More than previous generations, modern workers are coming to pursue work-life balance above more traditional motivators like wages or long-term job security. This comes as a result of a general loss of confidence in the global economy. After the global financial crisis, wage growth has slowed in Australia and New Zealand, while real wages actually decreased even as economies started to grow in the UK and Ireland.
Many younger workers don’t expect to ever retire. Unlike older generations, these individuals don’t view their careers as a phase ending in a comfortable retirement. Rather, they see work as a permanent activity that needs to be integrated into and become part of a fulfilling life that offers manageable levels of stress in the long term. To facilitate this, businesses need to support their employees in their efforts to make room for life and work in a sustainable way.
1. Structure flexible schedules
As a result of both economic and societal changes, workers are far more likely to be part of dual-income households, and seek out jobs with flexible schedules or telecommuting opportunities to allow them to coordinate childcare, higher education, and other responsibilities alongside work. Many businesses have begun to offer increased flexibility to address these needs, however they often don’t provide the structure needed to make these measures effective or desirable.
A poorly designed “flexible schedule” might effectively consider employees to be on call at all hours of the day, restricting their ability to pursue other activities in their “off” hours. To provide team members with the freedom they need to focus on their other responsibilities, you’ll need to explicitly schedule hours during which workers can be contacted. They shouldn’t be expected to respond to emails, pick up the phone, or see a chat window during their off-hours, regardless whether that’s in the middle of the traditional workday or not.
2. Discourage informal overtime
Answering a few emails, looking over spreadsheets, or finishing a report at home after work has been a normal facet of corporate life for workers for decades. As technology has improved and workers are increasingly able to access all their tools and data from their home computers, however, the type of work that they can do after hours has diversified. As they gained this capacity, employers have increasingly come to rely on workers taking this extra time to manage their responsibilities.
Failing to control this informal overtime is unavoidably destructive to your employees’ work-life balance, leading to burnout and rapid turnover. Worse, it disproportionately affects people in high-skill and management positions, effectively undermining the capacities of your most critical team members.
A simple way to limit these activities is to block off-site access to your business’ systems after hours, while also simply forbidding most work activities after hours as a matter of company policy. While it’s not very difficult for motivated employees to ignore or simply find a way around these kinds of measures, it makes it clear that his type of extra work is neither expected nor encouraged.
3. Require telecommuters to use dedicated workspaces
Work-life balance isn’t just about limiting the impact of work during off-hours. A benefit like telecommuting is meant to allow team members to cut unnecessary commuting time, not to encourage workers to attempt to multitask work and life tasks at the same time. Despite that, it’s not uncommon to see someone trying to participate in a conference call while driving their kids to school, or writing code while supervising them at the playground. That might seem practical to them at the time, but it obviously divides their focus and interferes with their ability to perform well (and safely!) in both tasks.
By requiring telecommuters to use a dedicated workspace in their home, you can help to keep them focused on the task at hand so they’ll be able to perform efficiently in their professional capacity without being forced to commute to the office.
4. Lead by example
Workers take their cue from their leaders. As you go up the chain of command, managers and business owners are much more likely to work extra hours than their subordinates. While this might be appropriate in the sense that managers shouldn’t demand more of their team than they’re willing to do themselves, it doesn’t mean they should overwork themselves. Rather, leaders can use their influence to encourage responsible time management, and to set an example for how to achieve a healthy work-life balance with the tools offered by your business.
Leaders typically need a more predictable schedule and more time in the office than lower-level employees, but they should still take advantage of these benefits from time to time. Not only will this help them to develop perspective on their efficacy, it gives them the chance to illustrate to their own subordinates how to responsibly use these tools to improve their lives.
By giving workers the control they need while also taking a hand in defining how time will be managed in your business, you can develop a better work-life balance for all your employees. As a result you’ll be able to attract and retain the talent you need to secure your business’ future.