We hear the phrase “work-life balance tossed” about quite frequently, but what does it really mean?
How this concept is defined runs the gamut. For some, it means flexible work hours, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, and fitness benefits. For others, it means reduced travel time, cost-of-living raises, skills development, and short breaks throughout the workday.
What makes for a good work-life balance is as subjective as choosing a spouse or deciding on what to eat for breakfast. So, how do you go about creating a company culture that supports work-life balance for all employees when it seems like employees themselves don’t always agree on what work-life balance is?
Determining what work-life balance really means for individual employees and then implementing it into your company’s culture might seem nearly impossible.
Fortunately, studies exist that can provide insights into some common threads in employees’ quests to achieve work-life balance. We can use this information to help create organizations that value work-life balance.
Juggling Work and Life: The Current Situation
In one survey of 900+ Americans, more than a quarter of the respondents said they had worked during their vacations and/or allowed work responsibilities to disturb time set aside for their loved ones. Nineteen percent of them bring their work with them to family functions, and 25 percent of them bring work home with them on a regular basis.
The survey also found that more than 40 percent of workers take care of personal or family matters during the work hours, and vice versa.
But the quest for work-life balance isn’t confined to the United States; it’s a global struggle that spans generational cohorts.
In all corners of the world, work-life balance has become increasingly elusive for baby boomers, Gen. X-ers, and millennials. According to a global survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of EY, the work/life juggling act has become most difficult for women and parents.
The survey shows that both home and work responsibilities have increased for many full-time workers, and as a result, these workers are finding it more and more difficult to manage responsibilities in both realms.
German and Japanese respondents have had the toughest time balancing work and personal responsibilities, with 49 percent of German respondents and 44 percent of Japanese respondents saying managing their work and home responsibilities was difficult. The least challenged were Chinese workers, only 16 percent of whom said it was difficult to manage both work and personal responsibilities.
In the United States, 25 percent of employees said they find managing employment expectations and their personal lives to be increasingly difficult. Furthermore, employees in the U.S. tend to abandon job positions that lack flexibility and/or stigmatize those who work flexible hours.
Blurred Boundaries Between Work and Personal Life Lead to Burnout
Many respondents in the EY survey said that work-life balance should involve:
- flexibility without penalty;
- fewer overtime hours;
- childcare options (on site or subsidized);
- the freedom to shut off devices and not be so easily accessible outside of work hours;
- and the ability to advance or be promoted, regardless of whether or not an employee works flexible hours.
But with advancements in communication methods, it can be hard to distinguish between work life and personal time. When employers blur that line, not only do employees suffer, but also the company suffers along with them.
The opposite of balance is burnout. One of the many factors that contribute to job burnout is an imbalance between work and personal life.
Take, for example, employees who are bombarded with assignments that can’t reasonably be completed within the timeframe of a normal workday. Most employees would then take work home with them so as not to fall behind or lose their job.
When employees fear termination or demotion, their energy changes. They might feel drained, lose focus, and/or express a deflated attitude. When employees experience burnout, it creates a stressful work environment.
Based on a survey from the American Psychological Association, employees feel better and perform better when they have control over the boundaries between their work lives and their personal lives. In such a situation, employees:
- feel more engaged in their work;
- are less likely to resign;
- are more willing to work longer hours;
- relate well to their coworkers and superiors;
- and report higher levels of life satisfaction.
How to Support Work-Life Balance at Your Organization
Some employees are willing to trade higher compensation for control over managing their careers and personal lives.
Work-life balance is an increasingly valuable goal, and employees are open to making drastic life changes to achieve it, including changing careers, taking on new roles, and declining job offers.
Millennials in the U.S. are especially willing to relocate to countries that offer superior parental leave benefits.
Employers should understand that supporting work-life balance will allow them to retain their best employees and foster positive work environments.
Creating a work environment that doesn’t consume employees’ lives requires intentional effort and time.
What sacrifices are you, as an employer, willing to make in order to help your employees obtain work-life balance – and become more productive and engaged as a result?