The role of Work-Life Balance
So, it has been a while since my last reflection - things have been busy! This small reflection is about Work-Life Balance and the role it plays in employee health and well-being and business performance. Hopefully you will find some useful thoughts here to consider...
Work-life balance is about how an employee can balance their working life and career with their family life, social life and ability to ‘switch off’ at the end of the working day. In an increasingly technological age the distinction between work and home life is becoming more and more difficult to achieve.
The term work-life balance refers to an employees’ ability to find a balance between their working and home life. Often confused with flexible working, the two terms are intricately linked yet distinct, but I’ll come back to flexible working in a later reflection.
Gone are the days where the end of the working day was signified by the physical act of leaving the office, with mobile technology allowing work to invade our time out of work. Working hours are becoming a thing of the past with more and more employees feeling pressure to check email as they ‘relax’ at the end of the day. The psycho-physical barrier between work and home has become blurred and this has important potential impacts on our health and well-being.
Being able to ‘switch off’ from work at the end of the day is important in our body being able to manage stress as we produce the chemicals necessary to counteract cortisol (the stress hormone). Stress is not limited to being a psychological condition and long-term chronic stress through being unable to truly take time out from work literally stresses the body physiologically as well as psychologically. Over time we feel tired, lacking in energy and motivation and can suffer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Our sleep suffers and we succumb to more and more minor ailments – colds, flu, headaches, back and shoulder pain – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Longer-term effects of being unable to relax out of work are much more devastating.
Inability to achieve work-life balance also puts strain on relationships with family and friends and we are unable to really be with our family and friends even when we are with them as our attention is split between what is going on around us and the distraction of the office invading our off time through mobile technology. And it is not just mobile technology that causes problems – feeling over-whelmed at work can just as easily carry over into home life. Similarly, insufficient notice of shift patterns for shift workers means that people are unable to plan in time with family, time to invest in health, holiday time and time to socialise – all vital elements of a healthy, balanced life both physically and psychologically. Our lives become over-shadowed by when we may or may not be working and we feel as though we are at the ‘beck and call’ of the company with no control over when we might plan in those activities we enjoy outside of work. Our lives become increasingly small and focussed around work to the exclusion of many other aspects of a healthy, balanced life.
So what do we do about this?
Having clear policies around mobile technology and expectations around taking time out of work helps to set the standard and reduce perceived pressure to be constantly ‘on-call’ – some organisations even disable mobile technology outside core hours (which may or may not be possible depending on role and function). Giving shift workers clarity around shift patterns and notice of when they will be working so they can plan their time out of work is also an important factor. It goes back to my initial reflection about referring to people as ‘assets’ – yes we do have to satisfy business need, but if we do this at the expense of employee well-being we leave our people feeling undervalued and this can result in increased turnover, reduced productivity and increasing sickness absence levels. As I have said before, happy people make good business and enabling work-life balance is one mechanism by which we can demonstrate that we value our people and ensure they stay happy and healthy.