Our What Workers Want 2021 survey found that a poor work-life balance was one of the top five reasons why employees would search for a new job. The pandemic was likely a key driver behind this, allowing many of us to experience greater flexibility in our roles and renewing our focus on personal wellbeing. A good work-life balance is now key to an attractive employee proposition.
As part of our benchmarkable NP360 assessment, we measure your people’s satisfaction with their work-life balance and capture suggestions on how it can be improved. The 360 degree nature of the assessment also means we measure how work-life balance is impacting on six other aspects of the people experience, including wellbeing, culture, and overall job satisfaction.
In this article, we explore work-life balance in more detail, including some tips on how it can be managed.
Three reasons why work-life balance matters
Our What Workers Want 2021 survey shows that work-life balance can be a key driver of retention, but its impact is felt much wider. In this section, we’ll deep-dive into some of the benefits of a good work-life balance on organisations and their people.
1. Increased productivity
Productivity refers to the quantity, quality, and timeliness of work.
In 2020, researchers studying hotel workers in Bali found that work-life balance had a ‘significant positive effect’ on productivity.
And although hotel work is largely physical, leaders have found that this relationship is also true for office workers. Deloitte, a professional services firm, are giving their 20,000 UK employees the flexibility to choose when, how and where they work, to help support work-life balance and by doing so, help employees ‘be at their most productive’.
The evidence suggests that by having sufficient space and freedom to switch-off from work, employees are better able to focus during their working hours. They’re often more rested and less susceptible to distractions from their personal lives. This results in sustainably higher levels of output and means that flexible and fewer hours can be more productive than long days.
2. Reduced burnout
Research by Indeed found that more than half of employees are feeling burned out.
Burnout has become such a problem, that the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified it as a globally recognised occupational syndrome in 2020. Symptoms include low-energy, negativity towards the job and a sense of ineffectiveness.
Work-life balance can be a powerful mitigator against burnout, by giving employees sufficient time to recharge so that they’re ready for the next work challenge.
3. Better wellbeing
According to a recent World Happiness Report, work-life balance was identified as the strongest workplace driver of an individual’s subjective wellbeing.
The research found that people who have a job that leaves them too tired to enjoy their personal lives, or find work interferes with their ability to spend time with their partner and family, report consistently lower levels of subjective wellbeing.
A better work-life balance can therefore improve an individual’s sense of wellbeing, helping them to bring their best selves to work. Higher levels of wellbeing can also increase workforce resilience and reduce absenteeism.
How we measure work-life balance
Our benchmarkable NP360 assessment asks employees to score the following on a scale of 1-10:
‘How satisfied are you with the balance between the time you spend on your work and the time you spend on other aspects of your life?’.
To increase the actionability of our insight, employees that score 8 or less are then asked how their work-life balance could be improved. The 360 degree nature of our NP360 assessment means that we also measure the effect of work-life balance on six other aspects of the people experience, including satisfaction, wellbeing, relationships, culture, purpose and engagement, to provide you with the big picture view you need to confidently make decisions that develop a winning people experience.
How to improve work-life balance
In this section, our people chemists share several top tips that organisations can use to improve work-life balance.
Empower your employees to set their own schedule
By giving your people the freedom to set their own schedule and how they work, they can create a personalised way of working that meets their own individual circumstances. Employees are looking for this flexibility, as evidenced by our What Workers Want 2021 survey that found it was a key driver behind retention.
With the right policies, technology and culture, there are many circumstances where greater flexibility can be hugely rewarding to both your organisation and its people.
Give plenty of notice on rota changes
Research by the Retail Trust in 2021 found that employees working in retail, distribution and warehouses were most likely to score low when it comes to mental health – with the majority saying that they rarely, or never have ‘energy to spare’. This suggests that shift workers are particularly susceptible to a poor work-life balance.
And although labour shortages and coronavirus isolation have presented leaders with unique challenges over the past two years, there are a couple of scheduling tips that can help staff get the balance they need:
- Give staff as much notice as possible when it comes to announcing the schedule and making changes. This helps them to plan their social life and rest time around work in a way that’s manageable.
- If a staff member is consistently picking-up extra shifts, check-in with them to assess whether they are getting sufficient rest.
Lead from the front
It was recently announced that London-based FinCapp, a stockbroker, will offer its employees ‘unlimited’ holidays. However, research suggests that without the right culture, such schemes can be counterproductive as employees may feel guilty to take time-off.
So, how can leaders develop a culture that supports work-life balance? The most effective way is to lead by example. If leaders show that taking breaks and holidays are acceptable, then this will cascade across the organisation.
It’s also important to not place too much value on the amount of voluntary time worked, something which start-ups are particularly vulnerable to. Whilst it can show dedication, results are what drive your business forward and this is where the focus should ultimately be.
A four-day working week?
There’s been much debate over the future of the working week and whether we should reduce it to four days.
Although there are cultural differences, recent trials such as those conducted in Iceland suggest that a four-day working week was an ‘overwhelming success’. Most workplaces saw productivity increase or remain the same, while employees reported feeling less stressed and burned out and said their health and work-life balance had improved.
However, whilst the case for a four-day week is compelling, a recent study by a group of UK universities suggests that it can lead to ‘higher work intensity or a harsher social environment’. This indicates that the quality of the job, as well as the number of hours worked, is also key to wellbeing.
The pandemic means employees are more focused on work-life balance than ever before and expect greater levels of flexibility.
This perhaps is part of a broader shift to an employer-employee relationship that is more egalitarian and requires organisations to listen and act on what their people are saying with greater empathy. For some leaders, this may be uncomfortable change, but organisations that are bold and challenge the old model of doing things will be rewarded for it.