floating logs symbolising a healthy work-life balance
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Flexibility is the key to getting the work-life balance right, both for employers and employees, writes Mary Jane Gunn.

A healthy work-life balance is one of those things that’s often talked about. ‘People want time more than they do money’, said Arianna Huffington back in 2013. But how many are actually achieving it?

A recent YouGov poll found those in the 25-34 age group are the most dissatisfied with their work-life balance, with one in five unhappy with their lot, compared to just 11% of over-55s. The study, Work-life balance – the tools for retention, confirms what many other similar reports have proposed – a poor work-life balance makes employees feel alienated and disengaged.

Employees’ emotional wellbeing depends on a healthy work-life balance. The Mental Health Foundation says the UK’s increasingly demanding work culture is the biggest and most pressing challenge to the general population’s mental health.

But when employees have a healthy work-life balance, there are real benefits for businesses too. One of the keys to achieving this is to have managers who can create environments in which work-life balance is not just put into practice, but actively supported as well.

Business benefits

Studies suggest employees with a healthy work-life balance are more engaged, more productive and perform better at work. They have better morale and relationships with their managers, and tend to be more motivated and less stressed.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest positive work-life balance practices can bring even more benefits, including reduced absenteeism and employee turnover, as well as increased employee loyalty and competitiveness.

Besides having supportive managers, one of the ways companies can improve their employees’ work-life balance is to invest in flexibility. Flexible working can include:

  • Job sharing
  • Working from home
  • Working part time
  • Compressed hours
  • Flexitime
  • Working annualised or staggered hours
  • Phased retirement

While some employers tend to see these practices as a compromise or an accommodation, many experts argue flexibility should be considered an effective business strategy.

One of the problems with flexibility is that it’s often seen as a one-size-fits-all proposal. Yet each employee will have different needs, so flexible working solutions may be more successful if they’re tailored towards the individual.

Managers should consider ways to give employees a better sense of control in what they do, and how the work environment can be more supportive. Culture change doesn’t happen overnight, but doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are five simple ideas to get you started.

Five routes to healthy work-life balance

1. Encourage leaving on time

Working late and outside normal office hours is embedded in many a company psyche, and is a common occurrence here in the UK. A 2015 study by the Working Families charity found that half of employees stay late at work because of the culture in their company. Encouraging employees to leave on time as often as possible – and not to go back online to work remotely when they’re at home – can help staff create a boundary between work and home life.

2. Promote holiday taking

A 2015 survey by Canada Life Group Insurance suggests more than a fifth of the UK workforce doesn’t use all its paid holiday entitlement. But not taking enough time off to rest and rejuvenate isn’t thought to be good for employees’ mental and physical health. By checking that employees are taking their full holiday entitlement, managers can help reduce employee stress and boost productivity.

3. Inspire regular breaks

If employees aren’t taking their paid holiday time, there’s also a chance they won’t be taking lunch breaks or other breaks throughout the day. A recent survey by Mastercard revealed that the average lunch break in the UK is now just 28 minutes, and that only 17% of employees take a full lunch hour. A lack of breaks makes staff less productive and stunts creativity, and has a detrimental effect on health. It’s important to inspire your employees to take regular breaks, even if that simply means standing up and walking around for a minute or two, at least once an hour.

4. Support a switch-off

Responding to work communications is one of the major pressures felt by employees. Over four in 10 read or send work-related emails outside office hours, while almost two in five are making or taking work calls while on holiday. Managers can help by thinking carefully about how and when they communicate with their team outside office hours. One way would be for managers to avoid emailing employees on holiday.

5. Be a good role model

If managers aim for a healthy work-life balance in their own lives, employees may be more likely to follow their example. Making time to switch off encourages your team to do the same, and can help boost their own mental and physical wellbeing.

Sharing ideas

It’s important to share ideas with senior management about establishing a better work-life balance for employees, as some may not be keen on the idea of flexible working practices. Managers should address their concerns and talk openly about the benefits of culture change, as well as any challenges it may create and how the team can deal with them together. The success of an organisation’s actions and policies depends on everyone being committed to the changes, from employees to board members.