Gone are the days when employee health and well-being are sacrificed for the bottom line. Driving profit at the expense of employees has no place in our modern way of working. The focus now is on maximizing the potential of employees as individuals, which in turn maximizes employee performance. Moreover, at the center of our new modern way of working is an increased focus on employee wellbeing and work-life balance.
Burning the Midnight Oil: The Danger of Poor Work-Life Balance
One out of four employees says their job is the number one stressor in their lives. Companies that fail to protect the work-life balance of employees may struggle to retain current employees and fail to attract new employees. Just how important is work-life balance to prospective job candidates? Three out of four employees consider work-life balance to be very important when looking for a new job.
Another major risk of poor work-life balance in the workplace is the disastrous effects of burnout.
The effects of employee burnout are not limited only to the individual experiencing them; they also affect those around them, including family, friends, colleagues, their workplace, and the larger society. In fact, when asked what aspects of their life have suffered the most due to poor work-life balance, half of the employees reported their family relationships and friendships.
In addition to jeopardizing relationships, long working hours and burnout can have major health impacts. For example, people who work 55 hours or more per week have a 1.3 times higher risk of stroke compared to those who work the standard 40-hour week. Mental health suffers too, people who often work long hours are also 1.66 times more likely to suffer from depression, and 1.74 times from anxiety.
Of course, the health of employees should be a number one priority on its own, but it also affects the bottom line. Employees that endure medium to high-stress costs companies 26% more in medical costs compared to those with lower stress levels. These costs, combined with the cost of high turnover rates, mean companies stand to lose a lot due to poor work-life balance.
The effects of burnout can wreak havoc on a person’s life, which is why employees are increasingly unwilling to risk their mental and physical health for their job. In fact, research shows that nearly half of U.S. workers are considering switching jobs in pursuit of a better work-life balance, which could substantially disrupt the workforce.
Work-Life Balance Around the World
How can we measure proper work-life balance? The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) measures the work-life balance of its 34 member countries and 70 non-members. Their mission is to help members design better policies to improve the lives of their citizens by making their lives more balanced. Scores are based on how successfully households can mix work, family commitments, and personal life.
What does work-life balance look like around the world? The answer is that it varies greatly. Some countries aggressively pass legislation that protects workers by ensuring a good work-life balance by law. On the other hand, some countries have little to no federal mandates at all.
The OCED has ranked Italy as the best country in the world for work-life balance. Up there in the rankings is also Scandinavia, The Netherlands, and Spain. What do these countries have in common?
Work-Life Balance in Europe
These countries have a very limited amount of the population working long hours (more than 50 a week). They also support working parents with flexible and generous paid / parental leave. In the Netherlands, the national child care system offers free daycare services for up to 10 hours a day, five days a week. How does this affect society? The Netherlands has a high childhood satisfaction rate at 93%, very low rates of youth unemployment, high literacy levels, and below-average levels of child income poverty.
Scandinavia contains four out of the top five cities in the world for work-life balance. Thanks to the cultural impact of “hygge”, leisure time is highly valued. Flexible work hours and environments are common in Scandinavia and job satisfaction rates are very high. But this doesn’t affect output; in fact, Norwegians work an average of 1,424 hours per year, or 20 percent fewer hours than Americans, while still achieving a higher annual per-capita GDP.
Furthermore, mandatory vacation laws give these countries a minimum of five weeks of paid vacation, some of the most plentiful in the world. Thanks to consideration for working parents and ample part-time opportunities, gender equality is improved. In fact, according to the Human Development Index, Norway ranks number one for overall equality between men and women.
Work-Life Balance in Asia
Despite some government efforts, the work-life balance in Asia still suffers in comparison to their European counterparts. For example, Japan is the birthplace of karoshi, meaning “death from overwork”, caused by work-related stress. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made work reform a focus over the last few years to modernize Japan’s way of working by amending labor laws, increasing flexibility, and capping working hours. Nonetheless, many Asian countries are still working long hours and taking little leave.
A 2017 survey found that one in seven Japanese workers was dissatisfied with their work-life balance, and Japanese workers took only 52.4% of the paid leave to which they were entitled in 2018. However, Japan has made strides to improve work-life balance by limiting overtime to 100 hours per month and 720 hours per year. Korea also recently cut its maximum working hours per week from 68 to 52, though it is still substantially higher than many other countries.
Hong Kong is the most overworked country in the world, with more than a third of respondents claiming to work more than 10 hours a day. One in five Hong Kong employees works an average of 55 hours per week. You’d think that a long period of rest is warranted after those hours, but in Hong Kong, only one day of rest per week is guaranteed and only seven days a year of paid leave is standard.
Work-Life Balance in the United States
As you can see, European countries are much more aggressive than the United States when it comes to legislation that helps ensure a good work-life balance for citizens. In fact, there is a noticeable difference between regulations in the U.S. compared to Europe. This leaves the responsibility in the hands of companies, who must insist upon healthy work-life balance as a staple of their company culture.
The U.S. is the only OECD country without a paid parental leave policy, federally-mandated sick leave policy, or limit to the amount of hours employees may work per week. Generally, most companies offer 1-2 weeks of paid vacation per year, but only 50% of employees take their available time off. Americans also work more, with one in ten employees working long hours each week (more than 50).
