Creating a Work-Life balance in business

Originally published at www.elevate2.com

Do you get the right level of work-life balance?

You know how it is, you start the week on Monday with your PMA (positive mental attitude) intact, but by Friday your stress levels are stratospheric. You’ve a drowning grip on your own sanity. You know the week has passed but you don’t remember it, and you feel further behind with work than when you started. Your children never see you and your wife/husband dare not even speak to you in case you bite their head off. Your work-life balance needs attention!

So what does work-life balance actually mean anyway? The phrase didn’t really enter the UK vocabulary until the late 1970s, but essentially it’s a rough calculation of how you split your time and energy between your work and personal life. ‘Balance’ is a little misleading as it suggests an equal measure of time being allocated to both; modern life is more fluid than that so this would never be achievable. Over time the divide between work and personal life has become somewhat blurred. With the onset of mobile phone technology, home computers, laptops and email the office now has the capacity to invade our home life — even as we’re sat on the sofa watching the latest Breaking Bad boxset. We have all the technology at our disposal to make life simpler, yet we appear to be busier than we have ever been. For families with children, life is even more of a challenge. No longer do children merely expect to be fed, clothed and watered; they also demand to be entertained 24 hours a day. This is one reason why I have opted out of having any myself. Well, as far as I know anyway…

The impact on business…

According to the TUC, workers in the UK currently work the longest hours in Europe, take the shortest lunch breaks and enjoy the fewest public holidays. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website tells us that the total number of days lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2013/14 was 11.3 million. That is a sizable figure, so it’s only right that successive governments have highlighted the need to address it. The negative effects of work-life balance can include absenteeism, depression and poor physical health. As an employer, the impact on your business can be equally negative with losses in productivity and ultimately profitability.

So what can employers do about it?

Recognising the need to promote work-life balance amongst your employees is an important step. However, providing a solution may prove more difficult. There really isn’t a one-size fits-all policy you can adopt. What will matter to one person will differ to the next but there are steps you can take. These are just a few suggestions:

Open door policy — Stress often isn’t something people like to be candid about. However, your staff should feel they have the right to speak up if they feel the demands being placed upon them are too great. Once a dialogue is open you can then work towards a solution to benefit both parties.

Insist upon breaks — Don’t allow staff to become martyrs to the cause. Missing breaks to get things finished more quickly can be counter-productive in the long run. Furthermore, Working Time Regulations give workers the right to a 20 minute rest break if the working day is longer than 6 hours. This becomes even more important where workers are operating potentially dangerous machinery, such as an Apple Mac.

Introduce flexible working — Flexible hours working can be beneficial to both businesses and workers. For businesses it can improve the recruitment and retention of staff; help to provide cover and reduce the need for overtime. Workers may benefit by being able to work around childcare commitments or travel outside of busy commuter times. If a large proportion of your employees cycle to work this might even increase the mortality rates of your staff!

Job Sharing — This is where two (and sometimes more) employees share the same job. They will share a full-time job but can split days or weeks or simply work alternate days or weeks. Both employees could even be present during busy periods giving both the employee and the employer greater flexibility.

Homeworking — This requires a relationship based on trust but allows the worker to manage their own workload. You probably have a good idea of those staff who you know will use their time effectively and those that prefer Homes under the Hammer! You may need to agree on how performance will be supervised and measured and some technological investment may be required, but costs can be covered in the long run.

Audit work areas — Ensure working areas are conducive to a healthy work life balance. An audit can help you remove those obstacles that have a negative impact and put policies in place as remedies. Something as simple as poor lighting can have a very detrimental effect on both productivity and mood.

Promote health and well-being — Any kind of activity that helps to bond a team or improve morale can be considered. Although this does conjure images of David Brent with a guitar.

Let them go — Not for good but early. If the day allows, send a few people home early and make sure you adopt some kind of rota so everybody gets the opportunity. This is the best way to boost morale as it requires very little planning or procedural changes. Unless you send someone home only for them to be confronted by their partner’s infidelity — that might well have the opposite to the desired effect on morale, but we can’t legislate for everything.

Empowerment is key

Our work and home commitments are forever evolving, as are our expectations. Therefore, work-life-balance needs to be constantly monitored. However, take care of your employees and they will take care of your business. Not all the solutions discussed here will work for every business or employee. What is important to you when you’re in your twenties will be drastically different to when you are older, especially if and when children enter the equation. You also need to work out what is best for your staff, but empower them by including them in any discussions before you put steps in place.

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
Brian Dyson, former vice chairman and COO of Coca-Cola.

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