Understanding the problems
The first step is recognising there is one — all work and no play can be bad for business, as well as health. Massive workload, long hours, and an expectation of 24/7 availability are contributing factors to Health and Safety Executive’s calculation that stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases in 2014/15. Burnout, lower productivity, and higher staff turnover are all repercussions of this, too. The British Heart Foundation report also found that 60% of British workers accept unpaid overtime as the norm.
Yet, without dedicated, hard-working employees who are willing to go above and beyond what’s expected from time to time, most businesses would struggle. So, how can business owners and managers foster a culture of hard work, but not overwork?
Spotting the problems
Work-life balance refers to how employees prioritise their work and personal time. Occasionally working late to meet a deadline isn’t necessarily a problem, but if long hours are a matter of routine, this could be a sign that the balance could be tilted too far towards the office.
Long hours should not be considered the archvillain of work-life balance, however. Even with employees who work standard hours, a problem can exist if staff leave work feeling stressed, and pre-occupied when they get home.
As a business owner or manager, the following signs could be indicative of a work-life imbalance with your employees:
A rising absentee rate: work-life balance has been found to affect physical as well as mental wellbeing. If team members are routinely phoning in sick, overworking could be the root cause.
A drop in work quality: if standards are slipping, deadlines are being missed, and customer complaints are on the rise, burnout could be the culprit.
High staff turnover: if staff feel overworked and undervalued, they are less likely to stick around.
An overtime culture: where being routinely present at work beyond their contract hours is regarded by employees as the done thing.
Fixing the problems
After identifying the source of the problem, there are a number of solutions and roads you can go down to remedy it.
Scrutinise job descriptions and workloads
Look closely at what’s expected of each member of your team and consider whether this is achievable in the time allotted to it. To assess this, a good tip is to ask employees to write down each task they are expected to complete in a typical day or week, along with an estimation of how long it takes them to complete each job.
If what’s expected isn’t do-able in the time available for certain individuals, this might be solved by re-allocating tasks to other team members — optimising efficiency as a result. However, if everyone is already working at full stretch, it may be necessary to hire extra staff.
Think twice before contacting employees on their time
More than a quarter of UK workers take work calls on personal time and 41% check email after hours. Before getting in touch with employees in their free time, ask yourself whether it’s necessary. Let’s say an urgent query occasionally comes in from a client in a different time zone, for instance. Dealing with this might be considered part and parcel of the job. However, it’s quite a different thing for you to email an employee on a Sunday afternoon with something along the lines of, ‘I was thinking about our last meeting. Here’s my plan and I’d welcome your thoughts now…’ If it can wait until Monday, then do. Give them time to recharge.
Consider a curfew and/or hours quota
It’s all very well to say you take work-life balance seriously, but what are you actually doing about it? Goldman Sachs took a giant leap forward when they effectively declared the office out of bounds from Friday evening through to Sunday morning.
Set out to your employees the number of hours they should be working, and explain that if they are struggling with this, it’s not necessarily a reflection on them. Make it clear that they should come to you if what’s expected of them cannot be achieved within those hours — this can reinforce their feeling of being valued at work.
Consider remote and/or flexible working
The aim should be to get your employees working smarter rather than longer. This might involve allowing employees to spend at least part of their time working from home to cut down on time wasted on commuting, for example.
Start by considering the impact of remote/flexible working on your business. Is it practical? Also, ask employees whether they want it: some may prefer to keep home and work completely separate. If you do decide to implement it, make sure your employees have the tools they need to stay connected with each other, such as video conferencing, real-time messaging services, and shared documents for remote collaboration.
Employees with six months’ service are entitled to make a request for flexible working hours, and the law says that such requests must be dealt with in a reasonable manner. If such an arrangement sounds like business sense to you, then consider it — especially if it enables employees to juggle work and personal commitments more effectively.
Help your team maintain the right balance by keeping a close eye on workloads and putting practical steps in place to ensure employees are not overburdened. For more tips on getting the most out of your team and your business, head to our help centre.