For both employees and their employers, juggling several responsibilities both inside and outside the workplace can be a challenge. Despite the prevalence of work-life balance as a concept, some employers and employees need help finding the right balance between their professional lives and personal activities.
Creating and maintaining a healthy work-life balance isn’t easy. Dozens of factors come into play, including family life, friends, work deadlines, societal pressures, and income.
This article will explain work-life balance, why it’s essential, and how you can maintain a healthy balance.
What is a work-life balance?
Work-life balance is the achievement of being able to properly spend time on someone’s professional and personal life. Essentially, it’s when employees prioritize their career and personal relationships equally without adversely affecting their physical or mental health.
With the rise of technology and remote work, the boundaries between work and life can become blended. This makes setting boundaries vital.
Work and life shouldn’t be at odds with each other. Your work and personal lives must work together to ensure a strong balance that enhances your physical and mental well-being.
This can look different depending on the age of your workers and your industry. For example, Baby Boomers tend to value the stability of work, while Gen Xers are more likely to use paid time off (PTO) for family enrichment and relationships. Millennials and Gen Z focus more on finding meaningful work that supports their lifestyles so that a specific focus on work-life balance isn’t necessary.
Why is work-life balance important?
Ensuring that your employees can find the perfect balance between work and life is essential for establishing a healthy work environment. A poor work-life balance where employees are overworked can lead to chronic stress. This can cause other physical and mental health issues, such as depression and heart problems.
A poor balance can also affect work-related outcomes, such as employee burnout, which reduces overall productivity at your organization. According to a recent report1, organizations lose $322 billion in turnover and unproductivity globally due to burnout.
On the other hand, a good balance can lead to positive effects such as reduced stress levels, better well-being, and a decreased risk of burnout.
According to the OECD Better Life Index2, full-time workers in the U.S. spend 61% of their time on personal care activities, such as eating, sleeping, and leisure. This equates to 14.6 hours daily, less than other OECD countries such as Italy, Germany, Canada, South Korea, Russia, France, and Brazil.
By striking a better balance between work and life, workers with children can focus on family, and all employees can work toward improved personal health and leisure.
How can employees maintain a healthy work-life balance?
There are a few ways that employees can create a better work-life balance. While employers have control over a worker’s schedule and work arrangements, there’s an opportunity for workers to improve their situations.
Here are a few steps employees can take to maintain a healthy work-life balance:
- Prioritize your health
- Make time for yourself and your family
- Set boundaries and a maximum number of work hours per week
- Set goals
- Set priorities
If an employee works eight hours each day, takes an hour for lunch, sleeps for 8 hours, and has an hour of commuting each day, they’d still have six hours of quality time to spend with family, do a leisure activity, or take care of their health each day. By setting time aside for the most important things, they can balance work and life better.
Employees also shouldn’t be afraid to use their PTO and sick leave. According to Qualtrics3, only 27% of employees in the U.S. used all of their available paid time off in 2021. Even when they take time off, Qualtrics found that 49% of employees still work for at least an hour on their days off.
Prioritizing their health will make them happier and more productive at work, more than making up for any missed sick days.
How can employers better support these efforts?
Employers can advocate for change to create a more effective work-life balance, improving employee productivity and morale.
First, you’ll need to understand the needs and wants of your employees to determine the best way to improve their work-life balance. Your workers are unique, meaning they’ll have different priorities that may not fit into their specific generation’s way of life.
To provide you with a starting point, we’ve compiled a few tips for supporting your entire team.
Set realistic expectations of your employees
One of the first things you should consider is your expectations for your employees. How long will their shifts be? Will you provide a meal break or any additional breaks throughout the day? Do they need to be on-call?
If your employees work long hours, they’ll struggle to find an ideal work-life balance, affecting their job satisfaction and morale.
Limiting the hours you expect an employee to work and providing ample breaks is one way to avoid burnout and allow your employees to take a break and focus on their personal lives and family relationships.
Employees need time to recharge after working long hours. If your workers are always on-call, they won’t have a chance to relax. If you need to have employees on-call, consider an on-call schedule that gives workers a break on rotation.
