The concept of work-life balance has come to the forefront during the past two years as COVID-19 has impacted our work habits, social life, and the quality of family time. While many people have expressed a preference for telecommuting instead of returning to the office, the potential drawbacks of working from home are now coming to light.
Ergonomic Trends reports that 60% of Americans feel they have a poor work-life balance–mostly due to a lack of boundaries between their professional and home life. Working on weekends and evenings is one sign that work is infringing on what was once considered personal time. One survey reported by Ergonomic Trends points out that 70% of those who switched to remote work say their job activities are spilling over into the weekend.
Other statistics show that working too many hours can increase the likelihood of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, and raise the risk of hypertension and strokes. In a study conducted by Grand Canyon University, almost half of those surveyed said a poor work-life balance has taken a heavy toll on their friendships and family relationships.
What is Work Life Balance?
HRZone defines work-life balance as the level of prioritization between personal and professional activities in an individual’s life and the level to which activities related to their job are present in the home. With hybrid work arrangements becoming the norm and the lines between work and personal life blurring, it’s easy to see how that delicate balance can be thrown off kilter.
Staff who have constant remote access to work projects, associates, and company reports may find it difficult to step away from job pressures and decompress. This 24/7 connectivity may eventually have a detrimental effect on productivity and employee retention. In some cases, it’s the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Mutual Benefits of Workplace Wellbeing Programs
In addition to encouraging employees to maintain a work-life balance, many companies are instituting a program of employee wellness to help prevent burnout and retain talented staff.
As the market research company Qualtrics points out, the advantages of supporting employee wellbeing include a reduction in absenteeism, improved employee engagement, and reduced healthcare expenses. It cites a Harvard study that says that for every dollar spent on an employee wellbeing program, a company saves $3.27. Other data from a Virgin Pulse survey suggests that wellness programs improve employee engagement. The net result, according to Qualtrics, is that “engaged employees tend to contribute more than what’s expected of them, leading to better job performance and organizational outcomes.”
Why is Work Life Balance Important for Remote Employees?
In a recent Qualtrics study, 44% of U.S. employees surveyed say they plan to look for a new job within the next year. Seventeen percent said they are undecided. The researchers noted that managers, directors, and executives have been especially hard hit by job burnout, with more than half that group planning to resign within the next few months. The pressures and uncertainty of the pandemic are also prompting 15% of leaders to seriously consider leaving their jobs. Another 17% say excessive job-related stress, in general, is the reason they’re planning to pack it in.
Remote employees, in particular, have been struggling with a heightened feeling of stress, even though they’re working from the comfort of home. In spite of the convenience of not having to deal with rush hour traffic, many employees find themselves working more hours than they would if they worked in the office. With their work environment just a few steps away in the next room, it is harder to make a clear distinction between work time and leisure time.
In many cases, home-based employees get caught in a cycle of repeatedly returning to their laptops or mobile devices to update their work, check on project statuses, or respond to non-urgent emails. As a result, they don’t experience the intended restorative effects of weekends and evenings. Instead of returning to work feeling refreshed and renewed, many harbor feelings of being overwhelmed, overworked, and dissatisfied. Once an employee reaches that threshold of frustration, the probability of them resigning increases exponentially.
5 Tips to Help Employees Improve Remote Work-Life Balance
Fortunately, there are many things HR and management can do to ease the stress.
- Set Realistic Workload Standards: There’s a thin line between achieving optimal productivity and overloading employees with more work than they can handle. However, reaching that “just right” level requires open communication, realistic expectations, and enlisting the help of other team members when employees feel buried in work.
- Encourage Flexible Working Hours: Making accommodations in schedules for working parents or other caregivers can help reduce stress, earn employee loyalty, and give staff members the feeling they work for a company that cares about them and supports their needs.
- Provide Guidelines for Communication: Working too many hours as a remote employee can be caused by a lot of things, including a feeling of job insecurity and the fear of being unfavorably compared to associates and coworkers. One way to ease the pressure of working from home is to discuss with employees the importance of work-life balances and encourage them to avoid “burning the midnight oil” and sending or responding to non-essential emails on weekends.
- Prioritize Employee Physical and Mental Health: There are a lot of things employers can do to promote physical and mental wellness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests creating a wellness committee, surveying employees to identify needs and interests, and offering classes, health screenings, and events that encourage healthy lifestyles. Options for supporting mental health include offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), meditation and yoga classes, and mental health days off.
- Consider Setting a Minimum Number of PTO Days: As an incentive to attract and retain top talent, more and more companies are offering unlimited paid time off. While this may sound great on paper, many employees are not using this benefit.
A survey conducted by an HR software company, Namely, found that employees with unlimited vacation benefit packages take off an average of only 13 days a year, compared to “traditional plan” employees who use an average of 15 days. Namely suggests that managers and HR directors redefine success standards to help employees feel comfortable stepping away from their jobs, as needed, to unwind and get some crucial R & R. “Measuring employee value in terms of accomplishments, rather than time spent in the office, can contribute to a culture where employees feel like they deserve and can enjoy their time off. With this mindset, employees and managers alike can encourage healthy work-life balance practices.”
Strongly encouraging staff to use their vacation time sends a positive message that management values their work and supports their mental and physical health.
Implementing Work-Life Balance Policies
Although employees “burning the candle at both ends” has always been a concern, the massive increase in people working from home has amplified the problem. Without the physical separation of work and home environments, many remote employees are sacrificing their leisure time for extra hours on their laptops and mobile devices. The stress this causes employees and their families is a leading factor in the widespread resignations taking place, nationally and globally. As ComputerWorld writes, “The Great Resignation reflects a deep dissatisfaction with previous employment situations. The ongoing global pandemic has enabled workers to rethink their careers, work/life balance, long-term goals, and working conditions.”
In an earlier KnowledgeCity blog post, we examined this rise in global employee burnout. The three major problem areas contributing to staff dissatisfaction are unrealistic deadlines, consistently long working hours, and a lack of support from management. Effective strategies to address this wave of discontent ranges from recognizing and rewarding employees to urging them to take breaks during the day and use vacation time they’re entitled to. Ultimately, it all boils down to providing workers with the support, encouragement, and tools they need to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
More Resources on Workplace Wellbeing and Work-Life Balance
If you’re looking for additional information, resources, and training tools on these vital topics, we encourage you to learn about KnowledgeCity’s online training courses.
- Finding Work Life Balance: Our series of videos on the importance of work-life balance can help you identify the warning signs of staff burnout and develop a plan to help employees succeed in their jobs without feeling stressed out and overworked.
- Remote Work Training: Boost the Well-Being, Engagement and Productivity of Your Virtual Employees: This article examines some of the new challenges managers and remote employees face as a result of the pandemic and how it redefines working relationships. Discover incisive video courses on managing remote employees, improving workplace culture, and using virtual interview strategies for hiring the best personnel.