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How to Find the Perfect Work-Life Balance: Living to Work or Working to Live?

By Jo Payne,
People Consultant, HR Path UK

Live to work, or work to live?

For many people, work finishes at the end of the working day. But for many more, it can begrudgingly spill over into the evening and even the weekend. From my own previous experiences, talking to friends and family and reading posts online, my observation is that an increasing amount of people work over their contracted hours every week in the belief this is the way to further careers and show loyalty and commitment to an employer. Unfortunately, this can become an expectation and is normalised, as opposed to being appreciated and can result in employee burnout and resentment.

It is sad to see that many employees feel unable to get an effective work-life balance and they live with the negative knock-on effect it has on their personal lives and wellbeing.

Looking around me when working with clients, I can see that it can be so easy to normalise working long hours or be under extreme stress, especially if you’ve been doing it for a long time or if all of your colleagues and / or leadership team are doing the same. Overtime habits around work become deep-rooted, and taking a step back to reflect once in a while is forgotten.

So what is work-life balance?

A healthy work-life balance will mean different things to us all, so there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution so this can be difficult for employers to manage!

It is important to remember that a healthy work-life balance is not necessarily about splitting work and leisure time 50/50, it’s about ensuring people feel fulfilled and satisfied in both areas of their life. A healthy balance could mean meeting deadlines at work while still having time to pick up children from school for one person, and then having enough time to go to the gym and having enough sleep without worrying about work. For me, work-life balance is about reducing work-related stress while increasing satisfaction in life. My goal is to create a work life that I am proud of, but to also ensure quality time with my family and to look after my own mental health and wellbeing.

What can employers do?

To promote a healthy balance, employers should encourage employees to regularly take the time to take a step back and reflect on their current situation. Asking themselves, are they feeling stressed or unhappy, and if so what is causing this? Employees need to establish if this is within their work or personal life and identify what they are prioritising and what they feel they are missing out on. Promoting two way open and honest conversations will support transparency surrounding how people are feeling, their priorities and what changes are required for a happier work life.

If through open and honest two way conversation a need for reprioritisation is established then alternatives can be considered together. Maybe there is a requirement for flexible hours or not having an expectation on checking emails at the weekend. It may be that short term solutions can be established or your trial a different way of working. 

What could it mean if employers don’t support their employees?

Employers need to be aware that if they are not willing to support their staff, then the employee may think it is time to look for a new employer who does consider this. This can result in loss of talent, high turnover & have a negative impact of productivity.  Importantly, it’s for both the employer and employee to consider solutions, but sometimes the employer needs to identify that there is a problem and raise it as the employee may just not feel able to speak out.  I always remember a previous manager saying to me, sometimes you have to “save the employee from themselves” – i.e the employer can spot that there is an issue and the employee needs support.  A coaching conversation can really help in these instances. Although employers alone can’t provide a 100% work-life balance for their employees – employees have to take some responsibility to change their attitudes to work and home life – there are many things companies can do to help employees find and maintain a work balance that’s right for them. A good ‘People Company’ is an organisation which puts its people at the heart of their decision making.

What about Managers?

Employers should be aware that most employees take their cues from their leaders in regards to their working hours and habits.  The concept of the ‘Shadow of a Leader’ is one that resonates with me. How can you tell employees to switch off and not burnout however unless they see you prioritising your own personal life? Therefore, companies should embed work-life balance into their culture and the leadership team should lead by example to promote the approach.

How can we help?

HR Path UK can support your business in many ways to educate and empower your workforce and leaders which in turn will lead to an overall better employee experience and to support being an employer of choice. This can be from conducting staff surveys or listening sessions to establish how staff really feel and how they would like to be supported, to creating flexible working policies or delivering management coaching to pave the way for new ways of thinking.  We can also help in how to have good and effective well being conversations with employees, including templates and coaching techniques.

Feel free to get in contact by dropping me an e-mail or go onto the HR Path website, where our CIPD trained HR Consultants are ready to help.

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