No one can “give” someone else better work-life balance—individuals must take it for themselves. But leaders can help their employees achieve better work-life balance. I’ve helped many companies to dedicate resources to improving the work-life balance of their employees, with great success.
Companies can create better work-life balance for employees by teaching attention management skills. They can resolve work-life balance problems by supporting a vacation-friendly culture, setting strict communication policies around after-hours emails, and shifting to more asynchronous communication.
If you’re a company leader, read on for some tips and business practices that will make your employees feel can help reverse burnout in your team members. Research shows that better work-life balance reduces burnout and makes employees more productive. We’ll also take a look at work-life balance initiatives currently being implemented by some very successful companies.
1. Train Workers in Attention Management Skills
Attention Management is a collection of behaviors that helps busy professionals improve their work-life balance. It teaches employees how to create the right environment for a particular task in order to maximize their ability to focus.
Through attention management training, workers learn to increase productivity during “on” hours and then truly refresh during “off” hours.
For the past two decades, I’ve helped companies improve productivity and work-life balance for their employees. My Empowered Productivity™ System helps employees learn attention management skills that they can apply to every facet of their work, including:
- external distractions
- overwhelming communication
- endless and unruly task lists
I teach employees a system that can tame all types of distractions, organize every aspect of their personal and professional lives, and achieve a much better work-life balance.
When I train leaders and teams to use the Empowered Productivity System, they learn how to implement the other strategies that I describe in this article, all of which involve attention management.
To learn more about this critical skill set, read my article What Is Attention Management and How Can It Help You?
2. Help Employees Take a Brain Break
One important work-life balance initiative that some companies are undertaking is to encourage employees to fully disconnect from their jobs.
Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser recently instituted a policy banning the company’s internal Zoom calls one day a week, on Fridays, so they have the time and space to get other important work done.
She cited the pandemic’s effect of interrupting work-life balance, with business hours spilling over to personal time.
Fraser recognizes the need for employees to step away from work issues so they can get more clarity, and rest their brains. To promote more creativity and productivity among employees, she encourages workers not to communicate after their hours of business.
Other companies should consider following Jane Fraser’s lead. In addition to helping employees feel more satisfied in their jobs, ideas to help employees disconnect are a hedge against employee burnout. Workers need downtime to refresh and recharge.
3. Set Expectations Around How Many Hours to Work
Research shows that after working around 50 hours a week, productivity starts to decrease. So working with your team to set expectations around how many hours they work per week can be a life preserver for you all.
But a recent study—conducted during the pandemic—found that as many as 70% of remote workers are allowing their work to spill over into their weekends. And much of this work is due to after-hours emails.
I like to tell my clients that if they are checking their work email on weekends, work isn’t “invading” their personal time, they are inviting it in. But it’s hard to resist when you know your boss and colleagues are emailing you.
Knowledge workers need time to refresh, relax, and re-energize in order to promote creativity and fresh perspectives. Your brain needs time away from work to recharge itself. And, let’s face it, emails are work.
A recent study conducted in Iceland, supports these views. It found that employees who worked fewer hours were just as productive with a shortened work schedule—with a 4-day work week—as they were without any restrictions on their work hours.
Companies that reduce work hours can create better work-life balance for employees. Workers benefit by experiencing less stress, less burnout and better health.
4. Leaders Need to Model Work-Life Balance
Research shows that workers will follow the example of their supervisors. Leaders who model positive work-life balance habits influence their teams just by their actions.
Workers will take cues from their managers on how to achieve work-life balance. When they see their leaders take vacation time, unplug on weekends, and come back to work refreshed and less stressed, they are more likely to follow suit.
So leaders need to be mindful of their own well-being and model effective work-life balance efforts for their teams.
5. Encourage Employees to Use Vacation Time
It’s not unusual for workers to leave vacation time on the table. Some fear that they will face a mountain of work upon returning from vacation. Others feel that no one else can do their job while they’re away.
One thing is clear: Vacation policy in the US is broken.
But workers need time away to unplug and recharge. They need to be able to gain a fresh perspective on their work, and regain their creativity and energy. And many companies recognize that.
According to a recent report from ladders.com, some companies are incentivizing workers to take paid vacation time.
For example, this year, PricewaterhouseCooper is planning to offer employees $250 for every week of vacation time they book. A marketing company called FullContact has offered $7,500 USD in bonus money to use toward vacation.
Employees who not only take vacation but—more importantly—truly disconnect from work while on vacation—return refreshed, recharged, and ready to unleash their genius to help their teams achieve the most important results.
6. Decide on Your Company’s “Communication Hours”
TaskUs, a global Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) company, provides its workers with better work-life balance by setting clear guidelines for communication hours within the organization.
TaskUs has instituted policies discouraging inter-office communication on weekends, and during employees’ vacation time. By clarifying the guidelines for communication, companies are proactively helping workers set clear boundaries between work time and personal time.
