We have all struggled with the definition of work-life balance. And now more than ever, we struggle with separating our work and home lives. The pandemic has forced more employees to work from home and although many welcome the added flexibility, many are struggling to find balance between work and home life.
Pre-pandemic, employers were increasingly trying to provide work-at-home options as retention tools, and employees often looked for new jobs citing better work-life balance as the primary reason for the search. Although employees welcome this new flexibility, we have to recognize that working from home has its own set of challenges.
So where did the concept of work life balance come from? In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution and its resulting shift to manufacturing work made it possible for employers to require workers to labor longer hours than ever before in human history. In some industries, people toiled 14 to 16 hours a day, six to seven days a week. As researchers began to study the negative impact that these long hours had on stress levels, health, and family life, the idea of work-life balance gained legitimacy, and many countries began to legislate limits to the workweek 1.
Productivity studies have shown that productivity in the long run actually drops when employees work excessive hours for extended periods of time. As figure: 1 shows, after 4 weeks of working 60+ hours, productivity drops significantly2.
Figure 1: Productivity decreases after initial increase
The problem is even though data shows that longer work hours means being less productive, people continue to disregard the data.
Flexibility in an employee’s work schedule, which allows them to have a better work-life balance, is increasingly becoming a popular retention tool. It costs a lot to find and hire the right person so it makes sense for organizations to start viewing flex time as a retention and money saving tool. There is also data to prove that when employers let people attend to family and personal goals it leads to having a more engaged workforce that outperforms other organizations and proves to be a competitive advantage even in tougher economic times 4.
Therefore, when organizations design employee retention and engagement programs and policies, we need to really understand what contributes to happy, engaged employees. Gallup research defines five types of well-being essential for most people1:
Once employees have their basic needs met, it makes sense that a higher level of wellbeing will become a focus for them. And if you want to keep your best employees engaged and productive, perhaps policies and programs need to better reflect this.
Now that many of us have transitioned to a work-from-home existence, work-life balance has some new challenges. It is difficult to separate our physical work and living spaces and employees often find it difficult to define the end of their work day clearly. We are also spending large amounts of time in front of our screens for work and social activities. Eye strain and mental exhaustion are setting in. So here are a few tips to help keep that balance:
About the Author:
Marnie Larson is the CEO of StarGarden Corporation and oversees its operations in Canada, US and New Zealand. She has over 20 years’ experience in the software industry and specializes in HCM, Business process automation and Workflow technology.
4. Marciano, P. L. (2010). Carrots and Sticks Don't Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT (TM). New York: McGraw-Hill