How to improve work-life balance for employees
Asynchronous technology makes it possible to work anywhere and at any time. Companies can benefit from collaborating across time zones and reducing office space expenses. And for employees, this means they can enjoy more flexible working conditions than ever before.
But there are drawbacks to these advances. With constant access to work and variable start and end times, the line between people’s professional and personal lives may become blurry. If this problem goes unresolved, retention rates plummet. In our latest report, 74%* of team members looking to change jobs cite work-life balance as a top reason for leaving.
That’s why we’ve researched and compiled this list of ideas to improve work-life balance. Discover why it’s important, what initiatives you can adopt, and some handy advice for team members.
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What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is the ability to manage the demands of your personal and professional life in a healthy way. Some might think of it as working hours versus time spent at home. However, this definition may be too simplistic when people’s careers and personal time overlap. For example, team members may develop close work friendships during a shared project, enjoy discussing their job with their loved ones, or feel comfortable answering a work email at home without it intruding on their leisure time.
It may be better to consider work as one aspect of people’s lives alongside family, friends, personal responsibilities, and hobbies. And when you have a healthy work-life balance, you can successfully prioritize all of the above.
Why is a healthy work-life balance important?
A good work-life balance is crucial for employee health and relationships. When your people’s jobs interfere with their personal lives, they have a higher risk of stress and burnout. Their connections with their families, friends, and community may suffer, too. The impact is so powerful that 24% of Millenial and Gen Z employees said they resigned from a previous position due to poor work-life balance.
The importance of work-life balance also stretches to company success. When people get regular breaks from work, they feel more refreshed and excited about their jobs. That makes them more likely to be engaged with their tasks and, therefore, more productive.
“Two [negative effects of poor work-life balance] could be either the employee just leaving because they don’t want to say anything or pushing through it. But then, some health conditions may become more severe as they stay in the company.”
— VJ Posadas, Head of Business Development at Naluri
16 ways to improve work-life balance at your company
Here are some work-life balance initiatives you can use to help employees re-establish solid boundaries between their professional and personal time.
1. Make vacation time a priority
Getting enough rest is essential to work-life balance, but many professionals don’t fully disconnect during their annual leave. A recent survey discovered 49% of people worked every day during their vacations, and they frequently cited fear of falling behind at work and disappointing team members as their reasons.
In addition, professionals often don’t take all their vacation time. In 2021, the average US citizen had 9.5 days of unused paid time off.
So, remind employees to use their vacation days by emailing them about their remaining time off and encouraging them to schedule it. Managers can discuss upcoming holiday plans with reports and talk about the benefits of disconnecting from work. And when someone’s away, ensure they don’t have any scheduled tasks and nobody contacts them, so they don’t end up working during their off days.
2. Increase paid leave
One way to encourage people to take more time off is to provide more paid leave. Kisi recently named Oslo the best city in the world for work-life balance — it has a minimum of 25 paid vacation days and a year of parental leave per parent per child.
When you offer ample vacation time in addition to dedicated personal days and sick leave, employees will feel confident taking time off to relax instead of worrying about saving days off for unexpected future eventualities. Generous paid vacation also means staff is more likely to return to work well-rested and mentally prepared for any challenges.
3. Encourage taking breaks
Regular breaks are another way to showcase the values of balance and rest. But a report by EZ Cater found 43% of professionals eat lunch at their desks, even though the majority believe taking time out would improve their performance. When asked why, 21% of Gen Z workers said they thought their managers would disapprove.
To encourage breaks, show that your company endorses and facilitates them. Here are some strategies you can try:
- Spruce up the staff break room
- Provide healthy snacks or catered lunches
- Prohibit meetings during lunchtime
- Have managers remind reports to take breaks
- Plan staff lunches outside the office
4. Offer flexible working arrangements
People don’t always have to work fewer hours to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Simply choosing when and where they work means they can create a schedule that suits their needs. For instance, team members might enjoy working from home to spend more time with their families instead of commuting. Or, they may want to choose office hours that avoid the rush hour and reduce travel time.
