Improve Work-Life Balance
The issue of work-life balance is showing up more often as an action item from employee engagement surveys. Too much work is not good for employees or their companies. Yet most employees of high growth companies report feeling overwhelmed by an unsustainable culture of long work hours and exhibit noticeably unhealthy and unbalanced work habits.
The Definition of Work-Life Balance
As a general concept, work-life balance can be defined as the state of equilibrium between one’s career demands and the demands of one’s personal life. But who is to say where that happy balance exists? The perfect balance differs from person to person and from one stage of life to another.
We certainly know the signs when our own work-life balance is out of whack. We feel stressed; our work suffers; our relationships are strained; and even our health is threatened. Yet achieving better balance is a huge challenge these days with technology making us accessible 24/7.
Forbes reports that 94% of professionals put in over 50 hours per week, and a Harvard Business School survey found almost 50% of employees work more than 65 hours a week. Those hours tend to increase dramatically for companies in the start-up and high-growth phases. Does this make sense?
It kind of depends.
While many jobs are highly demanding, all-consuming, and frenzied, working long hours is not highly correlated to success at work.
The 2 Big Work-Life Balance Questions
The two questions most of our HR clients are asking boil down to:
- Individual Responsibility
What can we do as individuals to achieve a more satisfying balance between personal and professional priorities?
- Company Responsibility
What role should a company play in helping their employees improve work-life balance?
As an Individual
The good (and maybe hard to hear) news is that many work-life balance problems are self-inflicted. Employees with high levels of self-awareness, clear priorities, defined boundaries, and effective time management skills rarely feel out of balance at work. Here is how they get balanced:
- Take Stock
Set aside some time (a challenge in itself) to figure out what is causing the stress in your life and evaluate how it is affecting your overall wellbeing. Causes can vary from spending too much time at work to an upsetting situation on the home front. Only you can determine the source of a serious imbalance and, if necessary, re-set priorities.
What are your personal and professional goals? What, ultimately, fulfills you? Are your work habits seriously damaging your relationships, health, and overall wellbeing?
- Examine Your Choices and the Tradeoffs
Identify what matters most to you and look at what changes you could make for a healthier work-life balance. All of us lead very busy lives. Our schedules are full, and the demands on our time are seemingly infinite.
Most people are willing to sacrifice if the goals and rewards are meaningful enough. What do you have to gain and what do you have to lose?
- Take Action
Trim the time-consuming and unsatisfying activities from your life. Focus on what you are good at and what you value most. Work with partners and colleagues to help you adjust your priorities. Take one step at a time to be more likely to be successful and stay the course.
You will know you are headed in the right direction when you are intentionally prioritizing and reprioritizing how you spend your time in a way that is aligned with what matters most to you personally and professionally.
As a Company
What is a company’s responsibility to its employees vis-à-vis work life balance? We know that strong, healthy workplace cultures and highly engaged employees promote business success. But just as individuals define work life balance differently, so do companies. A lot has to do with their size, their maturity, their competition, their strategy, and their culture.
Though small companies may find it easier to accommodate different employee work schedules, they are also more dependent on everyone executing their critical role and wearing many hats. As for maturity, young companies may be under greater pressure than large organizations to scramble in order to make their mark and succeed. Just think what it takes a start-up to survive. In terms of competition, there are few companies who own their market; organizations of all sizes must compete in order to grow. And then there’s culture.
Companies like Cisco and Salesforce are both in the top ten of Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For. But it is not because their employees work fewer hours. They care about their workers in other ways. Cisco, for instance, offers generous paid time off for a new baby in the family, extended coverage of counselors and psychologists, and free anxiety and depression screening. Salesforce places great value on diversity and inclusion.
The Bottom Line
Work-life balance is not a fixed point, but one that shifts according to unique individual and organizational needs, wants, and demands. What is a worthwhile ride for one person may not make sense for another. We believe that individuals should take charge of their own wellbeing, and that companies should create a healthy environment that allows employees to perform at their peak in a way that aligns with their desired corporate culture.
To learn more about how to improve work-life balance, downloadThe Top 10 Most Powerful Ways to Boost Employee Engagement