The Elusive Chase After Work-Life Balance: Are Businesses and Their Employees Finally Getting Closer to an Acceptable Definition?
Greta Zamberletti, People & Culture Manager at Jobtome
John Torre, VP - Human Resources at INTOO USA
We live in a changed work world. In recent years disruptions in office behaviours due to the pandemic have allowed employees (and also employers) to prioritise what they expect from their jobs and careers and how to achieve a form of balance between time spent in their personal and professional worlds. One resource, perhaps surprisingly from the agro-farming industry, even says that today workers are thinking more in terms of “work-life boundaries“; those that will bring balance.
Surveys over the past couple of years repeatedly state that work-life balance is of growing importance for workers in various developed economies. A recent BBC article reported that in a 2021 survey of over 9,000 UK workers, 65% of job-seeker respondents said they prioritise work-life balance over salary terms and benefits. Meanwhile, just a year later, in a poll of 4,000 Americans in the FlexJobs 2022 Career Pulse Survey, 63% of those surveyed said work-life balance is more important than pay.
“It is true that attitudes towards work-life balance have shifted for both employees and employers. An increasing number of people recognise its importance in achieving a healthy distribution between time spent at work and one’s personal life. In the past it was more common to find some employers viewing long working hours and a lack of work-life balance as a necessary sacrifice for success. This view is gradually changing as employers come to understand that a healthy work-life balance is crucial for employee well-being (including mental and physical health), productivity, attraction, and retention. Employees increasingly expect employers to offer greater flexibility and more autonomy for how work is done,“ explains Greta Zamberletti, People & Culture Manager at Jobtome, a division of Gi Group Holding.
How are companies working to support greater work-life balance?
It would appear the perfect storm has come about in terms of employee-employer discussions on work-life balance and what constitutes a healthy, sustainable work lifestyle. Many companies are adopting supportive policies and initiatives such as flexible schedules, working from home, 4-day work weeks, and paid time off for personal and family needs. And those are just structural changes. At the same time, many employers are also making efforts to improve the quality of time employees spend in the workplace: both on-site and in remote conditions. This is because workers are looking for other benefits to help foster a healthy integration of work and life needs. “Employees expect their companies to foster an environment of empathy and recognition and to offer access to wellness and health resources. For this reason, many businesses are introducing employee wellness programmes: with activities such as yoga and meditation classes, healthy eating initiatives, and mental health support services. The trend towards promoting employee mental and physical health in the workplace is expected to continue, with employers recognizing the benefits of a healthy and happy workforce. By prioritising employee well-being, companies improve productivity, reduce absenteeism, and attract and retain top talent,“ explains Greta Zamberletti.
Is the 4-day work week the key to better work-life balance and also higher productivity?
Implementing a four-day work week (4DW) is one way to offer a better work-life balance for employees. By reducing the number of working days, employees may have more time to attend to personal and family responsibilities, pursue hobbies, or simply rest and recharge.
A trial of a four-day work week was conducted in the UK by the 4 Day Week Campaign from June to December 2022, and the results showed that 92% of participating organisations have decided to continue with it. This is because productivity, business performance, and revenue improved, while absenteeism decreased. An interesting observation from the 4DW campaign is that findings are consistent across a variety of sub-groups in the sample: with both men and women, among small and bigger companies, and generally across industries. Workers reported feeling heard, being able to work effectively and competently, and relating well to co-workers. Overall satisfaction with work and life is higher, with employees reporting lower rates of burnout and better physical and mental health.
It appears that a continued prioritisation of work-life balance is here to stay. Employees, especially with the rise in the number of values-driven Millennials and GenZ-ers in the workforce, are changing how businesses think about worker engagement and productivity. Plus, with the experience reported by the 4-Day Week Campaign, as well as the teams at Jobtome and INTOO USA, showing both revenue and productivity increases, this is a big motivator for many businesses to continue down a “4-Day path” to better work-life balance. LinkedIn reports that there has been an 83% increase in job postings mentioning flexibility since 2019, and this trend is set to continue.
The challenge moving forward for businesses will be to develop and cultivate company cultures that can accommodate workers’ desired flexibility (including the 4DW model, hybrid office set-ups, etc.), ensure team cohesiveness, and maintain sustainable employee productivity over time. John Torre adds, “A 4DW is not conventional, so many businesses that are structured in a traditional way will likely be hesitant to make the change. As many organisations experienced during the pandemic, by looking at their business model and doing some deep analysis, they found it was possible to explore and implement the use of remote workers in a non-traditional, remote work environment. The same argument can be made for the 4DW. Organisations could really benefit if they step back and consider the option for a four-day structure with an open mind. Many of them fear drops in employee productivity or negative impacts for clients and customers. If, however, all the necessary due diligence has been completed, then a business has nothing to lose by doing a test-run to see if it works and makes sense. I believe that one major obstacle is having to put the four-day week option to senior leaders who may not be open to the idea. They may be quick to shut it down without trying it first. Likewise, research I have studied warns that such a move can be a major shift for team members who may not be practicing effective time management. This can cause stress as team members struggle to get more work done in less time. So I think it is important for organisations to provide ongoing support through training, tools/resources, and education programmes for employee teams: starting with senior leaders. This will help them learn how to manage their time better and more efficiently.” The evolution to the 4DW may not be easy, but it appears businesses are willing to try: for the sake of worker health and happiness. This is a good thing.