Providing more flexible working arrangements can also help you stand out in a competitive labor market. Hays found that 91% of employees want remote or hybrid work arrangements, while 34% of companies are actually planning to increase mandatory office hours.
“Work-life balance means something different for every employee. If you want to help them prioritize what they care about, give your people more freedom in managing their tasks.
Creating a flexible work environment is one of the best ways to satisfy the work-life balance needs of most employees. Keep in mind, though, that this is not a one-time activity, but rather a cycle of continuous re-evaluation and improvement.”
— Ines Räth, Co-Founder & CEO at nilo.health
5. Establish communication hours
Although breaks and flexible work arrangements are beneficial, they’re not effective if employees can’t disconnect from their professional responsibilities. Regardless of the time of day, some clients and partners may email and remind them of urgent deadlines or challenging tasks. This makes it hard for people to relax.
However, there’s a simple solution. Many communication apps allow users to pause notifications or set their status to ‘out of office’ to block messages during vacations, breaks, and focus time. They can even write auto-replies so the message sender knows when to expect a response. Ensure your team takes advantage of this option by discussing it in meetings, setting it as a task, and following up to ensure that it's being implemented.
“It’s important to communicate to the team that if you’re working outside regular hours, then that’s OK, but we don’t expect it. If you receive an email in the evening, don’t feel compelled to reply right away.
We’ve taken to the ’schedule send’ feature in Gmail and Slack that sends messages at a prescribed time, like 8:00 a.m. the next morning. Scheduling communications during work hours can make a difference in helping employees fully disconnect from work at the end of the day.”
— David Ciccarelli, Chief Executive at Voices
6. Sync-up time off
Some individuals have trouble disconnecting from work when they’re away, even if they don’t receive any messages or emails. They may worry about what’s happening in their absence or whether stressful situations are getting worse.
So, consider offering periods of company-wide time off. It could be an hour, a day, or even two weeks around a popular time of the year, like summer or the winter holidays. Doing so may make it easier for your team to disconnect from their professional responsibilities and focus on other priorities or relax.
7. Replace meetings with asynchronous communications
Although effective meetings are informative, they take time and employees will need additional time afterward to refocus and process what they’ve learned. So, it’s a good idea to replace non-essential meetings with asynchronous communication. That means team members can collaborate while choosing a time that doesn’t disrupt their workflow. Here’s how digital tools can help:
- Deliver updates via email or Slack rather than only in meetings
- Share videos instead of hosting presentations
- Gather feedback with automated questionnaires and surveys
- Let teams work on collaborative digital files with platforms like Google Docs
When team and one-on-one meetings are necessary, use a platform like Leapsome to send out agenda points in advance. That way, attendees can prepare effectively, get straight to the point, and make the most of their time.
8. Create a safe environment to express concerns
If staff worries about the potential cost of sharing feedback, they won’t speak up. Your organization has to make it clear you welcome honesty and transparency on all matters. Here are some ways to encourage your team to voice their concerns:
- Communicate how much you value exchanging feedback, positive or constructive
- Ask staff to create work-life balance goals
- Thank team members for sharing their concerns and perspectives
- Have managers talk about their own experiences and issues with work-life balance
- Respond quickly and respectfully to issues people raise
- Use wellness surveys to anonymously collect opinions on how well your company supports employee well-being
“At Truffls, it’s important to us that we create a great employee experience. We want to ensure our employees feel heard and know that we, as their employer, are listening to and responding to their needs. I heard from both employees and our managers that the overall topic of development needed to be addressed. It’s important to everyone, and we want our employees to develop their full potential.”
“The monthly employee engagement surveys within Leapsome allow us to measure engagement levels and derive department-specific measures for improvement. This data is an important basis for systematically developing our employees and our organization.”
