphor, 2 weeks vacation and a few holidays roughly equates to about 5% of the working year. Think about that the next time you address your company’s vacation policies.
Consider options like unlimited PTO or a stipend for employees to go on vacation to help provide more vacation time. The more trusted employees feel with their vacation, the more they’ll give back to their organization.
Flexible Work Environment
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote and hybrid work options, and thankfully many organizations now offer a more flexible work environment. Offering this to employees whenever possible helps attract and retain the best talent. Flexible work options are also becoming an increasingly standard offering that you can’t afford to ignore. It’s understandable that many employees need to be on site to do their work, so flexible work might not be an option for your industry. In those situations you might consider a flexible work week, such as 4x a week or something similar.
Flexible Pay Options
One of the most interesting flexible pay options out there is Reward Compensation. Reward Compensation takes the budget you normally set aside for service anniversary milestones and puts it toward a regularly paid out stipend for every employee, thus increasing retention and engagement throughout the year. The data indicates that employees generally stay just long enough to get that holiday bonus or service milestone award, then leave. Reward Compensation mitigates that issue with regular, timely rewards of appreciation.
Work-life balance for employees.
A healthy work-life balance is imperative for good mental health. Work is necessary, and can even be a great way to find fulfillment and purpose. Why are we so bad at balancing work and life, then? What can we do about it? We can set boundaries. Setting boundaries at work means knowing when to say no and knowing when to take a step back. Boundaries can include time, space, and capacity.
Ensuring others know when you will and when you won’t be available is important in setting boundaries—and is a crucial step to achieving a better balance in work and in life. Without these boundaries you may find yourself hopping back on to work late at night after “life” is taken care of.
There will always be certain moments when extra work and extra time is required. That’s normal, and doesn’t have to influence your work-life balance. The key is to ensure you have dedicated time when you can be an active participant at work and when you can be an active participant in life.
Space boundaries (no, we’re not talking about cool sci-fi space boundaries) have actually improved during the pandemic. More people than ever are working from home and have been able to achieve an oft-necessary distance from work. Even if you can’t work from home on a regular basis, taking a moment to step outside, go for a brief walk, and get away from work for a bit can be hugely helpful.
Of course the argument can be made that working from home has, in many ways, increased burnout. And it has. However, even though remote work has blurred the line between work and home more than ever, adequate spatial boundaries can help you find the balance that can be so difficult when you work where you live.
Boundaries of capacity are key to achieving the most productivity possible. Many managers actually appreciate it when an employee kindly and forthrightly says “I’m not able to take care of that right now, but I will be able to later.”
Setting clear boundaries of capacity helps set expectations of productivity and can help engender trust among teams. Without capacity boundaries, projects may slip through the cracks and trust will erode as certain individuals may come to be seen as someone who doesn’t deliver. However, setting the right expectations right off the bat will help you be seen as someone who consistently achieves everything they’re asked to do, and then some.
Balancing work & life.
As with anything in life (or work-life, rather), balance is achieved through consistent effort over time, just like we talked about in the beginning. Just as a gymnast on a balance beam is constantly staying balanced through tiny micro movements to adjust their center of gravity, so too is work-life balance achieved through consistent, small efforts over time. It might not be easy, but it’s definitely worth it.