While a lot is talked about work life balance, there is no fixed definition of what it means, because it can mean different things to different people. Let us first define what it is not.
Work life balance does not mean scheduling equal number of hours for work and personal life.

 

It can vary on a daily basis and there is no fixed formula to achieve it. When it comes to achieving work life balance, there is no one-size fits all, that everyone must strive to achieve. It varies for each individual based on their situation in life and their individual priorities.

An effective work life balance is the right combination of two components- achievement and pleasure. When an individual can find meaningful daily achievement and pleasure in each of the four life quadrants of work, family, friends and self, they achieve, what can be called, a positive work life balance. While individuals stress more on personal lives while discussing work life balance, it is important to know that finding satisfaction at work is equally important.

Why is work life balance important?

While work life balance has been a challenge that has existed for decades, it has become even more challenging with the technological changes that has made it possible for workers to stay in touch 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Increased working hours, lack of rest and reduced time for personal life, all leads to stress. While some amount of stress can be productive, prolonged stress can lead to burnout and even mental health problems. Over a period of time, it also weakens the overall immune system making people vulnerable to headaches, common colds and even heart diseases.

Work life balance is a critical part of a healthy work environment that is needed to reduce stress and prevent burnout in employees. Constant stress can affect their mental and physical health adversely by causing fatigue, mood swings, irritability and overall decline in productivity at work. By creating a work environment that allows employees to maintain a healthy work- life balance, employers can maintain a healthier workforce, reduce absenteeism, improve retention, increase productivity and overall save a lot of money.

Reasons for increasing work life imbalance

While discussions around work life balance is not new, it is becoming increasingly important as more and more people in the workforce are struggling with it. It is mainly because of the following factors:

  • Most organizations usually have fixed policies that may or may not suit individuals. It gives them little or no control over their lives and leaves them struggling on a day to day basis.
  • Technology has made employees accessible to work, around the clock and seven days a week. Fear of losing their job or losing a promotion further incentives working for longer hours.
  • Addiction to gadgets does not allow people to unplug and switch off. As the millennial’s call it, FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real challenge that makes them constantly glued to their gadgets and check their messages and e-mails, constantly, even beyond working hours.

  • Rising use of social media not only wastes a lot of time but also causes dissatisfaction as people increasingly seek perfection, looking at the lives of other people.
  • Over the years, people are getting more ambitious and competitive. They are not only looking at materialistic incentives but also seeking higher acknowledgement and appreciation at workplace and want to climb the corporate ladder at a faster pace.
  • Due to the increasing work demands, people let go of some important components of a healthy life like eating healthy, sleeping well and exercising. This along with the added work stress, reduces the immunity of the body and leads to mental clutter.

All of these factors contribute to stress over work and leave little or no time for family, friends, physical activities or hobbies, thus, causing work life imbalance.

The Indian Scenario

Globally, Indians are known for working long hours which does not necessarily translate into higher productivity. It upsets the work life balance, reducing the productivity further. One of the primary reasons for this is a late start to the workday. In most Indian organizations, the workday starts anywhere between 9 AM and 11 AM and finishes anywhere between 6 PM to 10 PM. This hardly leaves any time for families, hobbies or any other personal activities.

Even if a few people try to start early and leave early, it becomes difficult especially when they need to collaborate extensively with other colleagues who still start late and leave later. Additionally, leaving early from work is often seen as a sign of not doing enough work. Managers and colleagues still associate productivity with the number of hours spent at work.

A recent Understanding Work-Life Balance Survey by MonsterIndia.com of 2,000 professionals revealed that more than half rated their work-life balance as average to terrible.

Here were some of the other key findings

  • 67 percent employees responded that they ‘sometimes, often or always think about work when not at work’
  • Nearly half said that said that it was affecting their personal lives with either them or their partners becoming irritable about the lack of work-life balance. This becomes more significant as 54 percent of respondents were single
  • Stress-related illnesses were common – these included lack of sleep (17 percent), depression (16 percent), anxiety and irritability (9 percent), hypertension (4.5 percent), back pain (15 percent), headaches and fatigue (14 percent), and obesity (5 percent)
  • Nearly 33 percent of the young professionals found technology (laptops and mobile phones) an issue in managing family with work commitments
  • Hindrances to work-life balance included meetings, calls and training after office hours (18 percent); and negative attitude of supervisors towards work-life balance despite the policy (11 percent)

15 ways to improve work life balance in your company

Work life balance means different things to different people. What complicates it further is that currently there are five generations in the workforce at the same time and each generation has their own set of priorities. While several organizations now are understanding the significance of maintaining a healthy workforce with appropriate work life balance, it is becoming a daunting task for employers to promote a healthy lifestyle, take care of the physical and mental health of the employees while doing what it needs to do, that is, running the business.

20 employee wellness challenges for 2020

Broadly, the organization needs to keep these things in mind while incorporating work life balance related initiatives:

1. Increase awareness of leaders, managers and supervisors

Employees who have a supportive manager, experience less anxiety in relation to their work, have greater job satisfaction and a better work life balance. Even when organizations have flexible policies, employees, often, do not use it because they fear that they might be perceived by managers as someone who is not very serious about work. Therefore, before implementing any policies, it is extremely important to educate the managers on the organizational benefits of providing employees with a healthy work life balance. Being a representative of the organization, supervisors have the power to encourage the team members to use friendly policies.

