Finding Work-Life Balance Between the Margins Keeping your employees happy begins with simple empathy for the delicate balance between professional and personal life they struggle to maintain.

By Peter Hirst

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The 40-hour work week is dead. Work-life balance is impossible, and our always-on mentality is exploiting our personal lives. We've heard this all before and will continue to hear it from executives across industries and the mediums in which we receive our news. It's no question that employee stress levels are a major problem for organizations, regardless of size. While some look to implement inter-office benefits that appear to help, I often wonder whether we're looking in the right place at all.

A common complaint of professionals is that there's not enough time in the day to meet both work and personal responsibilities, resulting in a lopsided work-life balance. We often focus on the efficiency of the typical 9-to-5 work day, but neglect to consider that many professionals tack on long commutes, constant connection to email and time spent catching up on work after hours. Aided by the ubiquity of easy, instant communication technologies, the average work day has gradually crept into our home lives. This is, of course, prevalent in families who have many tasks waiting for them at home -- there are meals to be prepared, car pools to manage, sports and extra curricular schedules to keep.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Work-Life Balance

Looking at this issue further, I notice that these commitments, combined with the responsibilities of work, can lead to lives that feel out of control. Employers need to address these burdens not by seeing how time at work can be more enjoyable, but by identifying the ways that work requirements make life less manageable -- something that can't be solved by a refrigerator stocked with coconut water or complimentary dry cleaning.

For almost two years now, my team of 35 at MIT Sloan Executive Education has had the option of working remotely at least two days a week as part of our flexible work program. This experiment-turned-policy stemmed from a number of factors -- one being construction occurring on the MIT campus, but also the misconception that employees who took advantage of MIT's existing flexible work offering were considered to be less invested in the organization.

To effectively execute and measure the benefits of this program, we began with a consensus that most, if not all, of our employees have the ability to fulfill the responsibilities of their roles remotely. That's not the case for every office, but autonomy and an entrepreneurial spirit are both strong pillars of our office culture. Creating a support infrastructure for flexible work is key, however. In planning for the implementation of this program, we identified key upgrades and adjustments needed for our staff. The most important resources are, naturally, related to inter-office communication. To foster collaboration and maintain productivity, we started to use shared calendars, reliable video chat and telepresence robots. These have not only maintained productivity and collaboration, but in many cases provided a drastic improvement to existing resources.

Related: Office, Schmoffice: How 3 Big-Name Companies Succeed With Remote Working

This did not come without some hesitation from staff members who either enjoy the structure of a 9-to-5 work schedule or value the face-to-face collaboration that can only fully be experienced when colleagues are in the same room together. As a result, we added in some parameters that make working remotely or off-hours viable. We encouraged all meetings to be held between the core hours of 10:30 am and 4:00 pm. And because in-person meetings are also a necessity on occasion, we established a policy that all face-to-face interactions be scheduled on Wednesdays, with exceptions for special cases.

While we anticipated this new program would be of value to our teams, the extremely positive results for the organization were even more pronounced. We now have 100 percent participation from employees and an anonymous survey of our staff reported that 86 percent of employees felt reduced stress levels and 90 percent saw improved support for family/personal life. Additionally, 79 percent have recorded an increase in employee morale and engagement and 62 percent responded that their workload management had improved.

While our program has certainly come with new rules and expectations, it's clear to me that when you allow your employees to better organize their home lives, they can greatly improve their time at work and vice versa. Many organizations look at ways to give up company time to improve work-life balance, but few look at the time employees give up to the company outside of regular office hours. By eliminating things like commutes to the office, you're able to give employees back valuable time outside of their normal work requirements. It may seem small at first, but you'll be surprised what even two days without sitting in rush hour can do to someone's stress level and productivity.

Related: These 10 Tools for Remote Workers Will Make Office Life a Permanent Thing of the Past

It's my firm belief that a strong company culture goes beyond what occurs within the confines of the office. No amount of perks within the work day will make employees happy and productive if they're still burdened by life outside of the company. As senior leaders, it is our duty to make employee's time within the office fulfilling without masking the stress we put upon them with hollow work perks. Instead of looking inward, it's important to consider life outside the office walls and recognize that professionals with healthy and happy personal lives come to work with productive, positive attitudes.

Peter Hirst

Associate dean of Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management

Peter Hirst is Associate Dean of Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management. For more information, please visit

Editor's Pick

Related Topics

Business Ideas

These Retirees Just Wanted Their Cats to Drink More Water. Now Their Remote Side Hustle Makes $80,000 a Year.

This couple wanted to make and sell something from the comfort of their home. Now they're offering up their playbook for others.

Business News

'Please Fix This': Elon Musk Frantically Emails Employees During Livestream Glitch

Musk attempted to livestream his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.


A Guide to Effective Crisis Leadership — Key Steps to Lead Your Team Through Turbulent Times

The essential strategies and skills required to be a successful crisis leader and guide your organization through difficult times.

Business News

Costco Isn't Facing Devastating Surges in Theft Like Target and Walmart — and the Reason Is Very Simple

The retailer's CFO revealed its strategy during a fourth-quarter-earnings call.

Data & Recovery

Get Up to Date on CISSP Security and Risk Management

Protecting your business is crucial, but you don't need to hire a full-scale IT and cybersecurity team to do it.

Personal Finance

5 Entrepreneurial Mindset Principles That Empower Financial Literacy

Adopting the right mindset is key to financial literacy. Follow these five guiding principles to enhance your understanding of wealth creation and growth.