work life balance

So much is said about it, but what constitutes a healthy work life balance?

It can potentially be defined as the lack of opposition between work and other life roles; the state of equilibrium in which demands of personal life, professional life, and family life are equal.

The definition clearly shows that work life balance is going to mean different things to different people. A lot depends on a person’s personal and social circumstances, their stage of life and their ambitions.

Not everyone wants the same things in life

The workplace comprises countless individuals with different personalities, family dynamics, social needs and varying levels of responsibility. No two people or work environments are the same. That said, certain factors tend to divide people into categories, such as:

  • The bulk of household chores and childcare still falls on women, despite progress around gender equality in the workplace.
  • Social divides see people lacking education and skills having to put in long hours in low paid jobs to make a living.
  • Family-orientated people fall into two brackets:
    • Those who want to spend quality time at home with their children.
    • Those who’ll put in extra work hours to get their children the best education, etc.
  • Some people define themselves by their career and tend to push themselves to reach goals.
  • Other people see work as a means to an end, don’t have high ambitions and avoid stress.

These are only some scenarios; all individuals will have their own unique motivations.

Should employers be involved in work life balance issues?

As recently as a few decades ago, organisations had little to no interest in employee well-being, mental health or a healthy work life balance. Globalisation, technology and growing diversity have however, changed the workforce dramatically. This, combined with international research highlighting that investment in employee wellbeing makes organisations more profitable, has c-suite executives paying attention.

The Australian Work and Life Index shows that there’s still much to be done though. And employers play a crucial role in helping their staff find that healthy balance.

Mental health is a vital factor in employee well-being. Stress and anxiety triggered within the workplace can often lead to depression and burnout. Both conditions impact productivity and can render someone unable to work for weeks in severe cases.

Even those individuals who think that they can cope in an unhealthy work environment can develop workforce resentment. Not only is this bad for productivity, but it can also have a contagious effect. If management doesn’t step in to listen to their employees and improve conditions, workforce resentment can become toxic.

Ambivalence comes at a high price

Employers who continue to ignore their employees’ personal needs will, unfortunately, feel the effects. Apart from depression, burnout and resentment, unhappy staff tend to disconnect from their job, stop engaging and end up merely going through the motions to get through the day.

What does that mean in real terms for employers?

Increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, high employee turnover and increased workplace injury all result from a lack of support. Staff who are fatigued, stressed and demotivated will impact an organisations bottom line.

Safe Work Australia estimates that workers’ compensation claims alone, cost employers approximately $543 million annually for work-related mental health conditions.

There are many hidden costs as well that are difficult to quantify. Absent and disinterested employees can adversely affect new business sales, cause exiting customers to move on and damage a brand by delivering a poor service . These adverse results are often overlooked and never come to anyone’s attention.

How employers can make a difference

If your organisation hasn’t invested in employee wellbeing and mental health yet, a good place to start is to conduct a workplace happiness assessment or a human resources audit. This will give insight into how your employees really feel, and also whether your HR policies are aligned and adequate.

Once you’ve identified any workplace stress factors, unhappy departments and areas of weak management, you can start taking remedial action. iHR Australia has identified the six pillars of a mentally healthy workplace.

iHR Australia can help you implement policies based on employee and organisational needs. Given that work life balance requirements can differ significantly based on individual goals, build options into your HR policies, such as:

  • Flexible working hours.
  • Job sharing or part-time work.
  • Telecommuting (aka working from home).
  • Capping after-hours work and overtime.
  • Mandatory annual leave days and minimal accumulation.
  • Regularly assessing individual workloads and productivity.
  • Head-count evaluations of departments with excessive overtime.
  • Creating recharge-spaces or chill-out rooms where staff can take short breaks.

However, if you opt to invest in your employee’s mental health and wellbeing, make a point of keeping staff in the conversation. Be open to ideas, listen to what staff are telling you and be willing to adapt. Contributing to a healthy work life balance is about giving people options that will improve their lives, not dictating to them.

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