More on this: EQ – The need of the hour for leader’s

2. Build a supportive work culture

Employers need to realize that the workplace culture has a huge impact on the satisfaction levels of employees. They need to focus more on creating a happy workplace and a healthy work culture. While a competitive compensation is sure to attract and retain the best talent, what is also important is comfortable working conditions, opportunities for professional growth and creating social connections. For instance, organizations that do not encourage the traditional gender roles and allow both men and women to take family leave, see better work life balance and reduced work- life conflict. However, organizational culture cannot be changed overnight but small changes in the policies can go a long way in creating a culture that aids work life balance in the workforce.

Read further: How to build an everlasting company culture?

3. Ask the employees

While organizations are increasingly getting aware of the need for work life balance, implementing measures without knowing what employees need might be ineffective. To find out what they need, a survey can be conducted covering various balance related factors like number of working hours, support for working parents, flexible scheduling of work etc. This will help the organization identify specific areas that need attention and implement solutions for the same.

Educating Employees: While organizations can take several measures, there are certain things that employees need to do to achieve a better work- life balance. Organizations can play a crucial role by educating them through seminars, webinars, training programs or even e- learning. It can help them with simple everyday tools that they can use to reduce stress and achieve better work life balance.

4. Setting client expectations

Even when organizations do not encourage employees to work after hours, often clients call and employees find it difficult to say no. Defining the working hours for clients early in the relationship can go a long way in ensuring that the employees can find dedicated time for their personal lives. Specific resources can be allotted to clients to help on holidays and weekend, if the need be. When employees are not encouraged to work overtime, they are more productive during the working hours.

5. Flexible working hours

Allowing employees to have flexible working hours can encourage a healthy work life balance. It can be done in several ways like specifying weekly working hours rather than daily, defining core hours in a day where the maximum work is needed or not specifying work timings at all till the time the work gets done. This allows employees to cater to their family needs without compromising on work.

6. Telecommuting

Employees can also be allowed to work from home once or twice a week which helps them save on commute time and makes them more productive. It can be particularly useful for working parents attending to a sick child or employees with aging parents. They can attend to their personal commitments while still getting the work done. Organizations can even invest in technology that facilitates remote working like instant messaging apps and project management tools.

7. Lead by example

Even if the organization defines flexible policies for employees, it is not necessary that they will utilize it. However, if the leaders and managers use these policies, the employees, too, feel more comfortable using them. For instance, leaders can set an example by leaving work early or working from home on certain days and even talking about personal goals that they achieved with the help of flexible working options.

8. Encourage vacations

A mandatory paid time off can encourage employees to take vacations and recharge themselves. It clears their head, re- energizes them and improves their productivity drastically. Spending time with friends and family without workplace stress, can help them find better work life balance.

9. Encourage physical activities

Incorporating some kind of physical activity can not only improve employee health but can also help them clear their head. For instance, managers can have a weekly walking meeting with their team instead of doing it in a meeting room. Organizations can also introduce health initiatives to ensure that the workforce remains healthy physically and mentally. It could be through events like marathons, or yoga classes after work. Also, introducing some team sports or annual games can inculcate team spirit in the employees along with improving their health.

10. Encourage creativity

Encouraging mental fitness is as important as encouraging physical fitness. Allowing employees to take up creative projects or giving them opportunities to present new ideas, promotes innovation in the organization and makes the employees feel that their ideas are valued. It gives them a break from their day to day transactional work and increases work satisfaction.

11. Connecting with families

When families of employees are invited to the workplace for events, they get to see where their family members work and meet their colleagues. This can be done by organizing office events where employees can get a family member along like ‘LinkedIn’s Bring in Your Parents Day’. Events like these can give them a chance to spend a little more time with their family, introduce them to their colleagues and also get to know their colleagues better.

12. Child care options

The most common reason why working parents struggle to find a work life balance is lack of adequate child care facilities. Having a creche at workplace, or tying up with good child care facility nearby can help the organizations support the child care needs of working parents. Also, organizations can have the provision of a parent- child office that the employees can use in case the regular child care option is not available on certain days. These measures can take away a lot of stress and help the working parents find a better work life balance.

13. Identifying burnout

The managers must be trained to identify signs of potential burnout like excess absenteeism, clearly visible exhaustion and increasing number of errors. Simple steps like giving an early leave or providing support with work can avoid a bigger health problem and help the organization retain valuable talent.

Also read: How can you prevent employee burnout?

14. Automating processes

Organizations should aim to simplify administrative processes by automating them and scrapping the ones that are not required. This will help the employees use the available benefits and make better decisions regarding their health and well- being. It will also free up a lot of their time that can then be used for productive work. It reduces unnecessary stress from their work day, ensuring better balance.

15. Focus on quality and not quantity

Employees must be encouraged to work efficiently rather than by counting the number of hours. Working longer hours does not necessarily lead to higher productivity. On the contrary, it can reduce the efficiency, increase stress and affect the employee morale adversely. Focusing on efficiency not only improves productivity, but also ensures the employees that they are trusted to complete their work without constant supervision and micromanagement.

Most of these are inexpensive ways of reducing work related stress and improving work life balance of employees. It not only improves their quality of life, but also increases their productivity and profitability of the organization. When an organization focuses on employee needs, it also enhances the employer brand, thus, attracting and retaining the best talent. While individuals need to take responsibility to find a work life balance, their organizations can play a huge role in achieving it.

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