October 7-11 is National Work/Life Week. It’s a time to remind ourselves that life isn’t all work, work, work. And it’s a time for employers and employees alike to remind themselves of the many benefits of taking a break.
A good work/life balance is the key to fighting stress in the workplace, and a key part of any effective employee wellbeing program. And as employees who take breaks tend to take less time off, encouraging a good work/life balance is also a great way to reduce unplanned absence in your business.
But in our always-on, workaholic culture, encouraging your employees to spend less time working can be easier said than done. When we’re facing increasing levels of presenteeism in the workplace, a good work/life balance might feel like a distant dream for many of your employees.
So how can you encourage a good employee work/life balance in your business?
Here are a few strategies you can try. But for a more detailed guide to making your business a healthier and happier place for everyone, download your free copy of our Essential Guide to Workplace Wellbeing whitepaper.
Talk to Your Employees About their Workloads
We recently put together a primer on staffing levels. You need to get your staffing levels right, or your team might feel overworked and overwhelmed. Obviously, people with too much work on their hands will probably not have the best work/life balance.
So schedule a series of one-to-one meetings with every member of your team. Talk to them about their work. Ask them what an ordinary day looks like. Make it clear that the chat is informal and completely confidential. Invite them to be honest – you’d like to know the things they like about their job, and the things they dislike.
The is an essential first step in devising any good employee wellbeing program. The better you understand what makes your team tick, the better you can create a working environment that meets everybody’s needs.
But if you ask each member of the team about their workload, eventually you’ll be able to paint a good picture of who does what, and when. In this way, you may be able to better divide tasks and projects so that the work’s shared more equally. This could make it easier for everyone to take the leave they deserve.
And if your chats reveal that everyone’s overworked, then it might suggest that your staffing levels are too low. In which case, it’s time to get recruiting. Some new additions to the team will take the pressure off everyone.
Beware of Leaveism
Nothing has a greater impact on the working world than technology. Technological developments routinely change the way we work on a fundamental level. But not all of these changes are for the good.
Smartphones, tablets, laptops and wi-fi make it possible for employees to work from anywhere. But according to the CIPD’s latest Health and Wellbeing at Work Report, this has resulted in the rise of leaveism.
The report defines leaveism as:
- Using allocated time-off, such as holidays or banked flexi-hours, to recuperate when they’re unwell.
- Working when on leave, or on holiday, to catch up.
- Taking work home that can’t be completed during normal working hours.
According to the report, as much as 51% of companies are aware of leaveism in their company. But just because a manager isn’t aware of it, it does not mean that leaveism is happening.
The report suggests a few steps for tackling leaveism. The most popular step is offering better guidance for all employees. But 26% of respondents plan to review the use of digital technology in their business.
Why? Because digital technology can make it impossible for employees to “switch off” when not working.
Is it time for a review of technology in your business?
But really, thinking about how your employees use technology should be part of a wider conversation about your company culture.
Create a More Positive Company Culture
We recently published a guide to company cultures. We explored what makes for a good company culture, and what makes for a bad one.
A bad company culture values profit above all else. Staff aren’t seen as people, with unique needs and talents. They’re seen as a means to an end – cogs in the profit-boosting machinery.
The members of the team that bring in the most profits get the best rewards. This creates a toxic environment of conflict and competition. But it also encourages everyone to work as hard as they can, all the time. Breaks are frowned upon. Holidays are unheard-of. The business might see a boost to profits in the short-term. But when stress, burnout, and staff turnover are so high, is such success sustainable?
A good company culture, on the other hand, recognises people as people. It’s no coincidence that some of the biggest companies in the world go out of their way to take care of their employees.
There are real business benefits to treating your staff like individuals, and taking care of their unique needs. Employees like to be trusted and treated like empowered adults. It makes them happy. And you should know by now that happy employees make the best employees.
A good work/life balance is a major part of any good company culture. Of course, cultural shifts don’t happen overnight. But here are a few things to think about if you want to create the sort of company culture that champions a good work/life balance:
- Make it clear that you don’t expect employees to do any work outside of office hours.
- If employees want or need overtime to finish a demanding project, let them. But this should be the exception, rather than the rule.
- The second the clock strikes five, or whenever your working day ends, you should insist that everyone stops working and goes home.
- Encourage everyone to make it clear in advance if they feel they won’t finish their work before the end of the day. That way, anyone with a little extra capacity could pitch in to ensure that everyone can leave on-time.
- Strongly discourage employees from checking emails and answering phone calls when out of the office.
- Never, ever, ever call your employees when it’s not a working day – not even if they’ve called in sick.
- Allow employees to take unpaid leave at short notice if they have a pressing issue to attend to.
Embrace Flexible Working
The 9-5, 5-day-a-week working pattern has been the norm for so long. But this isn’t necessarily the best way to work.
Flexible working means moving beyond this rigid way of thinking. It means letting employees work at the time and in the place that suits them best.
Studies show that flexible working will be the standard for over 70% of the UK workforce by 2020. Employees will soon expect it. They may even demand it. So if you refuse to shift from the standard 9-5, you may soon struggle to attract and retain the talent your company needs to succeed.
There are many examples of flexible working:
- Letting employees start an hour later, or leave an hour earlier.
- Allowing employees to leave at any time to attend to pressing family matters, so long as they make up the hours elsewhere.
- Compressed hours – letting employees work their contracted hours across fewer days.
- Flexi-time – allowing employees to work any pattern they like, so long as they meet a defined number of hours in a given period of time.
- Job-sharing – allowing multiple employees to split a full-time job between them.
But when most people think about flexible working, they think about working from home. We published a detailed guide to creating a working from home policy for your business. Find it here.
There are many benefits to introducing a flexible working policy. We explore a number of these business benefits here.
But of course, a major benefit is that flexible working promotes a good work/life balance for your employees. If they’re not tied to a rigid routine, they can work in a way that works for them. They get a better quality of life, and you get a happier and more productive team. It’s a win-win!
However, it is possible to take flexible working too far. Some businesses go all-out with flexible working, and offer their employees unlimited annual leave. But while these schemes may seem generous on the surface, they truly are too good to be true. Unlimited annual leave policies often backfire, with employees ultimately taking less leave than they’re entitled too. Obviously, this is very bad for business.
Make it As Easy as Possible for Employees to Book Leave
Earlier, we talked about how technology has made it difficult for certain employees to switch off. We suggested that reviewing how your business uses technology could help your employees to achieve a better work/life balance.
But that doesn’t mean that your business should eschew all technology. In fact, some HR tech can actually encourage a better work/life balance for everyone.
How? Through removing all the obstacles that stand between your employees and a well-earned rest.
What’s the leave-planning system like in your business? How many hoops do employees have to jump through just to book a single day off?
If your leave-planning system is complex and long-winded, then some employees may simply decide not to bother. It’s too much hassle. So instead it’ll be work all the way, with no breaks, no rest, no relaxation.
Our absence management system is designed to remove all the barriers that prevent employees from taking the time off they deserve. They can securely access our cloud-based system from any device. They’ll immediately see how many days off they have remaining. And they’ll be able to make a leave request, and get approval, in a matter of seconds.
So a process that might once have taken hours, or even days, can now be completed in no time at all. And a process that might once have involved a combination of spreadsheets, emails and paperwork can now be entirely cloud-based. It’s secure, accessible, and completely straightforward.
The easier it is for employees to book time off, the more likely they’ll be to book time off. So if you really want to create a better work/life balance for your employees, you just have to make certain things as simple and streamlined as possible.
Head here to read about four further amazing business benefits of our world-famous absence management system.