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Six Ways to Encourage Employees to Set Work/Life Boundaries

Last Updated on April 21, 2023 / Employee Relations

Woman working from home while her daughters do homework

HR Question:

Our entire team would love to find a better balance with work/life boundaries, but it’s tough to find a place to start. What are some ways to encourage employees to set work/life boundaries?

HR Answer:

Most everyone knows what the “hustle” is. It’s been a part of work culture since the early 19th century, when the word was first used to mean “gumption” or “hard work.” Depending on the context, hustle may be a virtue, the antithesis of laziness, or a necessity, the extra effort one must perform to overcome bad luck, oppression, or structural barriers.

In this line of thinking, if you can’t get ahead, it’s your own fault, and you just need to work harder. You can be or do anything you want, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort. It’s what we tell our kids so they can achieve the “American Dream”—you’ve got to work hard to get good grades to get into an elite school to get a lucrative job. In the workplace, hustle means showing how dedicated you are to the organization by being the hardest worker. You’re the first one in the office and the last one to leave. You take calls and check email while on vacation. Even when you’re sick, you’re reachable.

Sometimes all that hard work pays off. Some go-getters get promotions and raises. But success stories notwithstanding, burning the midnight oil doesn’t actually increase productivity. In 2019, CNBC shared a Stanford survey showing that “productivity per hour decline(s) sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week.”

But hustle can hasten burnout. A 2018 Deloitte survey showed that 77% of employees have experienced burnout in the workplace and nearly 70% of them feel like their employer isn’t doing enough to prevent it. Among the leading causes cited were working long hours or over weekends and having to meet unrealistic expectations.

How to Establish Work/Life Boundaries

If you’ve conducted job interviews recently, you probably know that many job seekers today have little love for hustle culture. Instead, they want the freedom at work to set boundaries so getting their jobs done doesn’t encroach on their lives outside of work. This makes good business sense too. According to Harvard Business Review, when employers support work-life balance, they promote productivity, reduce turnover, improve employee health, and boost diversity.

If you want to encourage better work and home boundaries for your employees but are wondering how to go about it, we have some tips to get you started:

Start at the top.

Encourage your managers to come and go at reasonable times and take days off. Discourage making calls or sending emails after regular working hours. Ensure that leaders are taking breaks throughout the day and are encouraging their employees to do so as well.

Focus on outcomes.

If possible, set substantive goals with your employees rather than focusing on the number of hours they’re working. Train managers how to evaluate performance based on objective measurements of productivity and efficiency. It’s the good work that matters, not the time spent at a workstation, the number of keystrokes logged, or the appearance of busyness. Added bonus: your managers will be better able to manage their time and set healthy boundaries around their work if they don’t feel compelled to monitor their direct reports’ every working moment.

Ensure proper staffing and workload.

Set expectations around the amount of work each employee should be able to complete in a standard workday. Share those expectations with the team and get their input on what a reasonable workload should look like and whether they’re feeling underworked or overworked. If you’re understaffed, you may need to assign extra work to employees, but make sure no one’s plate gets so full they’re at risk of burnout. Reward the extra effort and watch for signs of low morale.

Be flexible.

As you are able, give employees the ability to flex their schedule to take care of personal business during the workday without jumping through a lot of hoops. Use a shared calendar so everyone knows who is available and when. If your workplace has a variety of shifts, consider offering employees the ability to work hours across different shifts to find flexibility.

Revisit paid time off (PTO) options.

Review what you currently offer and dig into why you have the PTO plans you do. Make sure you’re offering at least as much as your competitors (if at all possible). In addition to paid time off for vacation and illness, consider offering paid time off for specific activities like volunteering.

Talk with your employees. Ask them how they feel about their workload, whether they currently have healthy work/life boundaries, and what would help them better attend to their personal obligations. Survey them about what’s causing them the most stress at work and what work-related matters may be keeping them up at night. Keep an open discussion going.

You can learn more about good management practices, preventing burnout, PTO, and other topics discussed here on the platform.

Special thanks to our HR Support Center for providing this edition of our HR Question of the Week.

If your organization is struggling with burnout and low morale, Strategic HR can help you to understand what’s going wrong and identify the necessary steps to increase employee engagement and retention. Contact us to help re-engage and re-energize your team!