I’ve been talking with HR teams recently to understand how they're incorporating wellbeing into their forthcoming employee engagement surveys. Answers are varied, but in nearly all cases they include a work/life balance score.
I always ask what teams are expecting from these responses, which is usually met with long pauses and blank faces. The next step for the work/life balance metric is tricky, especially if it’s a poor one.
Here are three top tips to to help you navigate and succeed with your work/life balance score:
1. Be clear on what youre striving for
According to Gallup (2012) the idea of work / life balance cropped up in the late 18th Century, when the industrial revolution drove a need for longer working hours, often up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Move on 50 years, and the sudden rise in research showing that long hours negatively impacts stress levels, health, work and family life, meant nations were encouraged to mandate 35 to 40 hour working weeks.
In this context, work / life balance demonstrates the time spent doing work or non-work related activities. And in OECD’s eyes, it is about finding a “suitable balance” between the two. What this means, on average across the globe, is spending 15 hours a day for yourself to sleep, eat, socialise, exercise and relax and nine hours a day working. Obviously the exact balance is dependent on the individual and their stage of life; and with new flexible working practices or what some call the blurred “home - work interface”, dividing these hours cleanly is increasingly complicated.
It’s important not to reduce the idea of work/life balance down to hours alone. If we do, the only solution to it is to get people to work more or less hours. In our experience, we also need to be aware of its limitation, which assumes that when we have non-work time we know what to do with it. Sadly this is far from reality and therefore poor work/life balance could in fact be viewed as the inability to rest, recover and restore ourselves in the time allowed.
2. Address the root cause of your results
We need to think more broadly about what our people are struggling or thriving with if they put down a high or low work/life balance score.
Balance is about understanding your abilities and expectations across seven holistic areas of wellbeing: physical health, mental and emotional health, meaning & purpose, competency & action; relationships; community and financial health.
To test this out, think of someone who you think is thriving and visualise them now. For me it’s a friend who is a working mum; she has a successful career, a great husband, manageable working hours and is financially stable….yet despite my perception she’s actually struggling…and she later tells me, she’s struggling because she doesn’t know how to turn off, even at home.
On an organisation level, a work/life balance score is a great place to start but only that…a start. The next step, like with my friend, is to open up space for broader discussions that dig deeper into the root causes of imbalance for your people. This can be through independent focus groups or interviews; both of which help you identify the key themes, habits and priorities that underpin balance, and will help you move forward effectively.
3. Take one step at a time
There's a tendency to want to address too many things relating to wellbeing and work/life balance all at once. This is usually a combined response from an overwhelming array of
standards, definitions and suppliers in the market.
For us, it’s not unusual to come across a client who is rolling out ad-hoc initiatives from multiple suppliers together. Sadly despite the good intentions, this is often confusing, poorly attended and rarely materialises in people being able to find a long term work/life balance.
So once you’re sure on what work/life balance means and its root cause, the final step is to create a long term roadmap which mindfully and collectively celebrates one area of wellbeing at a time, for all your people.
According to neuroscientist Rebecca Torrance Jenkins, to sustainably find balance is like any other habit. We need to learn about it, explore it and then practice it….again and again and again.