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Human Resources Concern

The Importance of Work/Life Balance and What To Do About It

A major concern for many Human Resource (HR) professionals today is helping to ensure a work/life balance for employees. Certainly trying to balance work and life can be difficult regardless of your position, but frequently you see the most issues occurring for management levels and higher.

Especially in today’s environment where many organizations have reduced headcount through layoffs or attrition; those left behind feel the need to work more hours in order to pick up the slack and to, frankly, save their jobs.  There is a fear that if they do not push themselves they could be out of a job next.  Here is HR’s problem – these individuals are going to burn out or get frustrated and eventually move on to another job.  Additionally, they aren’t “on their game” – let’s face it, these individuals can’t be working at peak performance if they are stretching themselves too thin.  Something has to give.  This lack of a balance leads to stress and the potential for poor health – all of which are costly in the long run for the organization.   Employees who are burned out at work do not meet their goals/objectives, have difficulty dealing with problems that arise or conflicts with others and are not engaged.  These employees cannot help the company grow.  Additionally, they begin to have difficulties in the personal (home) life which puts further strain on them.

A recent article in the March 2010 edition of Human Resource Executive (page 14) discussed a recent survey that found that nearly 50% of adults in the United States bring work home with them and many of those reporting that it is interfering with their family life.  Employees feel as if they need to prove their value to their employer in order to keep their job when those around them are being laid off.  The higher up on the ladder an employee (job authority, job skill level, decision making latitude, personal earning capability, etc.) are all predictors of increased infringement on family life, according to the survey.

There are a few things that HR can do to help create improved work/life balance.  First, make sure the executive team is aware of the situation.  Don’t assume they know that there is a concern with work/life balance.

Consider sending a questionnaire to employees – make it anonymous if that helps in your organization.  Ask questions such as:

  • How many hours a week do you work – whether at work or from your home (after you have left work)?
  • Do you spend time thinking about work or working when it is a weekend or you are on vacation?
  • How many times a week do you get to take an hour lunch break, without working while eating lunch?
  • How often do you take the vacation allotted to you?
  • How often do you get frustrated at work because you can’t finish a project, or feel like you are pulled in too many directions?
  • Do you feel depressed about your job or can barely motivate yourself to get to work in the morning?
  • What causes you the most frustration at work?
    • Amount of emails/phone calls
    • Lack of direction from management
    • Lack of teamwork
    • Other?
  • Are you excited when you are assigned new projects, or do you see it as “just one more thing I can’t get to?”

These should get you started. Obviously adjust the questions to fit your environment and the objectives.

It is very important to set the stage ­prior to sending a survey to staff.  Let them know why you are doing the survey (e.g., concerned about employees), what you want to see as the outcome (e.g., better work/life balance), and how they can help (e.g., by completing the survey).

Once complete, share the results with all employees along with a plan on what will be done to make things better and over what time line.  Need their help?  Let them know!

Some options to help improve work/life balance may include:

  • Job sharing opportunities
  • Work-from-home options (telecommuting)
  • 4-day a week options
  • Help employees manage time better/get organized
  • Offer Friday “lunches” at work so people are away from their desk for an hour
  • Adjust working hours – let people start earlier or later than the usual
  • Host get-togethers for staff – during work hours – even if just for an hour to socialize

Some of these may work in your organization, some may not.  You may need to socialize some ideas with others in the organization to get their buy-in and support.   Don’t just assume the organization won’t go along with an idea – socialize it!

What other ideas do you have?  What have you done to better balance work/life in your organization or personally?  Please share in the Comments field below.  Thanks!