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Supporting Work-Life Balance

Everyone has multiple roles to play on a daily basis – be it an employee, parent, teammate, volunteer, supervisor, caregiver or a host of other roles.  Modern society and technological advancements designed to make our lives easier have, ironically, increasingly created environments where the lines between our work and home lives are blurring. The move to work-from-home during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant contributor to the overlap of work and home life. 

What It Is

HR Professional Now defines work-life balance from the Human Resources Council for the Nonprofit Sector as “a self-defined, self-determined state of wellbeing that a person can reach, or can set as a goal, that allows them to manage effectively multiple responsibilities at work, at home and in their community; it supports physical, emotional, family and community health, and does so without grief, stress or negative impact.”

A less formal definition might read something along these lines: the ability to manage multiple commitments at home and at work without one or the other negatively impacting your ability to meet those commitments on a regular basis. 

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), points to research completed for Health Canada which says, “There are often two main aspects associated with work-life balance – the first is lack of time and scheduling conflicts, and the other is feeling overwhelmed, overloaded or stressed by the pressures of multiple roles.” There are four broad categories of stressors that lead to imbalance: 

  • Role overload: This form of work-life conflict occurs when the total demands on time and energy associated with the prescribed activities of multiple roles are too great to perform the roles adequately or comfortably.
  • Work-to-family interference: This type of role conflict occurs when work demands and responsibilities make it more difficult to fulfill family-role responsibilities (e.g., long hours in paid work prevent attendance at a child’s sporting event, preoccupation with the work role prevents an active enjoyment of family life, work stresses spill over into the home environment and increase conflict with the family). 
  • Family-to-work interference: This type of role conflict occurs when family demands and responsibilities make it more difficult to fulfill work-role responsibilities (e.g., a child’s illness prevents attendance at work, conflict at home makes concentration at work difficult).  
  • Caregiver strain: Caregiver strain is a multi-dimensional construct defined in terms of “burdens” in the caregivers’ day-to-day lives, which can be attributed to the need to provide care or assistance to someone else who needs it. 

Why It’s Important

There are seemingly endless research statistics  (from reviewlution.ca) on the perceptions to the impacts of negative work-life balance.  When considering all the information available, the simple answer to why work-life balance is important to employers is clear – it can have significant negative impacts for your business.  Chronic stress is a common impact of negative work-life balance in workers leading to burnout. Workplace statistics for Canada show 47% of people claim their work brings immense stress, and it’s estimated that worker burnout in the United States costs between $125-$190 billion every year.

The ability to get things done faster in turn means that workers can get more done in less time.  However, that drive towards more and faster eventually meets a breaking point. As Maura Thomas mentions in an article in Forbes, studies have shown that increased work time decouples from productivity at about 50 hours per week—meaning that at a certain point, a worker will actually accomplish less when working more.

Chronic stress and eventual burnout lead to increased employee disengagement, absenteeism, mental health issues and to increased employee turnover. 

From the CCOHS: The need for balance is essential. Studies on work-life balance programs have reported such benefits as: 

  • attracting new employees
  • helping to retain staff
  • building diversity in skills and personnel
  • improving morale
  • reducing sickness and absenteeism
  • enhancing working relationships between colleagues
  • encouraging employees to show more initiative and teamwork
  • increasing levels of production and satisfaction, and
  • decreasing stress and burn-out. 

The statistics speak for themselves: (via reviewlution.ca

  • Up to 3.7 million Canadians feel significant levels of stress due to work.
  • 43% of Canadian workers believe that COVID-19 will put an end to the 9-5 in-office jobs. 
  • $125 billion to $190 billion is the estimated cost of employee burnout physical and psychological problems.
  • Many employees spend 40.1% of their day multitasking.
  • Employers that provide better work-life balance have a 25% lower employee turnover.
  • 32% of Canadians have missed a lifestyle engagement due to work.
  • 27% of Canadian workers experience high or extreme levels of stress on a daily basis. 
  • Work life and lack of balance in 2020 show that 10% of employees reported they are spending less than an hour or no quality time at all with their families on workdays.
  • Employers that provide better work-life balance have a 25% lower employee turnover.
  • 79% of employees in Canadian workplaces that have flexible work schedules reported that they were very satisfied with their work life balance.
  • Companies with happy, well-adjusted employees exceed their competition by 20%. 

What You Can Do

Work-life balance has much to do with perception.  Office-based companies tend to work around standard business hours which can vary depending on the location or community where they are located, and many have set core hours where employees are expected to be at work.  Many provincially and federally-regulated industries also have guidelines for the number of hours in a standard work week (or days or shifts). And, many employers explicitly set out the number of hours in a standard work week in employment agreements with their workers.

While many employers do hold to these standards, many employees report feeling the need to exceed them for any number of reasons ranging from dedication, supervisor and corporate expectations or ambition to outperform along with employer-provided connectivity (ie: mobile phones, e-mail, video conferencing, instant messaging). Despite what employers might say, employees feel the need to be connected and responsive to their employers at any time including evenings, weekends, holidays and vacations.

Employees play the primary role in defining what work-life balance means for them. Employers, leaders and supervisors, however, need to create an environment where their workers are and feel empowered to come to that balance point. Many employers have successfully deployed programs and tactics that encourage these types of environments including: 

  • Setting boundaries with technology
    • Limiting access to corporate communications tools and technology outside of work hours
    • Limiting access to corporate communications on personal devices
  • Encouraging use of annual leave
  • Set standards for communications “down time” (no work-related communications to or from employees except for emergency situations)
  • Implementing extra time requests—just as employees submit vacation or leave requests—and require leadership review and approval prior to any overtime work
  • Implementing family and personal supports programs at work (CCOHS via HRProfessional Now):
    • Onsite childcare and emergency child-care assistance
    • Seasonal childcare programs (such as March break or Christmas)
    • Eldercare initiatives (these may range from referral programs, eldercare assessment, case management and a list of local organizations or businesses that can help with information, products or seminars)
    • Flexible working arrangements
    • Parental leave for adoptive parents
    • Family leave policies
    • Other leaves of absence policies such as educational leave, community service leaves, self-funded leave or sabbaticals
    • Employee assistance programs
    • Onsite seminars and workshops (on such topics as stress, nutrition, smoking and communication)
    • Internal and/or external educational or training opportunities
    • Fitness facilities or fitness membership assistance when starting a work-life balance program. CCOHS stresses the importance of a company appointing an individual or – in some cases – form a joint work-life committee. 
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