We hear the phrase work-life balance tossed about quite frequently. But what does it really mean?
How this concept is defined runs the gamut. For some, it means: flexible work hours, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, and fitness benefits. For others, reduced travel time, the cost of living increases, skills development, and short breaks throughout the workday.
Seeking work-life balance is as subjective as choosing a spouse or deciding what to eat for breakfast. So how do you go about creating a company culture that supports it?
Determining what this concept really means for individual employees, and then implementing it into your company’s culture might seem nearly impossible.
Fortunately, studies exist that can provide insights into some common threads in employees’ quest to achieve work-life balance.
The Current State of Juggling Work and Life
In one survey of over 900 Americans, more than a quarter of them either work during their vacations or allow work responsibilities to disturb time set aside for loved ones.
Nineteen percent bring work with them to family functions. And 25 percent of these American workers bring work home with them on a regular basis.
More than 40 percent of workers take care of personal or family matters during the work hours, and vice versa.
But the quest for work-life balance isn’t confined to the United States; it’s a global objective that spans generational cohorts.
From Baby Boomers to Gen X to Millennials from around the globe, work-life balance has become increasingly difficult. According to a global survey conducted for EY.com, the juggling act has become most difficult for women and parents.
Survey results gathered between November 2014 and January 2015 showed that as both home and work responsibilities have increased for many full-time workers, their ability to manage both home and work environments well has declined.
German and Japanese respondents have had the toughest time balancing work and personal responsibilities, at 49 percent and 44 percent respectively. The least challenged were Chinese workers at 16 percent.
In the United States, 25 percent of employees found managing employment expectations and a personal life increasingly difficult.
These results were largely the same across generations. But more specifically, employees in the U.S. tend to abandon job positions that lack flexibility or stigmatize those who work flexible hours.
To these respondents, work-life balance should involve:
- Flexibility without penalty
- Working fewer overtime hours
- Not having to forfeit promotion due to a need for more flexible hours
- Childcare options – on-site or subsidized
- The freedom to shut off devices and not needing to be so easily accessible outside of work.
Balancing Boundaries with Employment Expectations
With advancements in communication methods, it can be hard to distinguish between work life and personal time.
But when employers allow for that line to remain blurred, not only do employees suffer, the company suffers as well.
The opposite of balance is burnout. One of the many factors that contribute to job burnout is an imbalance between work and personal life.
Take for example employees who are bombarded with assignments that can’t reasonably be completed within a normal workday. Most employees would then take work home with them so as not to get behind or lose their job position.
When employees fear termination or demotion, their energy changes. They might feel drained, lose focus, and express a deflated attitude. When employees experience burnout, it creates a stressful work environment.
Based on survey results reported in September 2015 conducted by the American Psychological Association, when employees feel as though they have more control in setting boundaries between work and life, they:
- Are more engaged in their work
- Are less likely to resign
- Are more willing to work longer hours
- Relate well to their co-workers and superiors
- Report higher life satisfaction
Does Your Company Promote Work-Life Balance?
Some employees are willing to trade higher compensation for control over managing their career and personal life.
Work-life balance is an increasingly valuable concept and employees are open to making drastic life changes to achieve it.
Employers should understand that striving for the proper work-life balance will allow them to retain their best employees and foster a positive work environment.
Such risk-taking might involve changing careers, job positions, or declining a job offer.
Millennials in the U.S. especially are willing to relocate to a country that offers superior parental leave benefits.
Creating a work environment that doesn’t consume employees’ lives requires intentional effort and time.
What sacrifices are you, as an employer, willing to make with regards to your employees’ desire to obtain work-life balance?