Reconsidering Work-Life Balance in an Ever-Changing Workplace
In today’s workplace culture, with near-unbroken technology engagement, it’s become somewhat the expectation that employees be available throughout the day and night to answer emails, complete assignments or assuage clients.
Employees are now the subject of their clients’ expectations of immediacy or their boss’ late-night messages. And in this area of work-life balance, the United States is different from other countries, especially ones in Europe. France, for instance, comes to mind, with its 35-hour work week measure and after-work email ban; so does Sweden, with with its six-hour workdays.
In fact, while always being on and ready may, increasingly, be the business norm, many employees are pushing back.
Certainly it's true that today’s workers are more inclined toward and comfortable about incorporating work into their lifestyles and interactions outside of work. However, according to previously unreleased data from O.C. Tanner’s Health and Well-being Study, the majority of employees surveyed (across countries, gender and age) didn't buy into this picture of the ideal employee being the type that is "always on."
Specifically, the study found that 71 percent of U.S. employees surveyed didn't believe the ideal employee is always available day or night. The percentages for this question were even higher in European countries (75 percent in the UK; Germany, 80 percent). Interestingly, these percentages rose, the lower on the totem pole any group of employees being surveyed was located.
This showed a disconnect between executives and front-line employees in appreciating the need for a healthy work-life balance.
In our current, always-connected society, where the concept of a 9-to-5 workday is quickly becoming a thing of the past, this data illustrates interesting nuances, reminding us that work-life balance remains critical in most ever-changing workplace cultures.
The data also pinpointed a prime opportunity for business leaders to fine-tune the work-life balance within their own companies’ cultures. One possible reason: Millennials, now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, prioritize balance over nearly every other factor when they consider a job, according to a global PwC survey of 44,000 millennials.
Achieving physical, social and emotional well-being in the workplace
Sufficient work-life balance not only boosts productivity, but helps employees maintain feelings of well-being. In my 28 years of research, marketing and business development experience, I’ve found that well-being consists of three components: emotional, social and physical -- and that a company should support each of these elements within its cultural framework.
Contrary to the way most businesses are run today, however, a nonstop focus on work doesn’t allow time for employees to develop and foster overall well-being.
In contrast, a business with a healthy work-life balance allows ample hours for employees to address their physical, emotional and social needs; otherwise, their quality of life -- and in turn their quality of work -- may suffer.
Physical well-being can be encouraged by allowing employees, among multiple intiatives, to go for a run during lunch break or leave the office early to make a yoga class
Increasing social interaction within the workplace is something else that can dramatically increase social well-being. For your company, this is best accomplished by creating social settings where employees get to know one other, independent of achieving a business objective. In fact, creating modern versions of coffee stations and watercooler-like opportunities and encouraging coworkers to eat lunch together can improve workplace morale and productivity by 25 percent, according to Ben Waber, CEO of management consulting firm Sociometric Solutions.
Employees need a tight-knit group of coworkers to achieve the social well-being they require in their workplace. These relationships often extend outside the work environment, where projects are discussed and insights shared in a relaxed social setting without the pressures of the office; often, these interactions actually move the business forward.
Employees should have the freedom to work the way that best fits their personalities and lifestyles, which in turn benefits their emotional and mental well-being. According to data from Captivate Network, 93 percent of busy professionals surveyed said they took breaks to perform personal tasks. These included activities ranging from surfing the web to running an errand -- during the workday. All represented an effort to have work-life balance.
This work-life balance may result in employees staying at the office a little later, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing, because they’re able to do personal things to increase their well-being and maintain balance during the day.
Creating a workplace that prioritizes physical, social and emotional well-being is essential to the health of a company. And apparently employees around the world overwhelmingly agree that non-stop availability does not make an ideal employee.
Entrepreneurs should take these elements into consideration and support a company culture that affords their employees the balance they need to be their best selves, inside and outside of work.