In recent years the concept of a work-life balance has gained increased popularity. Despite how prevalent it has become, some employers and employees struggle with finding the right balance between their professional and personal lives.
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 what a work-life balance is, why it’s essential, and how you can maintain a healthy balance.
What is a work-life balance?
A work-life balance is an equilibrium between someone’s career, professional, and personal life. This is seen when your career and personal time are equally prioritized without adversely affecting your physical or mental health.
With the rise of technology and remote work environments, 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. To ensure a strong balance, work and personal life need to work together to enhance physical and mental wellbeing.
This looks different depending on the age of your workers and your industry. For example, Baby Boomers tend to value the stability that work provides, while Gen Xers are more likely to use paid time off (PTO) on family enrichment and relationships. Millennials and Gen Z, however, focus more on finding meaningful work that supports their lifestyles instead of focusing on a work-life balance.
Why is work-life balance important?
Finding a 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, in turn, 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 the Harvard Business Review, side effects of burnout cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion each year in healthcare costs.
On the other hand, a good balance can lead to positive effects such as reduced stress, better wellbeing, and a decreased risk of burnout.
According to the OECD Better Life Index, 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 every day, which is 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 is an opportunity for workers to improve their own 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 work hours
- Set goals
- Set priorities
If an employee works eight hours each day, takes an hour 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 making sure they set time aside for the most important things, they can strike a better balance between work and life.
Employees also shouldn’t be afraid to use their paid time off (PTO) and sick leave, if available. According to Qualtrics, only 27% of employees in the U.S. used all of their available paid time off in 2021. Even when they do 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 be a catalyst for change in creating an effective work-life balance that improves employee productivity and morale.
As an employer, 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.
However, 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 an employee is expected 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. Unlike traditional vacation and sick time, workers can use their PTO for any reason, including mental health days. This gives employees a chance to take a vacation, get things done at home, and spend time with family.
The average number of PTO days is 10 to 14 days per year, but some organizations have started to offer unlimited PTO.
Offer remote work or flexible scheduling
Another way to promote a better work-life balance is through remote work and flexible schedules. 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 rush hour, helping to improve their overall health and wellbeing.
Remote work and flex schedules also allow working parents to be home with their kids, saving them money and 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 greater 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, employers can also experience burnout.
Provide personalized employee benefits
Offering personalized benefits is another way that you can support your employees’ work-life balance. With personalized benefits, your workers are empowered to use their benefits the way they want to.
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. You can allow reimbursements for individual health insurance premiums only or 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, you can offer a stipend to 1099 contractors and international workers. If you have any employees who 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 set 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.
Maintaining a work-life balance is essential for preventing burnout and low morale. Employees who have a good balance between work and life will be more productive in the workplace, see improved physical and mental health, and spend more time with their families or pursuing 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 you’ll have a 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 allows you to 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 September 20, 2022.