TaskUs has a policy called “No Chat Weekends,” which discourages employees from sending emails and chat messages on weekends.
To successfully implement this strategy, companies should discourage employees from sending after-hours emails or other communication outside of these designated hours, except in an emergency.
In case of an emergency, leaders should specify a particular channel of communication allowed after-hours. For example a text message or phone call.
If you’re wondering if after-hours email really is bad for work-life balance, be sure to read my article After-Hours Email Is a Bigger Problem Than You Think. You’ll probably be quite surprised at the negative effects. (Spoiler alert: after-hours emails don’t just impact your employees, but also their significant others!)
7. Use More Asynchronous Communication
Synchronous communication is communication that takes place in real-time. This is a good idea in many situations, such as when discussing sensitive or complex issues. But much of our business communications such as project updates, providing feedback, and assigning new projects do not require an immediate response.
Companies can improve their employees’ work-life balance by using asynchronous communication when possible (meaning there is an expected delay between the message and the response). This allows workers to focus on important tasks, without being distracted by unnecessary interruptions.
Doist is a fully remote global company, with workers in 35 countries. The company created both Twist, a team communication tool, and Todoist, the task management app. Chase Warrington, who is Head of Remote at Doist, says they built Twist in response to Slack:
“We were using Slack as a remote team, but we were going crazy chasing notifications and waking up and seeing long-form conversations that had taken place while we were sleeping. It wasn’t conducive to asynchronous communication. So we built a tool that’s focused solely on asynchronous communication for us. And then, it so happens that remote teams out there also like it, and we say, ‘Great, that works out well for us.’”
Doist uses an asynchronous approach to work, with only about one percent of their communication through email.
By eliminating unnecessary communication, employees can focus on their actual work, and not have to deal with interruptions about unimportant issues. They have a rule for internal company communication that gives workers 24 hours to answer any communication.
Watch my full interview with Chase Warrington in the video above or read interview highlights in my article How to Make Remote Work Successful.
8. Give Employees Permission to Set Boundaries
Employees need to know that management supports them in setting their own boundaries. Workers need uninterrupted time in order to do thoughtful work in an undistracted way.
Whether working from home or at the office, workers can use strategies like closing their office doors, or placing a funny “Do Not Disturb” sign on their desk to let others know that they cannot be interrupted. (Download free and funny “Do Not Disturb” signs here.)
Studies show that workers who have more control of their environment are happier, and more satisfied at work. This contributes to their well-being during leisure time, because they will be able to be more productive at work, and feel less like they have to work additional hours to complete projects.
9. Hire More Support Staff to Improve Work-Life Balance
Support personnel can help to filter out distractions for skilled workers and managers, allowing them to be more productive with their own tasks.
Allowing highly-skilled workers to delegate routine or administrative tasks gives them more time to be creative and productive in doing their important work. And again, leisure time is not interrupted by routine tasks that pile up and create stress.
Rather than hiring full-time or even part-time support staff, many companies encourage employees to take advantage of the gig economy and outsource one-off tasks through services like Fiverr, Upwork, or Taskrabbit.
10. Give Employees Flexibility on When and Where to Work
Since the shift to remote work during the pandemic, many companies have come to realize that when people work may not be as important as how much work is accomplished.
Companies are improving work-life balance for employees by providing them with the flexibility to work when and where they choose. Research supports that workers are happier if they have more control over their working conditions.
One company that has adopted flexibility for all workers is Lyft. They are now allowing corporate team members to work from any location. If they choose to go into the office, they can do so on their own schedules.
And while the company thinks in-person gatherings are important, company representatives report, “Our approach will always be about bringing people together, not forcing them together.”
Managers keep workers on track with written guidelines, and Lyft offers quarterly gatherings to bring workers together in person, if they choose to attend.
11. Focus on Productivity, Not Hours Worked
Employees work at different speeds. Flexibility in schedules is important to workers, but productivity and quality of work is important to organizational success.
Rather than having employees work 8 hours per day, managers should focus more on projects being done well, and on time.
Chase Warrington from Doist says the company does not track hours worked, but the amount of work that gets done. He says, “There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows that remote workers are more likely to burn out than they are to underperform.”
Judging workers by results achieved rather than time in seats empowers them to take control of their lives, find work-life balance, and deliver their best results.
How Can Companies Improve Work-Life Balance for Employees?
This article has reviewed a range of strategies companies can use to help employees achieve work-life balance. Companies don’t need to implement every strategy on the list. But start with one and expand from there.
In my work, I’ve watched over and over again how attention management skills can transform knowledge workers and help them perform at peak productivity.
That’s why I believe attention management training is the fastest, most effective way to help teams reap the benefits of increased productivity from improved work-life balance. If you’re interested in attention management training for your team, you can contact me here.
Note: if you’re an individual interested in learning the Empowered Productivity System to improve your work-life balance, you can get on the waitlist for my online training program. I only open it up once or twice a year, but fill out the form below and you’ll be the first to know!