Striking the work-life balance
It is time to stabilize how we do work and life!
€600 billion per year…
this staggering number represents the cost correlated to work-related depression in the EU.
Moreover, mental health problems, including burnout, depression and anxiety, increase corporate costs to employers by several billions per year. This is due to more than 44 percent of the workforce in the EU stating that their work stress has increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and has not returned to pre-Covid levels.
It is quite crazy to think that not that long ago we were forced into a complete shutdown across Europe, and those who could were urged to work from home.
An EU official at the beginning of the shutdown thought that the novelty of working from home was great, but soon it turned into a nightmare for her. She became isolated and had to solve many complex problems for work, alone, resulting in longer hours. Her self-confidence became completely diminished. Then the war in Ukraine started. “I stopped sleeping, only getting a couple of hours of rest, getting through the day in an anxious zombie-like state.” She could not continue this way and decided to take two months of leave owing to burnout.
Many others have experienced similar stories in silence!
Wellbeing of employees = Wellbeing of business
It is evident that a direct link exists between employee’s well-being and business outcomes, making the work-life balance conversation all the more significant. Employers are scrambling to understand mechanisms needed to manage workers’ mental health and well-being. A lack of work-life balance results in work-related clinical mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, as well as non-clinical mental health struggles such as burnout and high stress.
The topic of work-life balance is not a new concept, it has become more and more prevalent as something for employers to consider. Flexibility is the key. As much as employers expect employees to be flexible in their work hours and willing to work extra-hours when needed, the same courtesy needs to be extended when employees need time to rest and reset. The former has become an expectation, with employees feeling the pressure to constantly perform and prove they are worthy. The latter has become a ‘privilege’ that the employer grants rather than the reciprocal right of the employee. With rising cases of burnout and chronic stress, it is not surprising to see TikTok trends like ‘quite-quitting’ come about amongst younger generations who plan to meet job expectations but have no desire to push their efforts any further.
Establishing a working environment and process that prioritises work-life balance, will help employers maintain a healthier, more productive workforce and save them money. The first step towards this becoming a reality is to really understand work-life balance.
Neither of these tactics are sustainable long term, we need to bring forth a best practice of work-life balance that evolves the way of work and benefits all.
What is work-life balance
Work-life balance refers to a state of symmetry, where an individual has perfected the ability to balance work or career demands, and the demands of their personal life. The concept of work-life balance has also been extended further to include concepts such as, effective time management, stress management and burnout prevention.
It is easy to forget the life side of the work-life scale when work demands are piling in and dominating the hours in a 24-hour day. On the other end of the scale, when focused on the life side of the scale, it may feel that there are career dreams and desires unrealised. The ideal of work-life balance is unique to each person’s intrinsic values. The approach to work-life balance has been evolving over the years which largely has to do with new generations entering the workforce and understanding their differences. It would therefore be beneficial for employers to identify the difference in opinions among the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z.
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
Baby Boomers typically don’t put as much emphasis on work-life balance, as it wasn’t a main priority. To this generation stable employment is the priority. Many of these employees are at senior or director level positions and experience moderate to high levels of stress.
Generation X (born 1965-1980)
Generation X who are the children of Baby Boomers, place more emphasis on the importance of work-life balance as they have seen the effects that lack of family life can have on the family relationship and their parents overall health. They view telecommuting, extended maternity/paternity leaves, and adequate vacation time as prerequisites when choosing a job.
Millennials (born 1981-1995)
Millennials are interested in careers that will support their life outside of work. Pay, that enables them to pay off student loans, and keep up with inflated housing costs, career-trajectory, personal development, and the location of the job are major factors to this generation.
Generation Z (born 1996-2010)
Generation Z want it all! This Generation is willing to walk away from an opportunity if they do not receive their salary expectations, they also seek non-traditional benefits such as mental health days, financial wellness programmes and healthy company culture. They do not define themselves by their job and want their life outside of work to be respected and value flexible leave and remote work as top priorities.
Although we have come a long way from the 100-hour work week of the early 1900s, our work weeks are faced with other twists to untangle. Technology has brought about a new list of expectations where many professionals are expected to be ‘always on’. The result is a more integrated, and blurred, relationship between “work” time and “personal” time. There is a need to establish boundaries in order to be able to find a new and much needed standard of balance for the work-force.
In the past five years employees globally indicate that they find it more difficult to balance the ongoing tug-of-war between work from their personal life.
Some of the reasons include:
- Increased expenses and stagnant salary;
- More work responsibilities;
- Working longer hours;
- Increased at home responsibilities, such as taking care of children or aging parents, forcing many women and men to take a career break.
Striking the balance
At this point it might seem that work-life balance is just not attainable, however, according to a study conducted by Glassdoor amongst employees between March 2020 and September 2021, there are professions that are rated high in terms of work-life balance, namely:
- Data analyst
- Real estate agent
- Financial Advisor
- UI/UX Designer
- Web developer
Individuals who hold these positions experience favorable work-life balance as they are part of innovative work programs, that provide the ability to work from anywhere, flexible working schedules, and unlimited paid time off.
Work-Life Balance & Innovation
Organisations need to look towards innovations that can be introduced within teams or across departments that will bring about a well-balanced result for employers and employees alike. Managers need to lead the way on the road towards finding balance, as they require balance too.
Here are some of the ways managers can direct the way:
- A focused team plan: this helps employees focus on prioritized actions and tasks, thus saving time and energy.
- Encouraging a policy that does not allow employees to work out of work hours.
- The unplug standard: Make unplugging after the work day an accepted standard. Don’t send emails to employees after hours, otherwise this create the expectation for employees to be ‘always on.’ Schedule messages for the next day at the starting work hour which provides the necessary boundaries for employees to respond during work time.
- Allow flexible working hours: Some employees love mornings and others are night owls. Place more emphasis on output rather than hours spent at work. As those who work longer hours are not necessarily more productive.
As Arianna Huffington, American-Greek Author says “We think, mistakenly that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”
- Introduce paid/unpaid personal time off giving employees the life-line needed when stress threatens their wellbeing.
The overall aim of achieving work-life balance is to maximise employee productivity, and also to ensure that employees are afforded the time needed away from work to maintain healthier lifestyles, decrease stress and burnout, increase employee engagement and boost overall job satisfaction.