From setting expectations to focusing on employee development, these tips will help create a healthier work-life balance for your team.
I’ve heard (and seen) many HR professionals bemoaning the use of buzzwords as of late –– largely in reference to the fact that “quiet quitting” seems to be all anyone can talk about these days. But while our industry may be chock full of some rather buzzy terms and flowery language, the phrase “work-life balance” does not fall into that category.
Except, for many businesses and leaders, it kind of does. Personally, I’ve seen leaders tout the importance of striking this balance with teams, only to abandon the concept altogether before hires have even completed the onboarding process. Or worse: In instituting lenient policies in pursuit of what they believe is work-life balance, they just end up creating more uncertainty. (More on that later.) As the organization grows, this cracked foundation is left to shakily prop up a vague, or even unintentionally toxic company culture.
In the post-quarantine age, it’s easier than ever for the lines between work and life to become blurred. Without the buffer of a commute, “clock-out” times can get later and later, and evenings spent munching popcorn watching Netflix can quickly morph into “working dinners.” Productivity among employees may soar initially, but mental exhaustion and inevitable burnout are soon to follow. At the end of the day, these blurred boundaries are less about remote employees struggling to unplug than they are leaders not emphasizing balance –– and like all things company culture, remote work-life balance starts at the top.
While there’s no be-all and end-all fix when it comes to creating a work-life balance-centered company culture, many of the strategies outlined here can help leaders define boundaries, improve transparency, and maximize productivity.
Countless products, diets, and meditation routines continue to launch empty claims regarding their ability to “save your life,” but a strong work-life balance company culture can do exactly that. Studies have shown that working long hours (and doing more working than living) can have an adverse impact on those punching the clock, including an increased rate of heart disease, alcoholism, and excessive muscle and neck strain.
As mentioned above, there are diminishing returns on productivity when it comes to overworked employees. According to a study conducted by Stanford University, productivity sees a downward slope at about 50 hours a week –– then a total dropoff at 55. Worse still: Employees clocking 70 hours a week accomplish roughly 0 in those additional 15 hours, apart from racing at lightspeed toward burnout. By creating a company culture which emphasizes proper work-life balance, organizations can achieve optimal efficiency without working employees into the ground.
Lack of balance doesn’t just create physical burnout, but also significant emotional strain. Without clear boundaries and expectations from leadership, work can feel aimless and uncertain; employees continue to push themselves to extremes, all the while wondering if it will be worth it come time for reviews. By emphasizing work-life balance from the tip-top down, employees can take true ownership over their work rather than constantly grasping for straws. In turn, they’ll feel more motivated, more in-control, and be more likely to renew their contracts.
When life and work feel balanced, we’re able to prioritize better, breathe deeper, and zoom out to focus on bigger plays. And given that we as HR professionals are tasked with demonstrating ever-improving ROI on our initiatives, creating a balanced culture which values and breeds innovation is paramount. By emphasizing employee wellness and mindfulness, teams have the breathing room to think outside of the box and take ownership of innovation, in turn creating a lever we can use to showcase some innovative initiatives of our own.
While it’s easy to blame leadership for poor work-life balance, and many businesses with toxic company culture likely owe that culture to leadership, there are other factors which can inadvertently lead to an imbalanced environment. One I see often is “unlimited” PTO. I use scare quotes because what does unlimited actually mean? Is it three weeks? Is it three months? In theory, unlimited PTO means employees will take time when they need it. But in practice, employees will end up second-guessing the options of every time-off request. Set a clear, generous standard for PTO, and employees will (and should) use every deserved second of it.
So uncertainty is a critical threat to work-life balance, but it isn’t the only threat. As we’ve seen recently, inflation has hiked the cost of living faster than many businesses can update company-wide pay scales. And with ⅔ of the country living paycheck to paycheck (including six-figure earners,) any semblance of “balance” falls by the wayside out of sheer necessity. Considering raising salaries to offset inflation can be far from a quick fix for many larger organizations, these businesses should focus first (but not only) on the factors within their control.
We’ve talked repeatedly about company culture starting at the top, and organizations should recognize this responsibility when drafting, instituting, and enforcing new corporate policies. Here are just a few top-down approaches to shaping a work-life balance company culture.
This should go without saying, but the health of your workforce and the health of your business is quite literally intertwined. And given that businesses thrive on their people feeling good and performing at their best, wellness stipends can be a great way to create an organizational company culture with work-life balance at the forefront.
