Work-life balance is a term discussed in virtually every office in every industry. As the world outside the office grows increasingly costly and confusing, employees are inevitably left feeling anxious, pressured and even lost. Modern technology has allowed us to create an umbilical connection to the sources of our stress; they follow us everywhere, especially to work, where a competing array of anxieties awaits.
“Only a healthy worker can be a productive one in the long run,” says Matt Donnelly, leader of strategic insights at Venngo. “Depression and fatigue influence levels of productivity, especially in cases of full-time workers who experience less flexibility in their schedules and workloads. In addition, employees are often showing up for work but are not fully present because of their poor mental state.”
Part of the challenge in helping employees achieve work-life balance is that the term is commonly treated as a theoretical ideal rather than a practical reality. The first step to rectifying this miscalculation is to break the phrase down to its constituent parts – work and life – and deal with each component separately and seriously.
Donnelly says there are several simple, cost-effective methods HR directors can use to alleviate some of the stress that builds up at work: offering a flexible work schedule and paid time off can help them avoid burnout; organizing regular group activities such as charity work, social events or some sort of physical activity can help them see their job as more than just work; even gestures such as offering a safe, confidential space to share their feelings can provide workers with a sense that they don’t have to shoulder their burdens alone.
While few HR directors will want to insert themselves too deeply into their employees’ personal lives, Donnelly says they can still help alleviate the pressures of life away from work by offering specialized benefit plans.
“Employers have more of an influence on the ‘life’ side of the ledger than they might think,” he says. “In order to keep that balance in check, employers can offer benefits programs that employees can take advantage of in their leisure time, when enjoying positive moments with their family and friends. Providing employees with tools, resources and benefits that can only be used at the office, or during negative times, is really only one part of the equation for HR departments.”
When left unchecked, work-life pressures can have severe consequences for employees. Donnelly points to a study that claims approximately one in four Americans
experience depression related to their workplaces, “which is not unusual when you take into account the effects of accumulated stress and the little time available for private life,” he says, adding that the physical manifestation of work-related stress can lead to sleep problems, high blood pressure and weakened immune systems.
Aiding employees with their anxieties and exhaustions is simply the humane thing to do – but it’s also good business. A struggling employee will not be a productive one.
“When the work-life balance is upset, absenteeism, non-productivity, increased sick leave and increased mistakes are common consequences,” explains Donnelly. “Employers that neglect their employees’ work-life balance may encounter higher rates of turnover and absenteeism, as well as diminished productivity over time. Without that appropriate balance, it’s hard for employees to go the extra mile when it’s required.”