Balancing personal and professional time has been a topic of conversation for years but has taken center stage since the pandemic. It’s an exciting time where both employees and employers are prioritizing time in new ways. Below is a closer look at work life balance research and strategies to improve balance.
What is the importance of work life balance?
Have you ever felt like a completely different person while on vacation? Like you, but the best version of yourself? One of the objectives of work life balance is to get closer to that feeling every day. With 64% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, there’s no choice but to work. Even those who don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck can’t live on their savings long-term. Since you spend most of your waking hours at work, balance is essential.
Work life balance research is alarming:
- 25% of Americans identify their job as their primary source of stress.
- Workplace stress is estimated to be the 5th biggest cause of death in the US.
- Workplace stress results in between 15 minutes to 1 hour of lost productivity per day.
- 54% of employees miss 1 to 3 days of work per year due to workplace stress.
- 31% of employees miss 3 to 6 days of work per year due to workplace stress.
- 15% of employees miss 6 or more days of work per year due to workplace stress.
- 41% of employees cite workload as their primary contributor to stress.
- 32% of employees cite people issues as their primary contributor to stress.
- 18% of employees cite juggling work and personal life as their primary contributor to stress.
What is the impact of work life balance?
Improving balance between your personal and professional lives creates a positive ripple effect in all areas of your life. It’s important to think beyond sheer mathematics, as more hours worked doesn’t equal increased productivity. Countless studies demonstrate that everything from working fewer hours to taking daily breaks and using vacation days increases productivity.
Balance can improve quality of life in a variety of ways including:
- Prioritizing what is truly important to you.
- Feeling a greater sense of freedom and control.
- Increasing productivity at home and work.
- Simplifying your life by investing in your priorities.
- Scheduling more time for self-care.
- Enjoying more time with friends and family.
- Setting clear boundaries that support your priorities.
- Letting go of trying to do everything yourself.
- Taking control of your life, not allowing work to control you.
What changes can I make to improve work life balance?
In addition to answering the question of “what is work life balance”, you may be wondering what specific changes you can make in your life. The first step is identifying your priorities. The financial security provided by your job is a priority, but you are not your work. Accepting this is challenging. While society is getting better, there is still a lot of shame and guilt associated with “me time”.
Here are a few common work life balance solutions:
Find a job you love—you are not your work, but between getting ready in the morning, your commute time, and time spent at work, you spend most of your waking hours at work. Find a job you are passionate about and a company culture that you are aligned with, and work will feel less like work.
Say no—in an effort to be a team player, you may take on too many additional job duties. Even if it’s something you always say “yes” to, say no when it doesn’t work well with your schedule. Or simply when you don’t want to for any reason whatsoever.
Take your time off—whether it’s your 10-minute break, lunch break, personal days, or vacation days it is essential to take your time off. The key is at least getting up from your desk, but ideally getting out of the office during your daily breaks. Whether short or long, you’ll return with more energy and innovation.
Prioritize your health—your health includes fulfilling your mind, body, and spiritual needs. Reevaluate your nutrition, exercise, physical health, mental health, self-care, and time in worship and prayer. You don’t have to practice religion to prioritize your spiritual health as time spent in nature, gratitude practices, yoga, and meditation are all spiritual practices.
Personal development—we hear a lot about professional development but prioritizing personal development is also essential. This includes talk therapy to identify and create a strategy to improve your individual areas of opportunity. You can also read self-development books and take online courses. As an added bonus, your personal development often improves your professional skill set.
Self-care—your self-care practices are essential for achieving and maintaining balance. What self-care looks like for you may not be what it looks like for your friends and family. It includes downtime, quality time with loved ones, talk therapy, hobbies, mindfulness practices, sleep, taking CBD, and more.
Unplug—while the average US work week is 34.6 hours, this number doesn’t include after-hours text, emails, and calls. Not to mention that many Americans work significantly more than the national average; even twice as much. So, set a time each day to unplug from work and all electronics.
Why is work life balance important to employers?
Wondering how to improve work life balance for your employees? While each team member must take an active approach to balancing their time, with the alarming statistics in the first section, it must also be a priority for your organization.
Between the great resignation, global job market, and younger generations prioritizing balance more than their parents’ generation—you simply can’t ignore balance.
Taking a strategic approach to personal and professional balance can:
- Create a desirable company culture
- Decrease burnout
- Improve retention
- Increase productivity
- Improve job satisfaction
- And more!
The tips below will help you and your HR team create a strategy:
Gather employee input—feel free to brainstorm what your team may appreciate most, but don’t forget to ask. This will help you develop company-wide initiatives as well as team and individual initiatives. Be open-minded and flexible during this process because you are sure to hear a few out-of-the-box ideas.
Encourage delegation and teamwork—empower your team members to utilize their resources by delegating pieces of projects to assistants, interns, and team members who specialize in skills they fall short in. For example, if a team member is tasked with gathering data and presenting their findings but they aren’t great at visualizing their findings, encourage them to delegate visualizing their report to a staff member who excels in design and who isn’t spread too thin themselves. Or to an external freelancer. This maximizes time and financial resources.
Market your remote and hybrid options—not all positions can be remote, and many positions can only be remote part-time. Clearly outline your flex hours, hybrid, and remote hours in your new job listings. If you haven’t yet, assess all of your current positions to revise employee remote options. Even 1 remote day a week can make a world of difference.
Encourage time off—survey your team to determine if they are taking their daily breaks. Also, to determine how often they eat lunch at their desk. Then find creative ways to encourage breaks. Hosting afternoon snacks is one way, but there are many more. Consider allowing vacation days to expire to encourage employees to take their time off and consider offering paid parental leave.
Offer working vacations—in addition to full days off, create a policy outlining each position’s working vacation options. This encourages employees to enjoy more travel while still getting their work done. While there may be blackout dates and a limited number of working vacation days they can take per year, many will love not having to be local all the time.
Have set unplugged hours—setting company-wide daily “unplugged” hours empowers your team to leave work at work.
Wellness initiatives—there are a variety of wellness initiatives you can launch including hosting health fairs, providing healthy free or paid snacks, arranging for a local gym discount, hosting wellness fairs, joining an EAP program, and offering yoga, massage, and meditation.
Communicate your options—once your wellness initiatives are in place, ensure your employees know what their options are. Send out a company-wide memo and have team leaders present position-specific options to individual employees.
Practice what you preach—the trickle-down effect can’t be ignored so ensure that your entire executive and management team sets a shining example. This includes taking their time off, attending wellness events, encouraging wellness, and ensuring that they don’t penalize their team for participating in your initiatives.
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