For PTO policies to be effective, they cannot be passive. Clarity around when vacation time can and should be taken (and what unlimited actually means, should you decide to go that route) is imperative, and management should be encouraged to contribute to this culture of clarity.
Alicia also shared another recommendation for "Encourage PTO and Use of Vacation Days", is to specifically identify reasons for teammates to take time off, even make them up! For example: birthdays, stay-in-bed days, family days, volunteer days and ensuring leaders are taking these days too!”
Though we’re conditioned to break up our lives into 8-hour blocks — equal parts work, leisure, and sleep — life doesn’t always work that way. A work-life balance company culture should acknowledge this, and choosing to lead with empathy by creating flexible work hours and conditions is a great way to do so.
Even the most well-meaning organizational policies can suffer the “telephone” effect when executed by management. In addition to understanding the above and implementing in good faith, the below are some ways managers can aid in creating a work-life balance company culture.
In many offices and organizations across the country (and globe) employees are trained to withhold their greatest superpower: the word no. Without no in your vocabulary, work days are stretched to their limits, life events are rearranged, and the balance between the two is nonexistent. Managers should encourage and enforce the use of the word no to create clear boundaries and keep both work and life in stasis.
Some old-school leaders might raise their eyebrows at me for this, and some new-school leaders might do the same but for a different reason. Facial expressions aside, your people should know that breaks are a welcome and productive component of creativity. During weekly meetings or whenever you think your employees might need to hear it, encourage a focus break and the balance it can bring.
“Lunch whenever” might be an increasingly common policy as managers aspire to be more lax, but I’m here to say we might have gotten it right in grade school. But whether you take it as far as scheduling lunch or simply enforce a 1-hour daily embargo on lunch, the importance of lunchtime in creating community, reducing stress, and promoting mid-day mindfulness cannot be overstated.
Meetings might be great for syncing up or fleshing out ideas in real time, but having a meeting interrupt a flow state can end up tanking your whole day. Though the occasional workday disruption will be unavoidable, I’m beginning to see more managers creating a work-life balance company culture through regular “0 meeting” blocks or days. During this period, their teams work uninterrupted and make meaningful progress on any pressing tasks or do some uninhibited out-of-the-box thinking.
Transparency is foundational to work-life balance, and accessibility is a key component of transparency. Through weekly 1:1 sit-downs or check-ins with employees, managers can ensure that their people have a platform to be heard, ask questions, and set boundaries. At very least, these informal meetings can help employees find balance and make career decisions; at most they can create genuine empowerment.
You might be a manager in title, but you shouldn’t feel like your people need to be constantly managed. If you’ve done your job right, they should recognize their responsibilities and feel supported in executing them properly. Though it may seem like the most effective way to get employees to do what you want them to, micromanaging often has the opposite effect –– breaking down employee confidence, and creating a culture built on distrust.
Leaders of global organizations face unique challenges when it comes to designing a work-life balance company culture, but many of the tips outlined transcend geography. In addition to the above universalities, the following strategies can serve leaders when building a company culture from the ground up.
We’ve seen the positive impact that emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has had stateside, and the significance is only magnified on a global scale. With that said, this emphasis on equity and inclusion is new for many global organizations, and embracing a DE&I culture begins with understanding global cultures — and the tremendous impact they can have on the business as a whole.
Global brands and businesses are in a unique position in that they wield tremendous influence. With this influence, organizations can and should choose to be a force for good on a macro level, inspiring empathy among the global workforce through positive, lasting contributions. Zooming in, these organizations can cultivate an organizational culture of empathy by giving people the power to make an impact of their own.
Success can look different in different time zones and hemispheres, and KPIs that motivate North American teams might not have the same power overseas. Instead of focusing on metrics at an organizational level, leaders embracing individualism and tailoring goals to specific regions can expect to see more consistent employee growth and greater overall success.
At the end of the day, creating a global company culture which touts a strong work-life balance comes down to uniting your people under a core cause. When drafting your company mission, inspire your workforce while making your objectives and motivations crystal clear. These intangible truths about your organization should be impactful in any language.
HR leaders, managers, and top dogs of global orgs: I don’t expect you to put the above tips into practice overnight. Actually, if you find a way to do so, I’m very interested in hearing how! But by implementing even a single one of the above strategies, you’re taking a major stride toward creating an environment where people are valued, boundaries are clear, and culture is at the forefront.
It’s up to us to determine the future of company culture and the preservation of work-life balance in this hustle-centric age. Join TroopHR to maximize your impact as an HR leader, continue to expand your professional knowledge, and have a positive impact on the evolution of the People profession.