Work-life balance or spillover has been a well known concept for years now, one of which both employees and employers are aware. It is a widespread phenomenon, but the argument still rages about where the responsibility lies: while some say that it is the individual’s business, others maintain that it is the bosses’ duty to solve this issue.
According to EHS Today, one of the biggest US magazines for environmental, health and safety management professionals in the manufacturing, construction, and service sectors, “presenteeism” (where employees show up for work but don’t perform at full capacity) costs businesses ten times more than absenteeism. As the publication says, presenteeism impacts not only workers who are “absent but present,” but also their coworkers. According to a GCC Insights report by Global Corporate Challenge quoted by the title, on average, such employees cost businesses the equivalent of three months per year in lost productivity.
Last year the American magazine Forbes identified 25 of the best companies for work-life balance. At the top of the list for the third year in a row was Colgate-Palmolive. The company’s career page touts its commitment to “encouraging a healthy balance between work and personal responsibilities”, and considerations like nearby childcare centers; emergency in-home care for dependents; tuition assistance; health, legal, and financial counseling services; and relocation assistance feature prominently in an outline of employee compensation and benefits. Coldwell Banker, Google, Nokia, Philips and Walt Disney are some of the giants included in the list.
Against this backdrop, Coralia Sulea, university lecturer and doctor within the Psychology Department of the University of Timisoara, highlights five crucial things about work-life balance.
What is it?
The topic of work-life balance is concerned with the negative and positive relationships between an employee’s work and non-work roles — family, lifestyle, and hobbies.
See the preliminary results of the Organizational Well-Being Study and request a VIP invitation for the Healthiest Companies event here
Balance and imbalance
When there is an imbalance, the employee might not have enough time for one domain or takes work stress home, or the other way around. Importantly, individuals can experience more than balance, having enriching experiences when skills and positive moods are transferable between work and home.
Why is it relevant?
Balance is not just something nice to have; it positively affects individuals’ wellbeing and task engagement. That is why organizations should focus on fostering a work environment that supports a positive relationship between work and home through concurrent organizational and individual interventions.
How can organizations improve work-life balance?
Organizational practices found to be successful, when tested in applied research, include providing access to health and sports centers, onsite childcare, a part-time job and flexible program, compressed working weeks, and flexible daily start and finish times. Importantly, all strategies – and perhaps mainly those related to the work schedule – need to be appropriate for both employee and organizational needs; one specific strategy might not work for all employees. Also, individual actions play a role. Examples are not bringing work home, allowing full recovery when on vacation (i.e., no contact with the office), respecting the regular work schedule and not doing overtime, taking breaks and allowing appropriate time and space for lunch, and engaging in creating a supporting work environment. Also, reducing demands (e.g., diminishing expectations or the number of duties of work or family roles) and increasing resources (e.g., seeking work-family support, getting help with chores or difficult tasks).
When do interventions work?
The way an intervention is implemented might be more important than the intervention itself. It is not enough to have a list of work facilities for employees. In some cases, policies and options do exist, but employees are not aware of them, or they might worry that their career will suffer if they take advantage of such benefits. That is why certain actions are required to initiate and foster such interventions, which are basically focused on integrating specific policies in the organizational culture so that employees feel encouraged to use them. Examples might include a survey of employees’ particular needs and engaging employees in decisions. Importantly, the role of managers is crucial — the way they are responsive to employees’ outside work responsibilities and how they enact specific support.