Importance of Work-Life Balance: How HR Teams Can Help

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As we navigate a post-pandemic era, it’s clear that employees’ expectations of the workplace are shifting. Many people are re-evaluating what they want out of work and are prioritising their mental health and wellbeing. This has been one of several reasons behind the so-called Great Resignation with workers leaving their jobs in droves since the pandemic – with many of them in search of a better work-life balance.

“Employees’ needs and expectations have changed over the last two years because of the Covid pandemic,” remarks Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula. “Flexible working, including remote or hybrid working and flexi-hours arrangements, have become a priority to enable staff to create a more effective work-life balance.”

Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director and co-founder of 10Eighty, agrees and adds that people have reassessed what work means for them and what they want from their careers. “Skilled workers and professionals want a level of control and autonomy, they want to find meaning in their work, they want to be consulted and they want to be heard. It’s about corporate culture and leadership that values, trusts and respects their people – their ‘greatest asset’.”

Why is a healthy work-life balance so important?

 Recent research by Yonder revealed that 85% of employees cited work-life balance as the top priority when looking for a new role – just ahead of pay and benefits; while 63% said that they were not experiencing a good work-life balance in their current role.

It’s therefore crucial for employers and Human Resources teams to align with this apparent shift in values amongst their people and ensure company culture and wellbeing are central to their employee relations and people strategies.

“Employers who fail to recognise the importance of facilitating a good work-life balance for their employees will suffer from reduced productivity and high turnover, as well as increased absences, particularly those relating to burnout and stress,” remarks Kate Palmer. “As such, it’s essential for employers to place employees’ health and wellbeing at the forefront of everything they do.”

Aon’s recent Global Wellbeing Survey found that employees who strongly agree that their organisation cares about their overall wellbeing are almost 70% less likely to actively look for a new job, and 71% are less likely to report burnout.

“A healthy work-life balance is essential,” says Letitia Rowlin, principal wellbeing consultant at Aon. “Not only to allow for rest and recovery, but to achieve happiness, contentment, and better health. It helps people to be more present, improves their relationships, and reduces levels of burnout. People can be more engaged at work, which is good for talent attraction and retention.”

An effective work-life balance fosters a healthy culture and work environment, adds Brendan Wincott, managing director at Guardian Support. “Employees striking a balance between work and home are less likely to take sick leave and are more likely to dedicate themselves whilst at work, which in turn increases productivity.”

Of course, a good work-life balance means different things to different people, so HR must not take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to this – and they must consider the needs of the organisation too.

“For some it means more flexible hours, and for others, a sabbatical or time to invest in our passion projects, friendships, and family lives,” say the authors of the Yonder report. “While it’s essential to understand what work-life balance looks like to your people, it’s equally important to ask what level of flexibility you can offer within the parameters of your business and operational reality.”

How can HR teams foster a healthy work-life balance amongst employees?

Whatever work-life balance looks like in your organisation, and to your employees, HR teams must ensure they help employees to get the balance right, by enabling and promoting healthy attitudes towards work and personal lives.

“It’s the HR team’s job to fully understand their workforce’s wants and needs, and to work with the senior management team to see if a compromise can be reached that benefits all,” comments Kate Palmer. “Conducting stay interviews can be a great way to compile effective feedback, which can then be used to assess what changes, if any, are needed in the workplace. Strong communication from all sides is key throughout this process and beyond.”

Liz Sebag-Montefiore agrees, adding that frequent and constructive conversations with employees are the most effective way of promoting employee engagement, boosting productivity, and monitoring wellbeing. “Regular, even continuous, feedback will mean derailments are less likely and problems are identified early, as well as enabling proactive and creative problem solving.”

In addition to communication and feedback, employers and HR teams need to think carefully about what they can offer to employees that promotes a positive work-life balance and attracts talent.

“Flexible contracts, working from home, and hybrid working, all backed up with a pick-and-mix benefits menu and support package will help,” says Liz Sebag-Montefiore. “Plus, it’s a great opportunity to tailor the role to the person and invest in good quality career path mapping and development opportunities. Happy employees are productive employees.”

HR can signpost employees to services such as employee assistance programmes, and help them to access support and guidance, she adds. “Also, showcase family-friendly working policies and practices in employee communications; and show employees how to use digital devices to support flexibility around when and where they work, rather than as a means of working around the clock.”

Leaders and managers must also lead by example, remarks Letitia Rowlin. “If managers and leaders are putting in long hours, then those lower down will think this is the expectation.”

How can HR technology support a good work-life balance?

Implementing an effective HR software system plays an important role in improving work-life balance and nurturing employee wellbeing in your organisation. For example, HR teams can use employee data to monitor and track leave and/or absences, and to spot any trends such as regular sick leave, which could be a sign of stress or burnout.

“Absence management software can help track the number and duration of absences, as well as their cause,” says Kate Palmer. “Being able to easily identify the reason for an employee’s absence as well as, where necessary, pull up fit notes and associated medical information quickly, can help with the management of it.”

If employees are struggling at work, there are also digital tools that can support them to manage their time and workload effectively. “Good tools help workers with time management, knowledge sharing and goal planning, and show where workflow and productivity can be improved,” comments Liz Sebag-Montefiore.

Cloud-based software can also facilitate flexible working hours, which is of course vital in helping employees to strike a healthy balance between work and personal life. In addition, wellbeing technology enables employees to access support from any device at any time, which is particularly useful to remote or hybrid workers who are struggling with their work-life balance.

“Many employee assistance programmes also provide mobile apps and online programmes to support employee’s mental health, such as through guided wellbeing and meditation sessions,” adds Kate Palmer. “HR teams should encourage their workforce to make use of such services, as well as direct them to any other relevant professionals where appropriate.”