The work-life balancing act

by Georgia Eather, IABC UK&I Board Member

Is the work-life balance a myth? Is it possible that we can have it all – a thriving social life, multiple hobbies, time with family, a healthy lifestyle, consistent sleep patterns and a successful career? If we try to do it all, what effect does this have on both our health and wellbeing and the culture within our workplaces? 

The lack of work-life balance means employees are not only unproductive; their physical and mental wellbeing is suffering. A recent Harvard Business Review study found the work-life conflict is a potent cause of stress, leading to poor health, low productivity and the pause in gender equality in the workplace. This behavioural science research found organisations involved in the study listed a healthy work-life balance as one of their core values, yet they struggle to integrate this value in day-to-day workings. 

This study also identified being early in the office, not taking breaks, leaving late and then emailing on the way home, puts employees in a hectic mind frame, constantly reacting to ‘urgent’ requests that probably could have waited until the next working day. In this mind frame, employees tend to ‘tunnel’, focusing on easily achievable tasks. This means they move away from the strategic nature of their jobs, are less engaged and feel pressured and discouraged. 

United Nations research shows that employee engagement influences a range of factors and the business case for employee work-life balance is well made. The introduction of flexible working is proven to improve staff productivity and financial performance. This is a direct result of greater staff engagement and commitment. Having a healthy work-life balance is clearly better for individuals, and the advantages for organisations are numerous, including increased employee health and wellbeing, staff engagement, increased productivity and happier employees. 

Improving work-life balance seems to be a largely organisational and social initiative, with different companies having different solutions. One New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, trialled a four-day working week with great success, with 78% of employees feeling they could successfully manage their work-life balance, an increase of 24 percentage points compared to before the trial. American start-up Getaway sends employee reminders to take holidays and days off. CEO Jon Staff also tries to promote taking holidays and sends in pictures of him on his holidays. 

So that leads to the question: How can we as corporate communications professionals help employees and organisations balance the work-life scales? 

While most organisational decisions come from management and HR, we can help in two ways: 

  • Firstly, we can promote the benefits for employees and highlight to leadership that happy and healthy staff are key to a productive and engaged workforce. Leadership may not be aware their staff are ineffective and disengaged, and will benefit from a healthy work-life balance themselves. 
  • The second stage is to contribute positively to the social model; invite peers to step outside the office for lunch, ask them if they have time available for that extra meeting and encourage colleagues to leave on time. 

We may not have all the answers yet, and there isn’t a one size fits all solution, but we can encourage and work towards a culture change within our organisations. It’s important that employees want to be at work and contribute to their organisation, but a work-life balance needs to be a vital part of a workplace’s culture; leading to healthier, happier and more engaged employees who are more likely to be committed. 

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