Work-life balance, evolved

January 12, 2022

The idea of work-life balance has been around for decades, but the pandemic triggered a conceptual evolution. As global workers went remote, the lines between work and home blurred and people began to think about how the two could fit together better. Those ideas have led to workers demanding even more flexibility, and employers are going to have to support them in getting it.

Work in Any Way companies—those that are people-centric, unbound from traditional constraints of technology or geography, and flexible—support their workers with initiatives and tools to help them adjust their work-life balance until it fits. We can see how that’s good for workers, but it’s just as critical for the organizations where they work. Companies that don’t actively promote a healthy work-life balance suffer from higher turnover and lower productivity, which impact their bottom line.

Work life balance is the top reason workers look for a new job, and with 63% of U.S. businesses finding it tougher to keep workers than to hire them, cultivating a Work in Any Way approach to work-life fit is more important than ever.

Out of balance

66% of workers say their work-life balance is out of whack. That figure shoots up to 83% when you focus on Millennials and Gen Z (who, together, will represent roughly 70% of the workforce by 2025). When work consistently infringes upon your ability to tend to home life, spend time with family and friends, or even take a break in order to rest and recharge, it creates stress and unhappiness.

In a Korn Ferry survey of professionals around the globe, 88% reported that work-related stress is higher than it was five years ago. Americans find that particularly true, with 25% of U.S. workers naming their jobs as their No. 1 stressor. For over half of respondents in another study, work stress often results in 12-hour workdays and skipping lunch.

The effects of overwork on both mental and physical health are well-documented. Numerous studies by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that too much work contributes to significant health problems like depression, diabetes and heart disease. It can also impair both sleep and memory. Health problems like these cost $125 billion–$190 billion in healthcare spending in the U.S. every year, and £34.9 billion in the U.K.

Overwork, stress and exhaustion eventually lead to burnout, which can make it difficult to communicate, read facial expressions, make judgment calls and keep emotional reactions in check. In other words, the more you work, the worse you get at it.

Work in Any Way solutions

Rethink meetings

Meetings are often a form of presenteeism (showing up just to be seen) so don’t schedule them mindlessly. Use them sparingly and meet only when there’s a specific objective to accomplish.  Make sure to set aside time for your team to also get the actual work done.

Model balance

If managers are logging on at all hours, it doesn’t matter what your written policies are. Team leaders need to demonstrate healthy boundaries so that workers know it’s OK to create their own.

Work-life fit increases employee engagement

Work-life balance is about more than how you spend your time. Career coach Heather Moulder shares a number of ways her clients think about it:

  • Making a positive impact at both work and home
  • Being present, not preoccupied
  • Prioritizing your needs without guilt, shame or apology
  • Setting and enforcing boundaries
  • Letting go of having it all

People who report a better work-life fit also report 25% less stress. Less stress makes us healthier and happier, and happy workers are engaged workers. Employee engagement, which refers to how emotionally committed a worker is to their job, is what motivates people to help their company achieve its goals. High employee engagement is good for workers and organizations alike, and it’s the endgame for Work in Any Way companies.

Engaged workers take more joy in their work. Engagement fuels self-confidence and connects people to a sense of meaning or higher purpose. It drives people to succeed and feel pride in their accomplishments. Engaged workers are also productive workers. They make fewer mistakes and sales can increase by as much as 20%. Engaged workplaces also see 41% less absenteeism. (Unscheduled sick days cost businesses $3,600 a year per hourly worker and $2,660 for salaried workers.) On the other hand, disengaged workers lead to $450 billion–$500 billion lost to businesses each year.

A study of 50,000 global workers found that people who are happy with their work-life balance work harder than those who aren’t. Their workplaces are 21% more profitable, they have 31% less turnover and they yield an 80% customer retention rate.

Work in Any Way solutions

Offer flexible work options

Asynchronous schedules and remote work options are at the top of the list. Don’t forget part-time, freelance, job-sharing and shortened workweeks.

Create digital nomad programs

Encourage don’t just tolerate employees who want to go mobile, whether they want to try it for pockets of time or they’re committed to a global lifestyle.

Reevaluating our priorities

Coping mechanisms like "presenteeism" (going into the office for the sake of being seen) and "pleasanteeism" (hiding your work stress and anxiety) have sprung up in response to job stress. A recent study revealed that 51% of U.K. workers feel like they have to put on a brave face for colleagues.

Enter the pandemic. Public safety forced organizations to accommodate remote work, which opened up work options not previously available to a lot of workers. As a result, almost 50% of U.S. workers have rethought their careers, fueling the so-called Great Resignation.

When team members stick around, individuals and organizations benefit. Workflow isn’t disrupted. We continue to enjoy work friendships, which influence how much we like work. It’s also good for the bottom line. According to the Center for American Progress, the average cost of employee turnover equals 21% of a worker’s annual salary.

Work in Any Way solutions

Hit pause

Leave your computer for lunch breaks, turn off Slack notifications and generally unplug when you’re not working.

Set expectations

In most jobs, work ebbs and flows. When you need your team to be on at off times, set limits and communicate them clearly. “Duvet days” can balance periods of more intense work.

Create work-life fit through flexibility

Globally, only 15% of workers are engaged. In the U.S., that figure is a little more than double, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. One of the keys to increasing employee engagement is flexibility.

Flexibility is one of three pillars that define a Work in Any Way company, and it matters to employees—a lot. 80% of people would turn down a job that doesn’t offer flexible work options, and 79% of workers believe that flexibility leads to better work-life balance. Companies who know how to flex also have less turnover: Even before the pandemic, 89% of HR professionals saw an uptick in employee retention following the launch of remote work and similarly flexible policies.

In 2019, Microsoft Japan tested a four-day workweek to see how it would impact work life balance. They cut hours and instituted a three-day weekend—and saw productivity levels jump 40%.

Here’s a longer list of some of the benefits associated with work life fit:

  • Increased accountability
  • Increased commitment
  • Better teamwork
  • Improved communication
  • Uptick in morale
  • Increased retention

You’ll also be (or become) a company people want to work for, which matters since the way most people find new jobs is via referral, and 89% of workers at organizations with well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their workplace to others.

Work in Any Way solutions

Provide the right tech

Improve real-time and asynchronous collaboration with digital work tools for whiteboarding, project management, chat and e-signing. Bonus: Inter-app integration is on the rise, which makes using them even easier.

Look beyond productivity

Your tech infrastructure also has to support the emotional and creative needs of your organization. For example, Miro helps teams brainstorm, organize and cull ideas remotely. Brainsparker offers prompts to generate unconventional problem-solving, and I Miss the Office simply re-creates the sounds of the workplace.

Work-life balance is all about giving workers the tools, the encouragement and the models they need to make room for everything on their priority list. Reducing stress increases happiness, leads to engagement and, ultimately, yields a richer, more innovative work product. Creativity is both a cause and effect of employee engagement, a fact that Work in Any Way companies inherently understand and strive for.

Learn more about Work in Any Way.

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