A healthy work-life balance is critical for employee well-being. But what exactly do we mean by ‘work-life balance’? Why does it matter, and what steps can you take to create balance in your company? That's what we will discover in this post.
A healthy work-life balance isn’t just about logging off at a reasonable hour each day or reducing overtime. It’s about creating a workplace culture where people can be equally present in both their professional and personal lives, without one dominating the other.
A good work-life balance ensures a stable, sustainable way of working which doesn’t compromise a person’s physical or mental well-being. It empowers your employees to show up to work energized and engaged, to set boundaries without fear of consequences, and to leave their work at work.
Establishing and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial for reducing employee stress and preventing burnout. According to a survey by FlexJobs, 75% of workers have experienced burnout, while 76% find that workplace stress affects their mental health. Not only is this detrimental to the individual. It also has major consequences for employers, with an estimated 550 million workdays lost each year due to stress on the job.
Ultimately, if you want happy, healthy employees who are productive and engaged, helping them to establish a work-life balance should be a top priority.
But where do you start?
Here are five steps you can take to foster balance in your organization.
1. Give your employees flexibility
Flexibility is right up there when it comes to attracting and retaining employees — and it has a huge impact on work-life balance.
According to a Future Forum study of 10,000 knowledge workers, 93% of workers want flexibility in when and how they work. The same study found that location flexibility is associated with a 45% increase in work-life balance and a 30% increase in overall satisfaction at work.
When you give your employees flexibility, you make it easier for them to balance work and life commitments. Whether it’s fitting the working day around a fitness class, a therapy appointment, or picking kids up from school, allowing your employees to flexibly manage their own schedules will pave the way for a healthy work-life balance.
2. Help employees manage their workload
It’s no good encouraging your employees to pursue a healthy work-life balance if they’re simultaneously under pressure to manage an unreasonable workload.
Check in regularly with your employees (or have their managers/team leads do so) to review their current workload and discuss any blockers they’re facing when it comes to achieving their goals and meeting deadlines.
Be wary of labeling every project as urgent, as this makes it impossible for employees to prioritize and spread their workload evenly. If necessary, hold regular meetings to align on what’s high priority and what can be pushed back, and encourage overloaded employees to delegate where possible.
Keep the lines of communication open, create a space in which people feel safe to share concerns about their workload, and keep an eye out for employees who might have too much on their plate but are reluctant to speak up.
3. Set clear expectations regarding out-of-hours communication
In today’s always-on and ever-connected society, it can be extremely difficult for people to switch off and step away from work. We’ve all done it — had a peek at our work email while on vacation, or responded to Slack messages while we’re not technically working.
The Slack blog proudly shares that, of the people who use Slack during the week, 76% access it on their mobile devices. While it’s great that technology has enabled us to communicate on the go, the danger is that we never stop.
If you want to help your employees with work-life balance, set clear expectations regarding out-of-hours communication. You can’t expressly forbid people from checking and responding to messages while they’re off sick or on vacation, but you can (and should) actively discourage it.
Consider a written policy stating that work-related communication is not welcome when employees are out, and request that all employees set an automatic out-of-office response before they log off.
Most importantly, you’ll need to lead by example. A recent Inc. survey found that 56% of senior executives check work-related communications “almost constantly” when they’re out of office, while 85% check messages at least once or twice a day on vacation. It might not be intentional, but if the leadership team doesn’t ever switch off, it sets the tone for the rest of the company.
4. Normalize saying no
A crucial part of establishing a healthy work-life balance is empowering people to set and enforce boundaries. This includes being able to say no without being branded unhelpful, difficult, or not a team-player.
How often have you received a message from a colleague asking if you’re free for a quick call? Or received an invite to a meeting or a workshop which you’re not convinced you need to be part of? Even those seemingly insignificant requests for a “last-minute proofread” or “help checking through something” can eat into your day and completely throw you off your rhythm.
It’s fine to help your colleagues out and be adaptable, and it’s also fine — and necessary — to say no when you don’t have capacity.
That’s the message employers need to be sending to their employees. Encourage people to block focus time in their calendars (during which meeting invites will automatically be declined), and empower them to say no to additional projects and tasks that are technically out of their scope.
5. Offer benefits that can be used outside of work
If you truly want to encourage your employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance, tailor your corporate benefits package accordingly. Rather than offering perks that can only be used at work (such as game rooms, free snacks and drinks, or team events), give your employees access to benefits they can enjoy in their down time.
Perks that encourage employees to nurture their physical and mental health are especially well-received, such as subsidized gym memberships, subscriptions to Urban Sports Club (or similar), and access to mental well-being tools like Headspace.
You could even consider offering travel vouchers, pet insurance (a corporate benefit that has grown in popularity since the pandemic), restaurant vouchers, or a subscription to a healthy meal prep service like HelloFresh.
If in doubt, speak to your employees and find out what they’d value the most as a company benefit.
With these five simple yet effective methods, you can take steps towards a workplace culture which prioritizes employee well-being. In return, you’ll find that your employees are happier, more engaged, and more productive — a win-win situation for all.
Anika Wegner, B2B Blog Editor
Exploring other cultures through language is particularly important to her. That's why she loves writing for Babbel about topics, how companies can benefit from language-learning solutions.