Technology takes the lion's share of the burden in disturbing work-life balance for U.S. employees. With smartphones and notebooks, workers are constantly connected to the office. Overwhelming demands and tight deadlines leave employees with little choice but to work evenings, weekends and vacations to keep up with the fast pace. Not only is this pace not sustainable for your employees, it actually harms their productivity and employee engagement in the long run.
What is work-life balance?
While the term itself has been in use for a number of years, its definition has evolved as the workplace has evolved. Workers once anticipated starting a job right after school and staying with that company through retirement, but newer generations of employees have different expectations. Developing and retaining a multigenerational workforce depends on learning and understanding each generation's work expectations.
Between 2011 and 2019, 10,000 baby boomers - the oldest generation currently in the workforce - have reached retirement age each day. However, due to a variety of circumstances, such as recovering from retirement losses due to the Great Recession and often supporting adult children financially, baby boomers are retiring later in life. Since many of them have achieved senior management level at their companies, boomers experience moderate to high levels of stress at work. They also possess a work ethic that discourages them from using accrued leave.
Gen Xers, the boomers' children, witnessed the familial stress brought about by their parents' decision to prioritize work over life. As such, Gen Xers tend to value jobs that allow them to achieve greater balance. They are more likely to use accrued leave, and look for positions that offer additional perks such as maternity/paternity leave, telecommuting and workshare programs.
Millennials, the Gen Xers' children, are projected to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025. While often thought to prioritize play over work, millennials are simply trying to strike a balance between the harsh realities they face and the lives they would like to live. Millennials entered the workforce with the highest student debt load of any generation. They also face rising housing costs, causing them to postpone marriage and children in favor of organizing their finances. This generation is most interested in finding a work environment with a career path that will support the future they envision for themselves.
What employees can do to create balance
Physically, employees working more than 55 hours per week increase their risk of heart attack or stroke. Mentally, longer hours not only increase anxiety and depression but also lead to sleep loss. So employees should make their own health a priority over work whenever possible.
For some workers, striking a healthy work-life balance translates to standing up for themselves. Employees should use earned personal and vacation time. They need to make it clear to supervisors and coworkers that they are unavailable during this time, whether they are physically out of reach or simply taking a staycation.
Instead of allowing work to become overwhelming, employees could ask a supervisor to choose which projects are a priority. Workers can hold an open and honest discussion with the supervisor, outlining assigned projects and the amount of time each will take. The supervisor then has the opportunity to decide how an employee's time would best be spent.
The same concept applies to home life. Duties should be shared as evenly as possible between partners if in a relationship. For single parents, this concept may simply translate into accepting that home life will not be perfect. Unloading the dishwasher is not as important as reading a bedtime story to a child. Both parents and children benefit from this opportunity to relax and bond together.
What employers can do to create balance
It's not required for employers to create work-life balance for their employees, but it's certainly in your best interest if you want to attract and retain top talent in your company. It also serves your company's bottom line. Work-life imbalance leads to health problems, costing the workplace an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion annually in healthcare payments. These health problems and resultant absenteeism also lead to a dramatic decrease in workplace productivity.
The best way to encourage work-life balance is to apply that concept to your own life. Show your employees that you value your own downtime and that you respect theirs. Don't send or respond to business correspondence after hours with your employees unless it is a true emergency.
Explore flexible work schedules for those employees who desire more freedom in their hours. Many jobs are computer-based. Employees in those positions could work from home or alter their schedules to accommodate other life events.
Finally, if you notice that an employee is struggling, don't wait until that employee burns out. Show that you care enough to talk to the employee. Find out what is on their mind. It may be a simple matter of additional training for a new job, or they may need to take an extended leave to work through family problems. Either way, your show of kindness will greatly reduce their stress level.
Helping you help your employees
Many companies say that they want to help you manage your employees. At Inflection HR, we want to help you improve the quality of your employees' lives. With automated HR systems, we take the paperwork stress out of your employees' jobs. Through our system, they can manage their leave, submit their expenses and participate in creating their own schedules.
Your employees will feel more empowered and less encumbered by senseless paperwork. Contact us for a consultation so that we can help you create a more balanced work environment for your team.