Offer paid time off
One of the best ways to support your employees is to offer PTO. Workers can use their PTO for any reason, including mental health days, unlike traditional vacation time and sick leave. This allows employees to take a break, get things done at home, and spend time with family.
The average number of PTO days is only 11 days per year3. But some organizations offer unlimited PTO.
Offer remote work or flexible scheduling
Another way to promote a better work-life balance is through remote work and flexible hours. While working from home can blend work and personal life, sometimes resulting in work-family conflict, it can also benefit you and your employees.
Your workers don’t need to commute to work in a remote work environment. This saves them time and money, allowing them to spend more time on the things they love the most. It might also allow your employees to sleep in compared to getting up for a rush hour commute, helping to improve their overall health and well-being.
Remote work and flex schedules also allow working parents to be home with their kids, saving them money and daily stress on childcare.
Flex schedules also allow your workers to work whenever is best for them. This could be after their kids head off to school or between appointments throughout the day, contributing to a better work-life balance.
Lead by example
Leading by example is a commonly overlooked way for employers to support their employees in establishing a work-life balance. If you tend to work long hours, send emails late at night, and always be available, your employees will pick up on this. They may feel obligated to do the same.
Make sure that you take some time for yourself as well. After all, business owners can also experience burnout.
Provide personalized employee benefits
Offering personalized benefits is another way to support your employees’ work-life balance. With personalized benefits, you empower your workers to use their benefits however they want. Instead of relying on traditional benefits that offer one-size-fits-all benefits to your team, personalized benefits allow you to provide an individualized experience.
Personalized health benefits
Individualized health benefits such as health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) allow you to reimburse your employees for their qualifying medical expenses. Depending on the HRA you offer, you can reimburse employees for premiums paid toward the individual health insurance policies of their choosing. You can even reimburse for their out-of-pocket medical expenses, too.
Three of the most popular types of HRAs are:
- The qualified small employer HRA (QSEHRA)
- The individual coverage HRA (ICHRA)
- The integrated HRA, also known as a group coverage HRA (GCHRA)
You can also offer your workers a health stipend. This works similarly to an HRA, except it’s taxable for both you and your employees. While HRAs often work best for most organizations, stipends can be a better solution for 1099 contractors and international workers. If any employees receive advance premium tax credits (APTC), a health stipend allows them to continue receiving their credits.
Instead of or in addition to establishing a corporate wellness program, you can offer your employees a wellness stipend. This enables you to reimburse employees for their wellness expenses, such as gym memberships, wearable fitness devices, home exercise equipment, wellness mobile apps, and other expenses up to your monthly allowance.
With a wellness stipend, you can enhance your employees' work-life balance by helping them have better financial access to health and wellness activities.
Offering perks that your employees can use to develop their personal and professional lives is a great way to give them balance. Education or professional development benefits help your workers expand or learn new skills they can use both in and outside the workplace.
They can help employees earn their degrees, GEDs, and professional certificates, or learn other industry-specific skills. And because individuals can take many classes and certifications online these days, employees have the flexibility to learn at their own pace or even from their own homes.
Commuter benefits, also known as transportation or employee transit benefits, help your employees manage the financial and time-consuming aspects of commuting to work on a daily basis. These benefits can help your employees have greater flexibility when commuting, which can significantly reduce the stress in their lives.
For example, if you have an employee that doesn’t have a car, offering commuter benefits allows them a reliable transportation method, whether a bus, train, or rideshare service, to take them to work and home on a schedule that works best for them.
Similarly, employees with a car appreciate mileage reimbursement, which helps them cover the costs of gas, routine maintenance, car insurance premiums, registration, and other expenses they may experience while driving their personal car for business purposes.
Maintaining a work-life balance is essential for preventing burnout and low morale. Employees with a good balance between work and life will be more productive in the workplace, see improved mental and physical health, and spend more time with their families or hobbies.
When your employees are happier and healthier, they’re less likely to be absent from work due to illness, they’ll be more productive, and they’ll contribute toward a more positive company culture where people want to work.
If you’re ready to offer employee benefits to help your workers maintain a work-life balance, PeopleKeep can help. Our personalized benefits administration software lets you set up and manage HRAs and employee stipends in minutes each month.
This blog article was originally published on May 4, 2015. It was last updated on June 26, 2023.