In the midst of a pandemic and a labor “shortage,” followed by an extremely tight labor market, it has become more important than ever that employers listen to and understand the motivations of their employees in order to best attract and retain them. Over the past two years, many employees have made changes that better support family life, financial security, and their lifestyle through remote or hybrid work situations. Many are realizing that work-life balance is not a “nice to have,” but rather it is a necessity.
In fact, in our “Generations at Work: Insights from our Survey of the Generations” report, our team at Strategic HR discovered that the ability to enjoy a work-life balance closely tied as the top reason employees across all generations both join and stay at a company. When combined with the finding that at least 56% of all workers (regardless of generation) preferred a hybrid work situation, employers are trying to strike the perfect work-life balance to attract and retain desperately needed talent.
During a major cultural shift due to the pandemic, many found they were enjoying the “hallway commute,” the additional time with family, and the lessened stress that came from spending more time at home. But for some, there was no clear boundary between when “work” ended, and “life” began. With employees making themselves accessible by email, text, or phone 24/7, it was (and still is) extremely easy to lose sight of that balance. If an employer chooses to ignore the work-life balance expectations of the current workforce, employees will simply move on to a job that suits their needs better.
Three Ways to Promote Work-Life Balance
Each person has his or her own idea of work-life balance or work-life integration, which is another term that some use for the concept of the give and take, tug and pull between work and personal life. So how can employers meet the diverse needs and desires of their employees and achieve work-life balance, particularly if it means something different to each person? Here are three potential solutions:
1) Offer Hybrid or Remote Work Options
To be competitive in today’s market, consider offering hybrid and/or remote work models to employees, in addition to flexible hours. While this may be a complete shift in culture for many organizations, we have seen just how productive and successful employees (and organizations) can be while working virtually some or all of the time.
Some employers may be concerned that remote work could lead to a decrease in productivity and quality of team collaboration. When comparing the collaboration effectiveness of teams working remotely versus in-person, our Survey on the Generations revealed that well over half (55% – 60%) of all generations reported high or somewhat high collaboration effectiveness, followed by 26% – 31% reporting no change as compared to in-person work, and 12% – 19% saw remote collaboration as highly or somewhat ineffective. So what can you do for those who might struggle with remote work?
Steps to ensure success with remote work
Working remotely can present unique challenges to individual and team productivity, collaboration, and success. We recommend that employers:
- Plan for and build internal supports for those who are working remotely to ensure they have the appropriate support (people and tools) and clear direction to optimally perform.
- Have frequent check-ins with employees to ensure that they are on the right track to meet their objectives, have questions answered, and have the resources that they need to be successful. You might discover that there are easy solutions to ensure that everyone on your team is working optimally.
- Ask for employee input to make sure that you are providing the right tools to help them be productive. Be sure that your employees are also properly trained to use the tools. For some, it may also be a matter of creating new, purposeful habits to collaborate in new ways.
Employers should also ensure that their policies and practices are updated to align with their efforts of supporting employee work-life balance. For example, if you offer remote work situations, you should formalize this through a Remote Work Policy that both supports the need for employees’ work-life balance and meets the demands of the business.
A new term for this balance is called “strategic flexibility,” a concept that allows employees and their employers to view the work-life balance holistically and offers insight into how employers can build trust and empowerment within their employee groups while still maintaining fair expectations of employees in remote or hybrid work environments. By offering the option of (at least) a hybrid work environment, employees can reduce the high levels of stress they’ve carried in the past around personal and family obligations and seek a better balance without long commutes.
2) Encourage Employees to Protect Their “Me Time”
Personal time is extremely important for a healthy balance. We are able to be more productive at work when we infuse our daily schedules with some downtime. However, working where we live can lead to blurred lines between work and homelife causing some to find it hard to turn off the workday knowing that there might be one more email/text/phone call that awaits their attention. Employees can start to feel that they need to be available 24/7… falling down the slippery slope that leads to burnout.
Employers can help employees to protect their “me time” by fostering a culture that supports that behavior. For example, it can help to set expectations and encourage employees to “turn off work” by a certain time each day. If an email request happens to be sent during a time when an employee should be “off duty,” instill the habit of noting when something isn’t urgent and can wait until their next workday. This can help employees to set healthy boundaries between work and personal life.
Encourage team members to set time aside each day by doing something for them, whether it’s for 10 minutes or for an hour. The goal is for this time to be set aside for something that truly calms their mind. It could be anything from exercising, meditating, reading, watching TV, etc.
Another way to encourage employees to protect their time is by maintaining a sense of structure throughout the day, whether employees are virtual, in-person, or hybrid. Be sure that you are continuing to host regular staff meetings, group meetings, and social gatherings to make time for some fun together as well.
3) Work Smarter, Not Harder
Help team members stay in the loop through weekly “huddles” or calls to keep everyone accountable and connected. Regular one-on-one meetings allow managers and employees to continue to touch base and uphold the objectives and goals set for the year.
Evaluate processes already in place. Don’t look for places to cut corners, but rather look for steps in the process that may not be necessary to complete the same high-quality work. It’s easy to get into the daily habit of following processes when there may in fact be an easier way.
Work-Life Balance Benefits for Employers
Whether you call it work-life balance, work-life integration, or strategic flexibility, employers who embrace it will not only thrive in terms of attracting, engaging, and keeping valuable employees, they will help to prevent burnout, increase productivity across the board, and ultimately become employers of choice with a reputation for supporting work-life balance. If an employer chooses to ignore the work-life balance expectations of the current workforce, they run the double risk of losing great employees who leave for opportunities that better meet their needs and the impossible task of attracting new talent into a less-than-desirable work environment.
Thank you to Cassie Whitehouse, M.Ed., Senior HR Business Advisor for contributing to this Emerging Issues in HR.
Creating an organizational culture that is supportive of the diverse needs of employees is imperative to attracting and retaining the talent you need – not to mention critical to your bottom line. Strategic HR can support your culture strategy through employee surveys, establishing remote and hybrid work policies, identifying retention solutions, developing employee recognition programs, and more. Contact us today!