This article was written as a blog post for AptoZen, an Intrax company.
Nobody questions the merits of work-life balance. In fact, it’s a win-win: Good for both the employee and the business. Companies wanting to retain happier, more productive employees are trying to out-do each other with on-site gyms, game rooms, sleeping pods, company camping trips, happy hour, community service days, catered meals, and even laundry service. What more could an employee want? How about a life!
In the race to provide stand-out perks, some companies are inadvertently tying employees closer to work. There’s nothing wrong with catered meals and company camping trips as team-building incentives, but work-life balance they are not. You know it’s too much of a good thing when you start to hear quiet grumbling about “forced fun” from employees who feel obligated to participate during their personal time.
True work-life balance recognizes that “life” is what’s lived outside work. Even the most dedicated employees need time away to do what fulfills them personally, to be with friends and family, and to take care of everyday responsibilities. Ensuring work-life balance isn’t expensive, and it’s not exotic. But it needs to start from the top, and it respects the freedom of each employee.
Start with Trust. Let’s assume you’ve hired honest, hard-working people who want to do the right thing for the company and its customers. You’ve trained them well, and instilled your company values. Trust them to make good choices. Get rid of petty policies like restricting internet access or forcing non-hourly workers to clock in and clock out. Sure, some employees might take advantage, but that’s better handled with individual coaching.
Set a Good Example. You can’t say, “Have a nice weekend,” then send a flurry of emails to your team on Saturday. If you’re a weekend worrier, be sure your employees know the difference between a “catching up” email and an emergency. Think about the message you’re sending. Ambitious employees will assume you expect them to model your hours. Leadership should make it a practice to go home on time, and make it clear to employees that efficiency is prized over long hours.
Prioritize. Telling an overwhelmed employee to take a break simply increases their anxiety. Managers are responsible for making sure workload is equitably distributed. If employees have more on their plates than they can realistically accomplish, additional team members need to be brought in. Another solution is to regularly communicate priorities so the team knows which deadlines can be adjusted.
Be Flexible. Allowing some schedule flexibility can go a long way to helping employees manage their lives outside of work. Being able to see a kid’s play during lunch or working at home with a sick child could make the difference in retaining a good employee. Everyone needs a little extra time sometimes, whether it’s waiting for the plumber to come or taking a long lunch with a visiting school buddy. Again, employees who take advantage should be reminded individually of company expectations.
Small Things Can Be Big. Encouraging work-life balance often means responding to employee needs with simple solutions. For example, an open plan office makes for a dynamic work day, but it can leave a person craving quiet. By building in a few comfortable private spaces you can give employees somewhere to make a personal phone call, take a break, or eat lunch alone.
Respect Individuality. How people unwind from work is as personal as they are. Some may want to get together for a bike ride, while others crave alone time with a good book or knitting. It’s not up to you to proscribe what employees do with their lives, it’s your job to make sure they have their lives at the end of each day.
Vacation is for Vacate-ing. Some people brag as if they should get a medal for never taking vacations. Encourage healthy work-life balance by discouraging vacation time build-up. If an employee feels indispensable, assure them their projects will be tended to while they’re away. In fact, it’s good practice to have trained back-up for team members who have specialized assignments.
Many employees are energized by the challenges, opportunities, and comradery of their jobs. But employees who have burden-free time for a personal life will come to work happier, healthier, and more productive.