Work-life balance has been a hot topic for the past few decades. In that time, it’s evolved to be known variously as “work-life integration,” “work-life fit” and “work-life blend.” The name changes reflect the thinking that the word “balance” creates an unrealistic image of a scale, with work on one side and life on the other, like a see-saw.
In reality, in the elusive search for equilibrium, we don’t want our work life to be down when our personal life is up—or vice versa. What we are really aiming for is not so much a perfect balance as a way to integrate all aspects of our lives into a peaceful, sustainable, meaningful patchwork, right?
Regardless of what you call it, the concept of work-life balance can make or break your workforce and hinder or enhance your ability to recruit and retain talent.
It’s not just me who believes this and has seen it bear out in the office. Earlier this year, Megyn Kelly left a $15 million a year position at Fox News after a dozen years to join NBC news. She wasn’t motivated by money, either: She wanted more time for her family. And it wasn’t the first time Kelly had made a professional decision based on work-life balance. Her first career was as a lawyer, but she switched to journalism because it offered greater flexibility so she could spend more time with her three children.
It’s also not just working moms pushing for work-life balance. There’s a whole generation of millennials, among others, who make career decisions based on it.
A 2016 Deloitte report confirms the popular belief that millennials aren’t particularly loyal to their companies. To counter that leaning and encourage these employees to stay with you, it helps to know what inspires loyalty: millennials are more likely to join and stick with companies that offer good work-life balance.
Putting balance into practice
So, work-life balance clearly remains an important issue. But why is it so difficult to foster and achieve? Easy: We live in an always-on, always-connected world. People don’t turn off their phones nights and weekends, and professional work isn’t always done at 5 p.m.
A lot of professionals, especially millennials, are always on and don’t create barriers between their work and their home lives. For example, they may do a bit of online shopping during the workday, but they also don’t flinch at doing some work at night and on the weekend.
A GFI Software report shows that upward of 80 percent of professionals voluntarily check work email on weekends and 55 percent do so after 11 p.m. The downside of constant access to work through email: There is no down time, and that can lead to greater stress, according to reports from the Future Work Centre and the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.
What then can we, as employers, do to promote and encourage work-life balance in our workplace culture? Here are some best practices.
n Eliminate weekend work when possible. One way is to avoid assigning Monday morning deadlines.
n Include non-parents. A big complaint among people who do not have children is they don’t feel entitled to flexible time, but it’s acceptable for parents and those with seniority to leave for children’s events and appointments.
n Encourage responsibility. Your employees have a role in creating work-balance, too. Expect them to give advance notice, when possible, when they want or need time off, and to be mindful of better and worse times for requesting time off.
n Offer flexible work schedules. Allow work done outside normal hours to compensate for time off during regular hours. Take note: Almost 75 percent of the top companies in Great Place to Work’s 2017 list of the Best Workplaces in New York offer flexible scheduling.
n Let employees work remotely when appropriate. Also note: 86 percent of the top companies in Great Place to Work’s 2017 list of the Best Workplaces in New York allow telecommuting.
n Help new parents and all parents. Provide generous parental leave and allow new parents to come back to work gradually, without having to worry they will stall their career growth. In addition to providing a spacious lactation room, at Dixon Schwabl we allow employees to bring their children to work on occasion for short periods to cover gaps in child care. We also have a referral arrangement with a local child care center.
n Encourage and provide breaks. A Baylor University study shows that taking breaks to get away from work throughout the day helps lessen burnout and exhaustion and improve job satisfaction and energy. BounceX, one of the businesses listed on the 2017 Best Workplaces in New York list, enhances these workday breaks with free massage and meditation sessions, and allows staff to get away for a workout at the gym, some action in the game room or even to focus on a personal project.
At Dixon Schwabl, we have regular “Workplace Wow” events like free on-site massages, paper airplane contests, mindfulness for stress reduction sessions and office Olympics, for example, along with ice cream Thursdays, doughnut Tuesdays and monthly birthday celebrations that create rejuvenating breaks during the day.
We also encourage and allow our team members to take a full day each year to volunteer at a charitable event or organization, which gets them out of the office and offers a refreshing change of perspective. And we wholeheartedly respect the lunch hour!
n Take care of the little things. Your employees work hard, and sometimes long. Most companies on the 2017 Best Workplaces in New York list try to make life easier for their staff by helping out with chores and errands. Goldman Sachs provides meals and car service for team members who work late into the evening, make it possible to handle personal banking on-site, and provide on-site fitness centers and a concierge to arrange and take care of errands.
At Dixon Schwabl, we’ve arranged for a dry cleaner to pick up and drop off dry cleaning twice a week, offer on-site flu shots and community supported agriculture bounty drop-offs, and provide referrals for dog-walking and babysitting services to help our team members cross a few items off their to-do lists.
Productivity and performance
At the companies on the 2017 list of Best Workplaces in New York, 92 percent of employees are comfortable taking time off when they need it. And those who feel encouraged to integrate their work and personal lives are two times more likely to work extra hard and long to complete a job.
The takeaway: When you trust your team members with their schedules and encourage time away from work, you’ll find they will be exponentially more productive and engaged when they are at work.
With annual revenue growth averaging 24 percent at the Best Workplaces in New York, it’s clear that promoting work-life balance tips the balance sheets well into the black.
Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.