Work-life balance has always been a struggle, but as the months of remote work add up, finding ways to separate “work life” from “home life” has become an even greater challenge. In this week’s blog, we share eight ideas to help employees balance work and life, and provide a preview of our newest Daily Habits Plan dedicated to work-life balance.
Improving work-life balance seems overwhelming, even under normal circumstances. But it doesn’t have to be. Right now, more and more employers are realizing that their employees are feeling stressed, burned out, and ultimately exhausted in every aspect of their lives. And since employees spend most of their weekday working, it’s critical that organizations take steps to help their employees balance their work and life again.
Here are eight tips employers can use to improve work-life balance for their employees:
1. Encourage leadership to model work-life balance behaviors.
As we’ve been discussing in our blogs on stress and burnout, leaders and managers set the tone for how well the organization lives into its pledge to maintain healthy work-life boundaries. Researchers from ideas42, a nonprofit that uses behavioral science to solve real world problems, noted this about leaders: “While they expressed a desire for better work-life balance — if not for themselves, at least for the rest of their staff — they were often among the worst offenders, texting at 9 PM, emailing over the weekend or at night, and rarely taking vacation.”
Does this ring true for your organization, too? Modeling appropriate work-life balance starts at the top, so urge leaders to examine the signals they might be sending to their staff members. Then, give them permission to create boundaries. Once employees see their leadership team taking time to manage their home lives, they’ll feel more empowered to make their own boundaries and begin balancing work and life.
2. Bury the “busyness culture” and share a new vision of what an ideal worker looks like.
Part of the reason we have trouble shutting off our work lives is that we feel that looking busy and working long hours is a measure of our dedication to the job. It doesn’t have to be that way. As this Harvard Business Review article points out, perhaps it’s time to communicate that “an ideal worker in the 21st century is someone who does great work, is well-rested and healthy, and has a great life outside of work.” As a well-being organization, that is definitely a sentiment we support!
3. Ask, “Do we really need a meeting for this?”
One of the side effects of working from home is that casual interactions with co-workers have now turned into 30-minute video calls that cut into productivity. Take a hard look at your organization’s meeting culture. If employees’ calendars are filled with back-to-back meetings, consider alternative ways to seek input or decisions. Have managers hold “office hours” so anyone can drop in and get a quick question answered. Teams could schedule Slack chats for a certain time of the day to brainstorm with co-workers. The point is to make meetings time well-spent, leaving room in the day to do focused work. That way, they don’t feel like they must work late to catch up on projects they couldn’t work on during the day.
4. Be the company that every parent wants to work for.
One of the pandemic’s silver linings is that having a family—and being open about it to colleagues and managers—is no longer considered taboo. What a great thing for working parents! We have seen an outpouring of support in the form of free back-up childcare, company-sponsored remote learning pods, flexible work hours, sabbaticals, and extended paid family leave.
Don’t abandon these types of work-life supports when the pandemic is over. If organizations want to keep their best employees—many of whom have children—they should maintain these safety nets to foster a better work-life balance.
5. Consider the “fake commute.”
Gone are the days of listening to a podcast or music during our commute, which served as a healthy buffer zone before and after our busy days. Now, we start Zoom meetings shortly after waking and don’t stop until the sun has set. Some have combatted this problem by adopting a so-called “fake commute.” A short drive to grab coffee before starting work gives us some time to ease into the day; a 30-minute walk at the end of the day sends our bodies and brains the signal that it’s time to stop working.
6. Bring back the lunch hour.
Sure, some days we ate at our desks, but working in the office also gave us the chance to grab a bite in the cafeteria or at a local restaurant. Without those options, there’s seemingly no reason to stop working just to eat. And sometimes, we feel like we have to eat at our desks so we don’t miss any important emails.
But taking this break is essential. First, it’s a chance to give our eyes a rest from our screens. Second, it encourages you to take a break away from your work to reset and recharge. Doing this can help people come back to their job feeling productive, engaged and focused. If your organization needs help convincing employees that it’s okay to step away, try mandating no meetings between 12 and 1.
7. Stay the course on flexible and remote work.
If you instituted flexible working schedules during the pandemic, keep them. The same goes for remote work. The pandemic has proven to companies that workers can be productive at home, and there is growing consensus that a hybrid approach—some office time, some home time—will be our new preferred mode of working. This style of working is a boon to work-life balance. We will still get much-needed interaction with colleagues, but we’ll also get a break from our commutes and more time to tend to our health and home life.
8. Put supports in place to make it easier to take paid time off.
One of the reasons people cite for not taking a vacation is that it’s too stressful to make sure every aspect of work is buttoned up before leaving—not to mention the full screen of unopened emails we face when we come back. How about building in a paid transition day before and after vacation so that it’s less daunting? Or we could simply designate those buffer days as “vacation prep days,” where we don’t take meetings and block our calendars for focus time.
And at the end of the day, we all deserve a break. Just because we may not be traveling right now or taking the vacations we dream of, it’s still important to schedule time off. Even if we just lounge in our homes for a couple of days, it can do wonders for our mental health and productivity levels. So, encourage your employees to continue taking time off for rest and relaxation.
Introducing Work-Life Balance in Daily Habits.
At WebMD Health Services, we are keenly aware of how the pandemic has impacted our clients and their employees’ work-life balance. So we’re proud to introduce the latest component of our Daily Habits Program to help participants separate “work life” from “life life.” Beginning in April, we’ll roll out this 28-day program that focuses on finding the balance people need to continue to be healthy and productive in this stressful time.
The program features:
- Embedded videos from our Coaching staff on things like progressive muscle relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, and journaling tips.
- Reminders about the importance of sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
- Education on how to better define the boundaries of a workday.
Throughout the 28-day Plan, we emphasize how important it is for participants to prioritize themselves and engage in activities that promote happiness in all aspects of life.
Achieving a healthier work-life balance shouldn’t be a nice-to-have perk or a hollow sentiment in a company’s employee value proposition. When workers feel supported in their home and work lives, they’re healthier, more productive, and more likely to stay with an employer. It’s a win-win situation for employees and organizations alike!
- Blog: Coronavirus is Forcing Women to Make a Difficult Choice: Keep Working or Opt Out?
- Blog: Signs of Burnout at Work: How to Help Employees
- Blog: Reducing Stress in the Workplace
- Whitepaper: Well-Being Disconnect: Employees Want More From Employers
- Whitepaper: Employees Are More Stressed Than Ever
- Podcast: Making Mental Health Mainstream, Part 1