“69% of professionals in NZ state that work-life balance, including flexible working, is their top priority when seeking a new role.”
– Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
NOTE: If you are well versed in the benefits of getting work-life balance right, we trust you’ll find the insights in this article useful to share with the managers you’re working with.
Putting work-life balance under the microscope
Work-life balance is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot these days. But it’s a vague concept that means different things to different people, especially from different generations. For example, Baby Boomers, born between 1945 and 1960, craved job security. Often, the male in the family was the sole breadwinner, mums focused on being homemakers, and work-life balance wasn’t a priority.
Move forward a generation, with Gen Xers, we see an increase in families with two working parents. As the children of the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers (typically born around the years of 1961 and 1980) grew up witnessing the long hours and poor work-life balance of their parents. Many Gen Xers were exposed to the effect such a relationship with work had on the family unit. As a result, this generation puts more emphasis on creating work-life balance in their own lives and see it as a prerequisite of employment.
Then we have Millennials (born between 1981 – 2000). Millennials want a career path that will support their lifestyle – which means life outside work.
Regardless, some negative effects and positive benefits of work-life balance are consistent no matter who you are. Luckily, more organisations today are implementing best practice around work-life balance for their employees.
What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is a concept that involves the amount of time and focus a person gives their work versus other aspects of their life. With a healthy work-life balance, work shouldn’t overwhelm other things that matter to people, such as leisure, recreation, hobbies, personal development, community activities, volunteer work – and especially family.
Yet defining work-life balance today is not an easy task. Our digital world encourages an ‘always on’ culture, which can blur the line between our work and our personal lives. Technology enables employees to answer e-mails and work on deadlines after-hours while not officially “on the job”.
The negative effects of poor work-life balance
One thing most people agree on is that a good work-life balance is an important part of a healthy work environment. Poor work-life balance can take its toll in many ways, including physically, emotionally and financially. It impacts work performance and can lead to the breakdown in relationships, both professionally and personally.
The effects of stress
Chronic stress is one of the most common health issues in the workplace when an individual’s work-life balance is out of kilter. Stress can lead to a raft of health problems, including high blood pressure, digestive trouble, weakened immune system and heart problems. It’s also linked to anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Stress and burnout
Stress and burnout are closely related. Employees who work too many hours and are struggling with workplace stress are at high risk of burnout. Burnout results in fatigue, irritability, mood swings and reduced work performance. People are left feeling exhausted, empty and unable to cope. If left unaddressed, burnout can make it difficult for people to function well in their daily life. Not surprisingly, the physical and psychological effects of burnout can cost employers and business dearly.
Achieving good work-life balance
Benefits for employers
Any good business knows that investing in people is one of the most valuable things it can do. Creating a work environment where work-life balance is valued is simply good for business. Here are just a few reasons why:
Get and retain the right employees
Employers who value work-life balance and flexible options are more likely to gain access to a wider recruitment pool of good talent. They are also more likely to hold onto existing employees.
Become an employer of choice
Companies that have a reputation for supporting work-life balance are desirable places to work. Being an employer of choice can give you a competitive advantage when you’re recruiting talent.
Boost your reputation and your brand
It’s no surprise that employees who dislike their workplace or employer gripe about it to others. However, employees that love where they work, and who they work for, become advocates for the business and its brand.
Get the best from employees
Job satisfaction, motivation, health and well-being are likely to improve where good work-life balance exists. Employees are more likely to be committed to their jobs and the company, and more flexible and more responsive to the company’s needs and the needs of its customers.
When employees enjoy a good work-life balance and like where and who they work for, discretionary effort comes into play. Often called ‘going the extra mile’, discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required. When people build emotional connections with their employer, they will naturally give more than the minimum effort.
Employees with a good work-life balance are generally happier, easier to work with, are more effective and efficient and therefore more productive.
Lower levels of absenteeism
Absenteeism is often a sign of job dissatisfaction or even burnout. Happy, healthy employees are less likely to take sick days (whether they are sick or not).
Benefits for employees
A good work-life balance enables employees to feel more in control of their working life, and their life in general. Some of the more obvious benefits of good work-life balance for employees follow.
Your health and well-being will improve
Overworking affects a person’s health. By maintaining a good work-life balance your health will improve. By recognising indicators that you’re overdoing it, you can step back before you burn out. Don’t ignore the signs. Feeling tired? Sleep. Getting ill? Take a sick day.
You’ll be more productive in both areas
Finding work-life balance boosts your productivity. From finally getting around to that household project because you switched your work phone off for the weekend, to completing that work task you’ve been stuck on because you went back to the office with a fresh mindset, balance enables you to be more productive in both areas.
You’ll actually enjoy work
For most people, working too much means you’ll start to dread it or resent it. Hating your job is one of the most common signs of a non-existent work-life balance. Knowing when to switch off can help you give the right amount of time to your job. It can also help you enjoy your time while you’re at work.
You’ll have more ‘you time’
If too much overtime or working weekends is stopping you from attending your yoga class, taking that photography course or spending time with family, realise you shouldn’t have to sacrifice that much time to do a good job. Achieving work-life balance gives you ‘you time’ to do the things you’ve wanted to but may have been putting off for years.
You’ll stop missing out on things that matter
If you overwork, you’re missing out on what else could be going on in your life. Whether it’s a social gathering with friends, being home on time for dinner with your family or making it to your child’s birthday, there is always time to have a life outside of work – you just need to make it so.
It’s clear a good work-life balance benefits both employers and employers. More organisations are appreciating the need for, and value of, work-life balance for their staff. Meanwhile, more employees are demanding work-life balance and flexibility when choosing to take a role. Now’s as good a time as any to reflect upon the work-life balance within your own organisation… and within your own life.
NZ’s role in the creation of the 8-hour workday
Carpenter Samuel Parnell achieved fame as the founder of the eight-hour working day in New Zealand. Arriving in Petone by ship in 1840, fellow passenger and shipping agent, George Hunter, asked Parnell to build him a store. Parnell’s response has entered New Zealand folklore:
“I will do my best, but I must make this condition, Mr. Hunter, that on the job the hours shall only be eight a day… There are twenty-four hours per day given to us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves. I am ready to start tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, but it must be on these terms or none at all”.
With few tradesmen in the young settlement, Hunter had little choice but to accept the carpenter’s terms. As Parnell later wrote, “the first strike for eight hours a-day the world has ever seen, was settled on the spot”.