Accommodating Employees’ New Work-Life Balance Expectations

During this Great Resignation era, organizations could woo tired, unhappy employees away with the promise of a lunch break that includes time for a leisurely stroll or an “unplugged” vacation free from e-mail or phone calls.

There was a time not long ago when I often wouldn’t get home until 7:30 p.m. This wasn’t unreasonable considering that by the time I sat down at my desk in the office, and started doing work, it was usually at least 10 a.m., and I always would take an hour off for lunch.

Work-life balance is a necessity for me, so I am conscious about not working much more than around nine hours per day. I make exceptions when planning for upcoming travel. In order to take a vacation, I sometimes work from around 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.—13-hour workdays—for up to a week prior to the one I am taking off. Some employees regularly work 12-hour days, not just when they are preparing for a week off, and some are not able to take a consecutive 7 to 10 days off.

In addition to Training, I freelance for a travel magazine. On one trip, I met a writer working full-time for a travel publication, who had to decline an African safari because his boss said he couldn’t manage without this writer for a week or two. As challenging as it is for me to take time off, I do it. In January 2018, I took off two weeks and one day to travel to Ethiopia. The travel writer, who was not permitted to go on his safari, wasn’t asking to take time off for the trip, but to take the trip on behalf of his job, with a published article resulting from it. His story sticks with me because if I had been in his shoes, I would have been brokenhearted and angry. Part of work-life balance is being able to do the work-related things that make your job and life fulfilling.

A post from the learning industry vendor Teambuilding offers work-life balance ideas.

“Encouraging breaks” is one recommendation. Some companies, that are able to, provide amenities such as gourmet coffee machines, or even an in-office coffee bar, to enable frequent breaks in which the employee doesn’t have to travel farther than down the hall for refreshment and refueling. Offering high-quality coffee and appealing snacks (more than a vending machine) can encourage short, but meaningful, breaks.

At the same time, a walk outdoors at lunch is important. If employees are not leaving their desks for lunch, managers should be trained to talk to the employee about the importance of getting fresh air during the day and stretching their legs. If the office is located in a place where outdoor breaks are not possible for at least part of the year, employees should at least be encouraged to step away from their desk. They could read a book or magazine in an employee lounge or breakroom for an hour. When I briefly worked as a receptionist as a young woman, I took breaks in my car. I would listen to music while eating my lunch in my car, which was not nearly as good as taking a walk in fresh air, but still gave me a break from the office environment and the feeling of being on-call.

“Encouraging altruism” is another idea from Teambuilding. If an employee has a passion, such as helping the poor, that they want to pursue through their work, it’s worth supporting them. A company could reward work groups for participating as a team in at least one volunteer activity per quarter. In addition to making profitability numbers, bonuses could be impacted by the charity participation of work groups. Maybe the work group gets additional money added to their bonus if they both make their numbers and participate as a team in at least one volunteer activity per quarter.

Encouraging work groups to volunteer isn’t purely altruistic. Corporate social responsibility matters today to the public, especially to younger consumers. Your company can market the volunteer work employees do. There are people who will buy from you over competitors who do not do such work.

It also isn’t purely altruistic from an employee productivity standpoint. Taking time away from the everyday grind to do a different kind of work—which benefits others—is refreshing and energizing. Employees may return to their usual work with more enthusiasm and a more alert, engaged mind. Doing volunteer work with co-workers also gives the members of a work group a chance to bond and get to know each other better. As a result, they may return to your office able to work together better for your customers.

The Teambuilding post also notes the importance of the manager setting a work-life example by taking breaks and vacations. If the boss works through lunch and rarely, if ever, takes a vacation, employees may feel uncomfortable doing something different. They may assume they need to take their cue from the boss and model that person’s work-life habits. The only solution, they may assume, is to find a new job with a manager whose work-life habits more closely align to their own.

It may be a good idea to check yearly on how much time off managers have taken, and to learn whether they usually leave the office for a walk, or at least leave their desk for an hour, almost every day. You don’t want to inadvertently send a message to employees that the company’s culture doesn’t include work-life balance. During this Great Resignation era, organizations could woo tired, unhappy employees away with the promise of a lunch break that includes time for a leisurely stroll.

Is there anything new your company is doing to accommodate the new work-life balance expectations of employees?