Thinking of work-life balance, the first adage that comes to mind is ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, which of course only really skims the surface of what happens to a person when they overwork themselves to the point of burnout. While most of us won’t necessarily go full-on Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining batty due to a lack of personal time and relaxation, it has to be said that the notion of time poverty as a mark of success really needs to be shelved already.
Feeling a little sceptical there? It’s not surprising really.
We have been conditioned for decades to believe that the busier you are and the harder you grind, the more likely you’ll be to make it all the way up the ladder. However, the latest research into the relationship between burnout, depression and anxiety has proven otherwise. Professional burnout is a major talking point among mental health professionals at the moment, and with good reason - we are quite literally working ourselves to death according to the World Health Organisation.
This is why forward-thinking business owners, managers and HR professionals are increasingly on the lookout for ways to help their employees achieve a healthier work-life balance.
If you would like to start putting the theory into practice at your place of work, there are countless ways to do so. Here are 8 tips to get you started:
1. Lead by example when it comes to time off
First things first, you need to start modeling the behaviour you would like to see in your employees. For example, if you take time off and then spend a bunch of time and energy answering work emails like you’re still sitting in the office, this is not exactly doing anybody any good.
You can go around telling your workforce to rest and take it easy when they’re on leave until you’re blue in the face - if you keep your nose to the grindstone while you’re supposed to let your hair down and stick your toes in the sand they’ll be following suit. Having your one foot in the office and your other in ‘real life’ does nobody any good; go ahead and unplug when you give yourself time off so your employees will do the same.
2. Create a reliable working environment
Next up - be consistent in your implementation of healthy work-life initiatives.
Cultural consistency is key to reducing stress and helping people find a happy medium. When your employees know what to expect from one day to the next, this feeling of stability will allow them to make healthy decisions for themselves.
Practical example? You can't encourage people to take leave to recharge and then throw your toys out of the cot when you can't get hold of someone when something crops up during their time away. Rather deal with it as best you can and relook your holiday handover processes upon their return. When you behave consistently in this regard, your workforce will be more likely to switch off when they're away, and return bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
3. Allow for flexible scheduling
There was a time when the notion of flexi-time seemed preposterous - you worked your nine to five and that was it. However, times do change. Recent polls have shown that flexible scheduling results in increased productivity and fewer costly absences from work.
When employees have the option of working from home a few days a week, or are allowed to schedule their arrival and departure from work to fall outside of peak traffic hours, or accommodate personal responsibilities like school runs, etc., they are happier, more relaxed and in a position to give their work their all.
4. Be sensitive to major life events
Life happens. Parents fall ill, babies come early, newborns require more care than was initially expected, people need to move house, major breakups cause emotional upset and opportunities for further studies may arrive.
In cases like these, a nimble, adaptable company will provide employees with the option of unpaid leave to tend to the unexpected curve balls that landed in their lap. Yes, it may result in some admin on the part of the HR department, but if you want to retain your top talent and boost morale, this is a surefire strategy to do so.
5. Encourage short breaks throughout the day
On a more practical, day-to-day level, make a point of encouraging employees to take short breaks throughout the day. Humans were not built to spend 8 hours straight sitting on a chair, gazing at a screen. Create a space where they can hang out to take a break from their desks - a bright canteen or a cosy room with lots of plants and light reading material. Or how about investing in the services of a yoga or Pilates instructor who can conduct informal sessions once a day? Find out what your employees would prefer in this regard and put the wheels in motion.
6. Accommodate employees with families
The notion that employees with children are less motivated to achieve career goals than their single, or childless counterparts is completely untrue. However, people with families do have added challenges that can keep them from reaching their full potential at work. Childcare, for one, can be a major headache. It’s expensive, creche hours are fixed and may not necessarily coincide with company working hours, and nannies call in sick at the last minute. Where possible, providing the option of on-site childcare will immediately skyrocket your company into the preferred employer category; but if this is out of the question a little understanding regarding late arrivals, or the option of flexi hours, can go a long way.
7. Make fun team-building outings a priority
Not every work-life initiative has be about getting away from work. Sometimes the very thing your employees need is to blow off some steam with their colleagues. Make some time (and loosen up some budget) for fun team-building events outside of the office.
Go to an ice skating rink, have a braai, go bowling, challenge yourselves on an adventure obstacle course, go hiking, see an outdoor movie or head to the beach for a friendly afternoon of volleyball and boerewors rolls - the sky's the limit.
8. Ask your employees what they need
Last but not least, ask your employees what you can do to help them balance their responsibilities at work and home. Open those lines of communication and find out how you can tailor the working environment to be more conducive to a well-balanced lifestyle. You may well find that there are certain departments that are overworked because there is a need for extra personnel, or it could be as simple as providing the option of chipping in on healthy lunch options.
So, in summary, if you want to start laying the groundwork for a healthy work-life balance at your company, you can start by:
- Actually unplugging when you go on leave, yourself.
- Ensuring that you are consistent in your implementation of a pro-work-life balance initiatives.
- Creating the opportunity to opt in on flexible work hours.
- Offering unpaid time off when life happens.
- Making room for small breaks throughout the day.
- Being accommodating to employees who are parents.
- Taking some time (and budget) to have strings-free fun with your team.
- Asking your employees to share their ideas on improving the status quo.
Implement these strategies and see what a major difference it will make in employee engagement and morale in general. In the meantime, if you want to continue on the right track you will build a positive company culture that will permeate your entire enterprise.
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