I spent the earliest years of my career sweeping the warehouse floor and stocking shelves in my Father’s small business. As a teenager, he taught me how to do a good job and exemplified the mantra, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” He lived his small business, and as a result, so did the rest of us. Even when the business was closed, he and I would spend time together stocking shelves, cleaning up, or even just hanging out. His life was his work. And, it worked for him.
Unfortunately, it didn’t always work for his employees.
I remember often hearing him ask employees as they left for the day, “Do you have your track shoes on?” If they were leaving earlier than he thought they should, or he felt like they were watching the clock so they could dash out to go home at the end of the day, he always called them out. He was regularly at work earlier than he needed to be and stayed later than he needed; and thought everyone else should do the same. His work was his life. Which wasn’t the same for the rest of his employees.
He would hate this discussion of work/life balance.
When Your Employees Have a Healthy Work/Life Balance, It’s Good—For Everyone
We live in a world today with the potential to all be connected to work 24/7. For example, every weekend my email inbox receives several hundred emails between Friday night and Monday morning. When I started my career the lines between work life and the rest of life were pretty clearly defined. With the exception of an emergency, the only time I was expected to take care of work was when I was there.
I remember celebrating my first cell phone because it would allow me to take care of business while I was on the golf course entertaining customers. Now, my smart phone is the tether to work and is the primary technology where my personal life and my work/life intersect.
As a result, the distinction between work time and non-work time has become blurred as we answer email, text messages, and phone calls when we’re not at work. I don’t think I’m the only person who regularly checks my work email to ensure there isn’t something that demands my immediate attention on my personal time. I try to set boundaries on the frequency with which I interact with work when I’m not at work, and, I don’t do this because I’m trying to avoid work, but rather because I know from experience that all work all the time leads to burnout—which isn’t good for me, my family, or my employer.
Fortunately, I’m not expected to answer every email that lands in my inbox at all hours of the day or night.
Encouraging Employee Work/Life Balance Is Good for Your Business
In the most recent Gallup State of the American Workplace survey, only 41 percent of workers surveyed considered a significant increase in income to be “very important” in a new job. That’s not to say you can take salaries completely off the table. In fact, you need to pay your employees enough to even be considered, but an employee’s salary is not the only (or even the most common) reason employees stay or leave. Studies suggest that most people quit their boss. And, encouraging a healthy work/life balance is not as simple as suggesting your employees simply need time away from the office, although that’s a big part of it.
According to the Corporate Executive Board, which represents 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies, employees who feel they have a good work/life balance are 21 percent more productive than those that don’t. That extra effort is seen in the engagement level of employees.
Engaged Employees are 31% More Productive than Unengaged Employees
According to the aforementioned Gallup poll, roughly 51 percent of the workforce in the United States identifies themselves as being disengaged and have been for a long time. The same poll identifies that only 33 percent of employees are engaged—or “…involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” Although this number is the highest it’s been in the 15 years Gallup has conducted the poll, roughly two-thirds of the workforce is not engaged. These numbers should be cause for concern for business owners, particularly if two-thirds of your employees aren’t engaged in what they’re doing for you.
There appears to be a real connection to work/life balance and the level of employee engagement. Creating a work environment where your employees feel like they have a life outside of work and have a personal life, is a critical part of keeping your employees free of burnout. This helps facilitate an environment where they are engaged in their work—leading to greater productivity.
In addition to creating a greater sense of engagement among your employees and improving their productivity when employees have a greater sense of work/life balance, absenteeism drops, your employees take fewer sick, days, and there is less turnover, making a potential positive impact to your bottom line.
How to Foster an Environment Where Employees Enjoy a Healthy Work/Life Balance
Although there is no silver bullet, there are a number of things you can try in your business to find the right balance. Most of these types of initiatives start at the top, so it’s important that you’re bought into the idea from the start and maybe even practice some of these things yourself. It might even make you more productive.
1. Offer flexible work schedules:
There are many businesses where this might not work, but if possible, offer your employees a flexible work schedule. For example, I happen to be a morning person and enjoy starting my day early in anticipation of having an extra hour or two of free time later in the day. My wife, on the other hand, would prefer to have a later start to her day and would be happy to spend that extra hour or two in the office later in the day. If the particular time of day your employees do their job doesn’t impact the work they do or your ability to serve your customers, it might be something worth considering.
2. Offer the option to occasionally work at home:
I spend roughly 70 percent of my time working from a home office. I think that time is highly productive and makes the time I spend in the office collaborating with my colleagues more valuable. This requires employees that are disciplined enough to actually work from home, but if they aren’t productive at home, it’s likely they aren’t really very productive in the office.
3. Establish boundaries for connecting to work:
I once had a boss who said something like, “I often answer emails and do some of my best thinking after my children have all gone to bed, so although you may receive an email or two from me at 1:00 am, don’t feel like you need to respond. It doesn’t mean I expect you to be online in the middle of the night.” I appreciated that he didn’t expect me to respond to every middle-of-the-night email—although I occasionally did respond if I was awake and sitting at my computer. Encouraging your employees to establish boundaries is a good way to help them make work time and non-work time more defined, so they don’t burn out.
4. Have you heard of unlimited PTO (Personal Time Off):
This is a popular trend with many companies today. Basically, allowing your employees to take the time off they need without being constrained by annual limits allows employees to take time to attend a child’s play, visit the doctor, or take vacation time away from work during the year. Contrary to what you might expect, most people won’t abuse the privilege, and you may even need to encourage your people to take time off.
5. Another option is what’s been called Summer Fridays:
Summer Fridays is relatively inexpensive perk during the summer months allowing employees to take Friday afternoons off from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The idea being that not much work it getting done on a sunny Friday afternoon anyway, so offering this potentially inexpensive perk to employees is a great way to demonstrate that you are behind your employees having a good work/life balance. If your business isn’t able to close for the afternoon, you might consider a rotating Friday afternoon off each week so over the course of the month everyone gets one Friday afternoon off.
Fostering an environment where your employees are encouraged to step away from work and create balance in their life is just a good idea. It helps employee engagement, longevity, and productivity—positively impacting your business’ bottom line. What will work for one business might not work for another, but be creative and willing to explore what will work best for you and your employees.
Who knows, your employees may even put their track shoes away.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to share some of the things you’re doing in your business to encourage work/life balance.