Improve the Work-Life Balance of Your Workforce With These Tips and Tools
While many countries take steps to protect the work-life balance of their citizens, many others do not. This lack of legal protection makes employees vulnerable to exploitation and falling prey to toxic working environments. For companies, this can be avoided by enacting policies and initiatives that help support strong, stable, and healthy working cultures.
From the examples of work-life balance around the world a few themes stand out, such as the need to:
- acknowledge the difficulties faced by working parents.
- limit daily and weekly working hours.
- offer flexibility for when and where employees can work.
- prioritize productivity over hours.
- improve gender equality.
- ensure ample paid time off.
What steps can you as a company take to improve the work-life balance of your workforce?
To get a better idea of what your employees need to improve their work-life balance, simply ask them. Employee feedback can provide you with valuable insight to help you craft a better company culture. Ideally, feedback should be collected regularly throughout the year. There are also a variety of tools available to help you garner feedback from employees:
- 15Five allows you to create simple 15-minute surveys that only take you 5 minutes to review. The software can be customized to send surveys to particular target groups like certain teams, or company-wide.
- Similarly, Officevibe helps you identify what employees are dissatisfied with and where there are opportunities to improve. Use this tool to automatically send weekly surveys and start a dialogue around the answers.
Offer Flexible Working Options
To ensure proper work-life balance for all employees, it's important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Any workforce is made up of a variety of individuals with individual needs and habits. To accommodate employee differences, offer a variety of options for when, how, and where employees can work.
For example, introverted employees may prefer more work-from-home options or a quiet part of the office that is separate from distracting open office spaces. Some people may work better at different parts of the day or may have children or other obligations that make it easier for them to be more productive during less typical hours.
One way to enable more flexible working hours and environments for your employees is to use a tool like Insightful. Insightful is workforce analytics & productivity software that aids companies with remote workforces by monitoring employees outside the workplace. Much more dynamic than simple remote employee tracking software, Insightful can give both in-office and remote employees the autonomy they need to fulfill their jobs on their terms. Thanks to tools like employee monitoring software, work from home has never been easier to manage.
Offer Ample Paid Leave and Lead by Example
This is especially important for companies that reside in, or have employees in countries where there is no government-mandated time off. Most companies entitle employees to some amount of paid time off, but it is common for employees to not take advantage of this out of fear that it will reflect negatively on them.
One remedy for this is to make taking leave mandatory. Employers should lead by example by ensuring management regularly takes advantage of paid time off. In addition, frequent breaks should be encouraged to keep employees feeling refreshed. This should be ingrained into your company culture. Need help managing paid time off for your employees?
Give Kissflow HR Cloud a try: it is an easy-to-use HR platform that allows HR managers to track and manage the time off requests of employees. In addition, the platform offers customizable and flexible workflows you can build around the specific needs of your business.
Offer Health Perks
Employee wellness is an important part of maintaining a good work-life balance. Rather than investing in ping-pong tables and other office toys, try offering wellbeing programs and health perks to employees. This will help support their physical, mental, and emotional well-being - which will also boost productivity. Not sure where to start? Use these tools to support employee wellness in your workforce:
- Wellable is an employee wellness management platform that equips businesses with the tools needed to design and launch wellness programs, set up wellness challenges, and provide a range of wellness services to teams. The platform is cloud-based and designed to enhance company culture and encourage employee engagement and collaboration through gamification, rewards, performance reporting, etc.
- Unmind is a workplace mental health platform that empowers employees to proactively measure, understand, and improve their mental wellbeing. Employees can explore and nurture their own mental health across seven core areas of wellbeing - fulfillment, coping, calmness, happiness, connection, health, and sleep.
Focus on Productivity
Encourage managers to focus on productivity rather than hours worked. Take steps to grant employees more workforce autonomy and flexibility so that they can complete their tasks and projects in the best way. By shifting the company mindset on this front, employees will also be more focused on their own productivity as opposed to simply returning to the daily grind. Implementing this way of thinking in your company is simple with tools like wfh monitoring software designed to monitor employee productivity.
To help track the productivity of your workforce, look no further than Insightful. As mentioned, Insightful is useful as a remote work tracker tool to enable flexible and remote working environments. For those who work from home, employee monitoring tools can be very beneficial for tracking their own performance. Insightful’s main takeaway is the ability to monitor remote employee productivity. But it’s not just for managers, nor is it only for remote employees; both in-office and remote employees can track their own productivity, enabling them to work more autonomously and efficiently.
Keep an Eye on Workloads
To ensure employees aren’t overwhelmed by work or lacking in tasks, it's important for managers to pay keen attention to how duties are allocated and that they are achievable. This can be accomplished by maintaining frequent 2-way feedback with teams to ensure their workloads are sustainable. Digital tools can also help managers frequently check workload capacity and better manage workflows.
Jira Software is agile project management designed for teams of every shape and size. Add and change issue types, fields, and workflows as your team evolves. Jira makes it easy to visually monitor your project’s progress and build workflows from scratch. Use scrum boards, Kanban boards, and roadmaps for easy visual task management.
Insightful is another tool that can be leveraged to help identify bottlenecks in workflows, productivity issues, and changes in employee behavior that may indicate burnout risk. The tool, originally designed as remote user monitoring software to support hybrid working environments, also provides valuable insight and visualization into individual employee workloads. This allows managers to quickly identify issues and make changes when needed.