Does a work-life balance really exist? And what does it even mean to have a work-life balance?
Employers and employees alike have differing ideas on what it means, and if it is really even possible, to have a work-life balance. While onsite at work, employers with a more “traditional” work culture and workday structure may have long-ingrained ideas about what it is to be a dedicated employee. Vacations should be few and far between. Flextime and telecommuting may be unheard of or synonymous with “no structure or accountability.” Offsite, smart phones and laptops allow us to work from anywhere, at any hour. As employees, we are technically accessible 24 hours a day and may never truly feel like we are “off.”
Employees in exempt positions probably have the most difficult time trying to attain any kind of work-life balance. These employees technically have no real limitations on hours they can work and for them, the “work day” may never end. In order to keep up with the real (or perceived) demands of their positions, they may work late into the night on a regular basis, or work on weekends and during vacations. Leisure activities, personal interests and hobbies may fall to the wayside. Long-planned trips may get cancelled. Friends and family may get rain-checked.
A work-life balance is a true gift to employees – to all employees, and not only working parents. It helps prevents burnout (and may actually increase productivity) and the high cost of employee turnover. Several studies have shown that the longer an employee works with no real break, no real opportunity to spend quality time away from work, the less productive he or she becomes.  All employees have outside interests and people they like to spend time with outside of work. All employees need a break. What can employers do to keep their most valuable resource – people – feel more balance in their personal and professional lives without giving over a “lawless, structure-free” workplace?
- Track salaried employee work hours. Again, while there is no limit to their hours as they are paid to get their jobs done, ideally, there should be. If the workload is so great that they are regularly working over 12 hours a day as well as on designated days off, such as weekends or holidays, there is probably too much on their plates or they may have time management issues.
- Evaluate job descriptions. If employees are putting in long hours on a regular basis, is there any part of their jobs that can be delegated to others? What is taking the most time, and is there a quicker, more efficient way of getting it done or still a need to even continue doing it? Some employees hold on to a time-consuming task simply because they’ve always done it the same way without considering alternatives.
- Manage the culture. Do employees feel like they need to be seen late in the workplace to display their job dedication to upper management? Are some supervisors calling employees during vacations for less-than-urgent matters, or reluctant to approve vacation time at all? Sometimes it can be as simple as kindly telling an employee to head on home at the end of an eight or nine-hour day or coaching a supervisor who is adverse to employee time off to help employees see that you as a company understand how valuable time away – truly away – from work can be.
- Take an interest. Some managers may feel uncomfortable taking conversations with their employees away from work but it might make the team feel a little less like worker bees and more like individuals if their supervisors show a little interest in their outside lives. Ask about their weekends – do they show at art exhibitions? Coach a sport? Spend time caring for a home-bound family member or volunteer for charitable organizations? Remembering that “employees are people too” is great start to a shift in thinking about trying to help employees find a reasonable balance between their home and work lives.
- Embrace – but don’t abuse – technology. Technology can be a great tool when not used to tether an employee to his or her job 24/7. Consider balance-friendly work structures, such as flextime and telecommuting. Employees dedicated to their work will continue to be dedicated regardless of their physical location or number of hours sitting at their desks. While not all types work structures may work for all positions, with careful planning and a system of goals and accountability in place, employers may find themselves with happier, more dedicated employees who appreciate their employers’ trust in them as professionals.
Employees are used to prioritizing and making personal sacrifices when needed for work – it’s part of what makes it “work.” However, that doesn’t mean that they should sacrifice their identities and all of their free time in order to keep their jobs. A work-life balance is a true gift – one that gives to both employees and ultimately, to their employers as well. While true balance may not be completely attainable, it’s well worth the effort to do what we can to try to achieve it.
“Employee Vacation Leave Essential to High-Performing Organizations ” Project Time Off, 2013
“Relax! You’ll be More Productive” New York Times, 2013 https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/relax-youll-be-more-productive.html?_r=0
“Crunch Mode: Programming to the Extreme: The Relationship Between Hours Worked and Productivity” 2004 Stanford University Research Project https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/crunchmode/index.html