Work-life balance, says Nigel Marsh, is too important to be left in the hands of your employer. Marsh lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity — and offers some stirring encouragement to make it happen.
Maintaining a healthy work life balance is not only important for health and relationships, but it can also improve your employee’s productivity, and ultimately performance.
In today’s working climate, companies who gain a reputation for encouraging work life balance have become very attractive – especially when you consider how difficult it can be to attract and retain millennials.
Focusing on work life balance will help organisations draw a valuable talent-pool for new recruits and boost retention rates. The Oxford Economic suggests, “Replacing an employee costs on average around £30,000 and it takes up to 28 weeks to get them up to speed.” Bearing this in mind, it might be a good idea to keep your existing employees happy. It will save on time and money, whilst ensuring a high level of in-house talent.
You have to define what success means to you—understanding, of course, that your definition will evolve over time.
Harvard Business School research drawing on five years’ worth of interviews with almost 4,000 executives worldwide, and a survey of 82 executives in an HBS leadership course reveals how leaders define Work-Life “Wins”:
In defining professional success, women place more value than men do on individual achievement, having passion for their work, receiving respect, and making a difference, but less value on organizational achievement and ongoing learning and development. A lower percentage of women than of men list financial achievement as an aspect of personal or professional success. Rewarding relationships are by far the most common element of personal success for both sexes, but men list merely having a family as an indicator of success, whereas women describe what a good family life looks like to them. Women are also more likely to mention the importance of friends and community as well as family.
Several male executives who admitted to spending inadequate time with their families consider absence an acceptable price for providing their children with opportunities they themselves never had.
Many women said that the most difficult aspect of managing work and family is contending with cultural expectations about mothering.
According to Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams, deciding when, where, and how to be accessible for work is an ongoing challenge, particularly for executives with families.
Always being plugged in can erode performance.
When it comes to technology in the home, more than a third of the surveyed executives view it as an invader, and about a quarter see it as a liberator.
Both acknowledged that executives must learn to manage communications technology wisely. Overall, they view it as a good servant but a bad master. Their advice in this area is quite consistent: Make yourself available but not too available to your team; be honest with yourself about how much you can multitask; build relationships and trust through face time; and keep your in-box under control. And if it’s logistically possible, you’re better off communicating in person.
Building Support Networks
Across the board, senior executives insisted that managing family and professional life requires a strong network of behind-the-scenes supporters, especially when they became responsible for aging parents or suffered their own health problems.
Support at work matters too. Trusted colleagues serve as valuable sounding boards. And many leaders reported that health crises—their own or family members’—might have derailed their careers if not for compassionate bosses and coworkers.
Emotional support is equally essential. Like anyone else, executives occasionally need to vent when they’re dealing with something crazy or irritating at work, and friends and family are a safer audience than colleagues. Sometimes leaders also turn to their personal networks for a fresh perspective on a problem or a decision, because members of their teams don’t always have the distance to be objective.
Some seek novelty and a counterbalance to work. “If all of your socializing centers around your work life, you tend to experience an ever-decreasing circle of influence and ideas,” one pointed out. Others want to protect their personal relationships from the churn of the workplace.
Traveling or Relocating Selectively
Discussions about work-life balance usually focus on managing time. But it’s also critical to manage your location—and, more broadly, your role in the global economy. When leaders decide whether to travel or relocate (internationally or domestically), their home lives play a huge part. Of those surveyed, 32% said they had turned down an international assignment because they did not want to relocate their families, and 28% said they had done so to protect their marriages.
Many women reported cutting back on business trips after having children, and several executives of both sexes said they had refused to relocate when their children were adolescents.
Some executives even question the future of globe-hopping, noting that carbon costs, fuel costs, and security concerns may tighten future travel budgets.
Collaborating with Your Partner
Leaders with strong family lives spoke again and again of needing a shared vision of success for everyone at home—not just for themselves.
Leaders also emphasized the importance of complementary relationships. Many said how much they value their partners’ emotional intelligence, task focus, big-picture thinking, detail orientation—in short, whatever cognitive or behavioral skills balance out their own tendencies. And many consider emotional support the biggest contribution their partners have made to their careers.
What Partners Contribute
Men, however, appear to be getting more spousal support overall. Women, by contrast, slightly more often mentioned their partners’ willingness to free them from traditional roles at home. In other words, male executives tend to praise their partners for making positive contributions to their careers, whereas women praise theirs for not interfering.
