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13 Actionable Tips to Create a Scalable Work-Life Balance Company Culture

From setting expectations to focusing on employee development, these tips will help create a healthier work-life balance for your team.

Nicole Fealey
Troop Experience Lead, TroopHR & Former Head of People
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Jan 19, 2023
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Last updated on Jan 02, 2023

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.  

What is Work-Life Balance in the Age of Remote Work? 

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.

What Are the Benefits of Creating a Strong Work-Life Balance Company Culture? 

Less Risk of Health Issues

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.  

Higher Productivity

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. 

Limited Potential for Burnout and Reduced Employee Resignation

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. 

Improved Mindfulness and Increased Innovation

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.    

What Are the Common Causes of Poor Work-Life Balance? 

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. 

Alicia Henriquez, Head of People at Liveblocks shared insights on her experience as a People Leader. 

 

“A potential cause of poor work-life balance may be that teammates don't know what they should be prioritizing to best impact organizational goals, and don't know or don't feel empowered to ask how to re-prioritize their projects. Particularly in small organizations where focus can shift often, ensuring leadership is promptly communicating any changes is critical to ensuring employees are spending their precious time on the right things.  

 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to work-life balance. Organizations and people managers need to get curious about what their teams are working on, why it's challenging, so they can better determine how to empower and enable employees' best work.”

What Can Organizations Do to Encourage Work-Life Balance? 

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.  

Implement Wellness Stipends 

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. 

Encourage PTO and Use of Vacation Days

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!”

Support Flexible Hours

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. 

Sara Marzitelli, VP People, Sondermind, provides insight into her experience with flexible work hours for employees below.

“Over the last few years as many companies shifted to a hybrid work model, we were able to see into the lives of many of our colleagues — from what their home offices looked like on Zoom to having children and pets constantly run across the screen.  While this experience has made us all more empathetic and brought us together better as colleagues, it also has allowed us to recognize that life outside of work is just as important and sometimes does not stop in the middle of the workday.  

One of the tools that we encourage our employees to utilize more transparently to help with this is their calendar.  While “do not schedule” blocks or “work blocks” are important, some find that they tend to get booked over from time to time. For that reason, we encourage our employees to bring their full selves to work and be transparent about what is going on in their life, even if it happens during the work day.  We encourage employees to be clear about what their calendar blocks are meant for.  For me that may be to step away to nourish myself eat lunch, meditate, take the dog for a walk, or getting to a fitness class.  For others, that could be “Family Time” or “Putting the kids to bed” or “school drop off”.  We find that if we are more intentional and clear about where we are, others that we work with are more understanding and empathetic about the importance of balance in the workday.”

What Can Managers Do to Promote Work-Life Balance? 

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. 

Luck Dookchitra, VP People, Teachable shares, "To help employees find work-life balance we encourage our managers to lead by example. We want them to take PTO so their employees will take PTO. When employees are well rested and recharged it shows up in their work and more importantly, their overall happiness at work.”

Encourage Boundaries

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. 

Recommend Focus Breaks

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. 

Block Time for Lunch

“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. 

Institute Meeting-Free “Focus Days” 

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.   

Have Weekly Manager 1:1s

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. 

Zoom Out, Don’t Micromanage

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.   

How Can You Scale This Culture to Adapt to a Global Workforce? 

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. 

Create a Culture Built on DE&I 

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.  

Focus on Building Employee Empathy

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.  

Change Performance Metrics to Reflect Global Cultures

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.  

Design a Global Company Mission

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. 

  

Refine These Ideas with a Community of HR Leaders

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.

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