Not too long ago, work and life were mostly distinct realms.
People would enter the office, put on the role of “employee,” and leave it at the desk when they left for home. Sure, there was the odd after-hours email; but, for the most part, “regular life” would resume as the workday ended. Home was for home life.
Then came the pandemic. Teams everywhere were suddenly distributed. For many, the bedroom became the boardroom and the commute became a matter of steps. In the process, the dividing line between work and life became a hyphen. It all became “work-life”—a singular, smushed experience.
Now, with the advent of the hybrid workplace, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay—at least as a part of most people’s work lives. For HR leaders and managers, this brings a host of new challenges, including a big one: how can you help employees maintain a work-life balance when it can be hard to even delineate between the two?
We know that work-life balance is essential for employee well-being. It’s connected to higher performance and motivation, higher job satisfaction, less stress and burnout, better retention, and employee engagement. And even if the work landscape has changed, there’s a lot that employers can do to encourage it—starting with measuring what’s really going on.
A core way to measure work-life balance is through brief, anonymous, employee surveys that let your people respond on their own terms. As you consider what kind of questions you want to ask, ensure your survey covers the different aspects of work-life balance:
Individual—Questions that address issues of personal satisfaction, priorities, overall well-being, and meaning.
How would you rate your overall well-being?
On a scale of 1 to 5, how meaningful do you find your work?
How satisfied are you with your current work-life balance?
Organizational—Questions that help get a sense of how your people feel about workloads, time spent, and how your organization's policies and practices affect work-life balance.
How often do you work overtime?
Do you feel supported by your manager?
What can we do to give you a better work-life balance?
Home—Questions covering family or home life, residual stress, sleep habits, time sacrifices, and work’s impact on personal life.
How many hours do you sleep on an average work night?
Does that level of sleep feel enough for you?
How often do you sacrifice personal or family time for work?
On a scale of 1 to 5, how much stress do you bring home from work?
No survey can perfectly capture a subject as complex and nuanced as work-life balance, but asking the same questions over time can give a good sense of underlying issues and trends.
It’s one thing to get a realistic sense of work-life balance in your organization, it’s another to actually improve that balance.
One key thing to consider is that simply reducing work time to create more personal time isn’t always going to be effective. Balance doesn't mean a literal 50-50 split, it's more about feeling fulfilled both at work and in your home life.
At a time when work and life are mixing heavily, that can be a great guiding principle for HR leaders and managers: it’s not only about balancing time, but balancing mental bandwidth. People want to feel present and engaged with their work throughout the workday, and feel fully engaged when enjoying their personal time at home.
To that end, building or tweaking employee well-being programs around enhancing the quality of time spent at work and home can help effectively support work-life balance. That can mean offering a wide range of things like flexible working, time off for volunteering, personal development budgets, and access to digital mental wellness platforms (like Calm) that offer always-on resources.
To truly support work-life balance, organizations have to think beyond the office doors. The future is (at least partially) remote. According to recent McKinsey & Company research, 80% of people surveyed report that they enjoy working from home.
Clearly, taking on the challenge of embracing and preparing for a hybrid workforce is worth it. The McKinsey study also found that 41% of employees reported being more productive than in the office, with 28% reporting a parity in productivity. So how can companies accommodate remote workers in their efforts to support work-life balance?
Encourage them to establish boundaries—Have your people experiment with dedicating specific hours strictly to work. That means letting colleagues know to expect a response to any late emails on the following day and normalizing that expectation for the sake of well-being. The key here is to be heavy on communication, and to align the entire team on where there is space for flexibility and where there is a necessity for people to be in.
Notice out-of-hours work—If managers see a pattern of late-night Slack traffic or weekend emails, it’s time to ask some questions.
Help people create dedicated workspaces—Keeping work within work hours is only half the challenge. Encourage people to carve out a spot in their home (if it’s possible) where they’ll inhabit a work mindset. For those that don’t have a dedicated office or room—it can even be a specific chair or desk. What’s important is creating a space that facilitates a shift into and out of work mode. (For tips, check out our recent blog on creating effective workspaces.)
Double down on communication—Train line managers to reach out to team members for weekly or bi-weekly check-ins. For all of the benefits of remote work, it can lead to people suffering in isolation. Being proactive can help you get people the specific support they need before it snowballs into burnout. Give them our Manager’s Checklist for Opening Up Conversations About Mental Well-Being in the Workplace—which is a handy introductory guide to initiating mental wellness check-ins.
Celebrate balance instead of burnout—Make sure leaders publicly praise employees for taking recovery, balance, and self-care seriously. If they only shout out the late nights and above-and-beyond efforts, it can discourage people from prioritizing balance in their lives.
Keep an eye on holiday time—Vacations are an important part of work-life balance. Make sure managers and HR teams identify when people aren’t taking their annual leave and encourage them to unplug.
Don’t forget the parents and people with extra home demands—For parents and carers, working from home can disproportionately impact work-life balance in a hybrid work world. Our post on this subject can help: Protecting Your Well-Being as a Working Parent Today .
Striking a balance between work and life isn’t easy.
But it’s much harder to do it if you don’t have the proper support from your organization.
That’s where HR professionals and managers like you can make a real difference, enriching the lives of your people, on and off the job.
For more ways to help your employees foster a sense of well-being during the workday, check out 8 Practical Strategies for Work-From-Home Resilience.
And if you’re interested in finding out how Calm for Business can help your people become happier and mentally healthier, get in touch.
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