— Jaron Bitto, Head of People & Organization at Truffls
9. Automate workflows
Investing in automation can have a significant impact on work-life balance. In fact, 65% of professionals say automation makes their jobs less stressful. They can help your people be more efficient while sparing them from tedious, repetitive tasks that may feel boring or lower their job satisfaction. For instance, Leapsome lets you put performance reviews, development courses, and engagement surveys on fixed cycles and save time building and managing them with easy-to-customize templates.
“We originally started out with a makeshift process for 360° reviews based on Google Forms that wasn’t scalable and required immense administrative work. Leapsome seemed like the right tool to help us continuously develop our JUNIQorns to achieve greater things. And it turned out to be true!
We experienced a massive boost in the quality of feedback generated at JUNIQE. There’s no more fighting with the review process for managers, and the administrative work for HR was reduced by about 90%. It makes all our lives that much easier and the entire review process more transparent, efficient, and valuable.”
— Amanda Heeg, Senior HR Manager at Juniqe
10. Invest in diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI)
Employee well-being, work-life balance, and DEI initiatives go hand-in-hand. Some team members from underprivileged or underrepresented groups may have less access to physical and mental health resources. The most effective wellness schemes should therefore work to close this gap. For instance, a recent survey by Gallup found Black and Hispanic professionals were far less satisfied with their healthcare providers than their white coworkers.
To ensure your entire company can achieve an ideal work-life balance, provide equitable access to resources. All employees should be able to use benefits like healthcare, mental health support, and time off fully and without prejudice.
That also means training team leads on how to avoid unconscious bias, so they don’t unknowingly discriminate against groups with different needs. A common example is assuming older staff members have poor computer skills and reassigning their tasks instead of providing training.
“We opened an employee assistance program, which is open to all employees and their families. It’s more support than health insurance. When you think of that, you think of doctor’s visits, dental, and annual check-ups, but this is a kind of personal assistance. It includes help with childcare, eldercare, time management courses, financial literacy courses, and access to trained therapists.
As we have a diverse team, we also offer all of these services in Spanish. That’s something we do whenever we’re communicating with our employees.”
— Greg Mahdesian, Communications Director at Servicon
11. Implement ‘quiet weekends’
Some employees might struggle to manage other priorities and get sufficient rest over the weekend. Quiet weekends may be the answer. These are when companies assign people more tasks at the beginning of the week and gradually reduce the workload. That way, your people can complete their work at a more relaxed pace and start winding down before they even finish the workweek. Team members can even take this strategy up a notch by scheduling dedicated no-calls days on Thursdays or Fridays.
12. Reduce turnover
Low retention rates can make it difficult to keep organizations adequately staffed. They may lead to situations where team members have to cover the workload of unfilled positions in addition to their own duties. Left unchecked, this can cause staff to become burned out and even consider resigning. That’s why it’s important to monitor your turnover rate and develop effective strategies to retain employees.
13. Get to know team members
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to work-life balance because individuals have different wants and needs. For instance, not everyone responds well to flexible work arrangements — some prefer to have regular hours at the office.
Learn more about staff and ask what would improve their work experience. Then, you can tailor your strategies to their preferences.
“Our company conducts informal ‘coffee breaks’ with employees every two weeks. Team leads schedule a 20-30 minute online or in-person time to share personal and professional issues. We’ve found that by knowing the ins and outs of our teams’ lives, we can offer advice on how to better manage a healthy work-life balance. These discussions also show we value and care about the person, not just the professional role they play.”
— Jarir Mallah, HR Specialist at Ling App
14. Provide time management training
Developing your people’s time management skills can give them more control over their workload. They can learn to prioritize tasks, concentrate on their work, and perform their jobs more efficiently. Moreover, offering additional training helps prioritize employee development — which is something that 19% of employees would cite as a reason to stay with a company.
15. Clarify expectations
One simple way to help your people strike a better work-life balance is to talk to them about it. Include the importance of work-life balance in your employee handbook and reinforce it in team meetings. Be explicit about what you expect in terms of work hours, time spent in the office, as well as break times and duration.
