The Promise of Work Life Balance
The goal of providing employees an ideal work life balance is difficult to assess against a standard benchmark. The measurements used to quantify “balance” are usually centered around surveys that contain elements of subjectivity when questioning employees about their overall satisfaction, their stress levels, even their opinions of their boss or co-workers. While this information is useful to recognize factors that shape our idea of the workplace, they do not give us a clear picture of how the employee’s work impacts their life outside of the office. The added complications inherent in surveys with broad stroke questions focused on perceived importance or comfortability is that they often don’t yield uniform results because every employee has a different idea of what it means to be fulfilled, to be content, to feel good about your work when you’re not at work.
It’s hard to define work life balance on a concrete scale because employees place different weight on the many circumstances that make up their experience. The most accessible method of quantifying a more finite balance between work and life is to compare the time an employee spends focused on work and the quality of life that employee enjoys outside of the workplace.
According to timesheets, most employees record the standard 40-hour, 5-day work week but do not account for the extra hours spent outside the office fielding emails, producing deliverables, and or on their daily commute (the cycle of expectations now almost resembles a sort of intensive classroom schedule where employees spend most of their time on-site stuck in meetings, planning, confirming plans, and of course scheduling tomorrow’s meetings. This often leaves the employee with a big pile of homework, in the most literal sense). Employees are expected to work on projects, track progress, and make sure to answer any follow-up questions from the day’s events all while technically “off the clock”. While these timekeeping issues present their own questions in terms of compensation, we can assume that elevated hours of availability are negatively impacting the lives of individual employees and hurting productivity and turnover rates for employers. Studies show that employees expected to be available during off-hours exhibit higher cortisol levels indicating significant stress. Employees working more than 55 hours per week, on or off the clock, are shown to be at a higher risk for symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as heart disease. Employers with reported low levels of work life balance often also experience higher turnover rates and poor morale. The problem of work life balance is complex, but the stakes are too high for the issue to be ignored.
There are a variety of solutions being implanted both at the organizational and cultural level to help employees create and maintain the necessary balance between work and real life expectations. Some employers aim to change the office environment to be more appealing to employees; essentially bringing more life to work through perks such as catered lunches and recreation activities which have become near standards in tech industry startups. Several European countries have introduced government policy to increase employees’ leisure time by restricting contact outside of work hours and granting more guaranteed vacation days. You can learn more about solutions that can help your employees find the right balance by reaching out to our staff at 230-406-7197.