When we look at the survey data, we see other striking differences between the sexes. Fully 88% of the men are married, compared with 70% of the women. And 60% of the men have spouses who don’t work full-time outside the home, compared with only 10% of the women. The men have an average of 2.22 children; the women, 1.67.
the reality of today’s business world
Executives of both sexes consider the tension between work and family to be primarily a women’s problem, and the students find that discouraging. “Given that leadership positions in corporations around the world are still dominated by men,” one explained, “I fear that it will take many organizations much longer than it should to make accommodations for women to…effectively manage their careers and personal lives.”
you can’t compete in the global marketplace while leading a “balanced” life.
We can’t predict what the workplace or the family will look like later in this century, or how the two institutions will coexist. But we can assert three simple truths:
Even the most dedicated executive may suddenly have his or her priorities upended by a personal crisis—a heart attack, for instance, or a death in the family. As one pointed out, people tend to ignore work/life balance until “something is wrong.” But that kind of disregard is a choice, and not a wise one. Since when do smart executives assume that everything will work out just fine? If that approach makes no sense in the boardroom or on the factory floor, it makes no sense in one’s personal life.
There are multiple routes to success.
Some people plan their careers in detail; others grab whatever opportunity presents itself. Some stick with one company, building political capital and a deep knowledge of the organization’s culture and resources; others change employers frequently, relying on external contacts and a fresh perspective to achieve success. Similarly, at home different solutions work for different individuals and families. Some executives have a stay-at-home partner; others make trade-offs to enable both partners to work. The questions of child care, international postings, and smartphones at the dinner table don’t have “right” answers. But the questions need to be asked.
No one can do it alone.
Of the many paths to success, none can be walked alone. A support network is crucial both at and outside work—and members of that network must get their needs met too. In pursuit of rich professional and personal lives, men and women will surely continue to face tough decisions about where to concentrate their efforts.
Here are some more reasons why work life balance is important for your people and your organisation:
Less health problems
When we are stressed and over-worked we run the risk of jeopardising more than just our social lives – our physical and mental health is in danger too.
It’s no secret that when we are overworked, tired or stressed, then our health will suffer. A poor work life balance can lead to a variety of symptoms which can affect our wellbeing. This ranges from the flu, to serious health conditions like strokes and respiratory problems. A study conducted by UCL of more than 10,000 participants stated that white-collar workers who worked three or more hours longer than required had a 60% higher risk of heart-related problems than those who didn’t work overtime.
By encouraging your people to look after themselves and find balance, you will significantly limit health problems and absences. This will ensure your organisation is more efficient during business hours.
By helping your people to find the perfect balance between work and home, you will increase their engagement levels. This has many positive effects: According to Tower Perrin’s survey; “Companies with highly-engaged employees had a near 52% gap in performance improvement in operating income.” Additionally – “Companies with high levels of employee engagement improved 19.2% in operating income while companies with low levels of employee engagement declined 32.7%.”
Having an engaged workforce will lead to your people going ‘the extra mile’ for you and becoming loyal advocates for your brand and product. This is evidenced by Temkin Group, who suggest that “engaged staff are 2.5 times more likely to stay at work late if something needs to be done after the normal workday ends.”
We all get stressed from time to time, it is unavoidable. However, workplace burnouts are avoidable, and you should make efforts to ensure this doesn’t happen to your people. Burnouts occur when we feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. The negative effects of a burnout can affect every aspect of our lives.
The inability to separate work from home will massively increase the chances of a burnout, so it is important to encourage your team to take time off and “leave work at work.”
When we find, and sustain a healthy work life balance, we develop a greater control over our focus and ability to concentrate on the task at hand – this is known as mindfulness.
By encouraging your people to have a healthy work life balance, you will create an environment where everyone is dedicated to the task at hand. This will improve efficiency, productivity and ultimately profit.
Now we know why it is important, let’s explore how you can implement it, to ensure your people have a healthy work life balance:
Tips to improve work life balance
Encourage time off:
Vacations are not a luxury, they are a necessity. A break from work will provide you with the chance to switch off and enjoy yourself, it is also a great opportunity to recuperate and recharge. This is essential to help your people improve productivity and focus when they return to the office.