In addition, ensure you reflect work-life balance in your company culture, or you’ll give mixed signals. Team leads should model healthy behavior by taking regular breaks and using all their annual leave. And avoid glorifying long hours and overwork by focusing on achievements people make without compromising their personal life.
16. Focus on engagement
According to Gallup, engaged teams are up to 18% more productive than those who aren’t. That means helping employees feel more connected with their work can make them more efficient and give them more time for other priorities.
Companies can create a more engaged work experience by running surveys and taking meaningful action on the data. One of the most popular kinds are Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys which measure the number of satisfied people at your organization.
Once you measure your eNPS, you’ll know whether your engagement levels are high or low. Then you can run engagement surveys or shorter pulse surveys to uncover your team’s key motivators, whether that’s more flexibility or extra training.
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Employee corner | How to prioritize a better work-life balance
Your people can also achieve an ideal work-life balance by developing certain habits and making meaningful changes to the way they manage their professional life. Here’s a list of ideas you can suggest to them.
1. Unplug from communications
Employees may end up checking their emails constantly throughout the day. But psychological studies link this behavior to higher stress levels in office workers. Further research shows that remote workers, who depend on communication tools, are even more adversely affected.
Help your team members fight the impulse to constantly check their messages with these tips:
- Turn off push notifications so your computer screen or phone won’t show alerts
- Don’t leave your work inbox open on your computer
- Establish daily time blockers where you read and respond to emails and check the team communication app
2. Prepare for vacation time
Being preoccupied with work can impact people’s time off and distract them from enjoying themselves to the fullest. But planning ahead can put their minds at ease. Here are some steps you can encourage employees to take:
- Request leave well in advance, so there’s adequate time to arrange cover
- Double check there aren’t any scheduling or workload issues during time off at least one month before
- Contact clients and partners to inform them about upcoming time off
- Write checklists of high-priority tasks to complete before they leave
- Leave detailed handover notes and videos for colleagues
Managers and HR team members should also keep track of vacation times, so they can assist with this process.
3. Avoid time-wasting activities
It’s easy to get distracted by social media or small talk and not leave yourself enough time to complete your work. This can cause stress if you have a long to-do list or are working toward a deadline. When people manage their own hours, time wasted can add up and force them to work longer hours to finish all their tasks.
But avoiding chats with colleagues during focus time may be more challenging, especially on-site. Remote workers can set their status to ‘busy’ on communication apps or avoid looking at messages altogether. Office workers can communicate their need to concentrate with others and politely end conversations when they need to get back to work. Failing that, they can bring their concerns to management.
4. Use the Pomodoro technique
Pomodoro involves working intensely for 25 minutes and then taking a five-minute break. Employees and students have been using it since the 1980s to improve efficiency and complete work faster. And research backs it up — a recent study found microbreaks help people reenergize and feel more engaged with their work.
Your team can run Pomodoro from a website, download it from an app, or play it on a YouTube video while they work. They can also organize group sessions for increased accountability.
5. Make peace with imperfection
Some people have high standards for themselves and feel pressure to work longer and harder to achieve them. Like all personality types, this has advantages and disadvantages. While conscientious, detail-oriented staff can get great results, they’re also at higher risk of stress and burnout.
Ultimately, managers are responsible for monitoring their team’s workload and ensuring nobody overworks. But reports can help reduce their own stress by setting realistic targets, avoiding comparing themselves with others, and seeking help when they need it.
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Enhance your people’s work-life balance
With hybrid or remote work becoming the norm in many industries, it’s more important than ever to help employees assert boundaries between their professional and personal lives. It’s essential to foster a culture that recognizes employees as people with lives outside work, advocates for their well-being, and encourages them to rest.
Leapsome can help you create a positive work environment that prioritizes a healthy work-life balance. Our Surveys module uncovers what individuals require to thrive inside and outside the workplace. Then, we combine development, performance, and compensation management so you can meet and exceed those needs.
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