Numerous studies show that vacations increase company productivity and reduce stress. The American Sociological Association compiled a report, which suggests that a larger number of vacations lead to a decline in the psychological distress of people.
An effective way to encourage your people to take time off is to implement a “use it, or lose it” system – whereby any unused days will not be carried over at the end of the year.
Implement short breaks throughout the day:
If taking time off isn’t an option for your people, then it is important to encourage small breaks throughout the day. The human body was not designed to stare at a bright screen for hours on end – it is not good for our health, or our mental wellbeing.
To combat this, you could consider installing a games room where people can socialise and take their minds off work, encourage light exercise throughout the day, or even go out as a team to grab a coffee. Some leading companies will get meditation practitioners in to help calm and de-stress their people.
All of these social investment techniques will positively impact on your teams’ work performance, productivity and happiness.
Ask employees for guidance:
If you are struggling to come up with innovative ways to improve your employees’ work life balance, then why not ask them?
If you notice that your people are struggling to find balance, then find out what changes they think would improve their situation. By collaborating with your team, you will get more of an insight into the way they think, and you will be able to work together on strategies more effectively in future.
To help you facilitate these discussions, consider having regularly scheduled meetings, or implement real-time feedback programmes to provide you with data-driven insights. This way you can accurately gauge how your people are feeling at any given time and make adjustments to ensure that they have the right balance.
Practice what you preach:
Finally, it is important to lead by example. If you tell your people to leave at six and not work over the weekend, but you’re sending them emails during these periods it sends a very mixed message – no one wants to take advice from a hypocrite. It also puts additional pressure on your people to mirror your working hours. A new law in France was implemented on 1 January called the “right to disconnect”, which ensures there are limits on the amount of work undertaken outside of office hours. Why not consider implementing something similar at your workplace?
It is important to respect the balance and privacy of your team when they are not in the office. This means you should avoid contacting them outside of office hours to allow them to fully switch off, and recharge from everyday work stresses.
Most of us will spend a massive percentage of our time at work, and often let it feed into all aspects of our lives. Bearing this in mind it is essential to find the right balance, so we can switch off from work and give our personal lives equal measures of attention too.
By loosening the reigns when it comes to your people’s work-life balance, you will make huge strides towards building an engaged and productive team.
According to Ray Williams, the problem of work-life balance is becoming more acute in organizations, particularly in light of the large influx of millennials into the workplace, and there is a disconnect between employers’ and employees’ perspective on this issue.
A study of the issue of work-life balance in Europe completed by Joan Lazar, showed that competing and multi-faceted demands between work and home responsibilities have increased substantially in Europe, and the result has been many government-led policy initiatives. Her research shows that workers who feel they have some control over their working environment tend to suffer less stress-related ill-health; and turnover is less frequent.
Millennials will represent the majority of the workforce within the next few years. Employers that grasp the importance of understanding Millennials will be better positioned to adjust their employer branding strategies and employment offerings around the expectations of Millennials. Of these expectations, two stand out: Millennials rank achieving wealth below spending time with family followed by personal growth and learning. They spend a much higher value on having enough personal time. Work-life balance is critical to them.
WorkplaceTrends.com, Workplace Flexibility Study revealed the following:
Dan Schawbel, Founder of WorkplaceTrends.com and New York Times best-selling author of Promote Yourself, said “Technology has expanded the 9-to-5 workday into the 24/7 workday, which has made it extremely difficult for employees to have personal time… In the future, every company will have flexibility program and those that don’t will lose the battle for the top talent.”
According to Joe Wedgwood, Content & PR Executive at The Happiness Index, as we grow increasingly more connected through technology and social media, it is becoming more and more difficult to separate work from our personal lives. Employers expect more from their people, which leads to them feeling more pressure to achieve greater results. Consequently, this leads to longer working hours, and less time spent at home.
Part of the problem can be seen in the debate or push-back from employers. They are concerned that giving workers too much flexibility or “free time” will result in abuses. At the same time, there is no evidence to support the proposition that “face-time” or “seat time” is the equivalent of engagement or productivity, which can realistically only be measured by results. There are new studies now available that show that in organizations that provide flexible work-life balance arrangements productivity actually increases.
The other perspective that becomes part of the issue of work-life balance is that of gender. With the increase in the numbers of women in the workforce, combined with the predominant expectation that they will continue to shoulder most of the responsibilities of child-rearing, the lack of work-life balance becomes more acute.