Working remotely, work-life balance is a real misnomer. Employees often aren’t balancing or creating boundaries between their work and their personal lives—but that’s not unique to remote work, and it’s certainly nothing new.
For workers in the knowledge economy now working remotely or in a hybrid model, the challenge of extricating work from the rest of life didn’t start during the COVID-19 pandemic. If anything, it became a significant challenge when email and other work systems became easily accessible outside the workplace. Having constant access and notifications from email, work messages, or other work-related information when your employees are off the clock (including when they’re on leave or off sick) can create work-related stress and anxiety, and lead to burn-out.
Four things employees can do to improve their work-life balance
Employees who have a healthy work-life balance are likely to be more engaged at work, according to a study by CIPD. More than three-quarters of ‘engaged’ employees feel they strike a good work-life balance, compared to just 27% of employees who describe themselves as ‘disengaged’.
Work-life balance is also a major factor in decisions to resign, making it an issue that significantly affects talent acquisition for employers. According to Hay Group, 27% of surveyed employees plan to leave their organization in the next two years unless they see improvements to promote work-life balance. Compare that to employees who feel they receive good support in juggling work against their personal lives—just 17% are planning to jump ship.
For some, working remotely, cuts out grinding commutes, so they have more time for life outside work. For others, they feel ‘always on’ – under pressure to respond to colleagues, customers, or clients whenever possible. In this article, we’ll explore four key ways to restore and reset work-life balance for remote workers, across all levels of the workforce. We’ll also consider three ways employers can create the right culture and environment to get the most out of their people.
1. Regain balance by disabling or limiting work notifications
Employees can ring-fence their time by disabling most notifications and customizing what pings through, so they only receive what’s necessary. That goes for focus work time as well as time off the clock. This is about managing your employees’ attention—do they really need to get every email, meeting notification, or Slack ping? At best, it’s incredibly distracting; at worst, it’s a source of work-related anxiety that could contribute to stress and eventually burn-out.
Set organization-wide policies and make every employee aware of how they can customize their settings.
2. Schedule emails for business time
Remote employees typically work longer hours than those on-site. Being able to choose to work when you feel most productive can be an important aspect of employee autonomy and facilitate better work-life balance (by fitting around daytime childcare commitments or free time, for instance). Sending emails outside work hours can give the wrong impression, however, particularly to clients and customers, even if the real reason you’re sending an email at 10pm is because you spent the morning at a family function and are making up the hours.
Appearing to work overtime can create knock-on pressure for other individuals to reply immediately or also burn the midnight oil—especially if a leader is seen to be working outside normal hours.
To avoid all that, schedule your emails for standard business hours. You can draft them whenever you like, but let your email provider send it at a sensible time. Encourage your employees to use the ‘schedule’ function in their inbox – but make sure there’s no implied pressure to work outside business hours.
3. Having time off work? Encourage remote users to mark themselves as ‘away’
Employees can protect valuable time off by reminding team members they have leave booked. In remote work, over communicating by intentionally repeating information can seem frustrating, but in the long term will bring clarity, and reassurance. Encourage your employees to communicate about taking time off. Whether that’s in meetings, in email reminders, or on internal social media apps or messaging systems. Don’t forget to make ‘out of office’ messages mandatory.
4. Setting home life and work boundaries
In an ideal world, everyone would have separate devices for work and personal use to avoid blurred lines. But with BYOD (bringing your own device) more popular than ever, it’s increasingly common to see the same equipment used for both home and work. You can, however, encourage some separation by using two different browsers or separate user accounts for common applications. Or you could go the whole hog and have separate user profiles for your operating system, meaning you can fully log out of your work identity but still use your device for personal reasons.
Three things employers can do to improve remote work-life balance
A lot of the burden falls on employees to restore work-life balance for themselves by creating boundaries. But employers can empower them through cultural and practical changes, too. Here are three ways to give your employees the space to improve work-life balance:
1. Listen – really listen
It’s hard to put measures in place that’ll work for your employees without asking them about their challenges. Pulse and engagement surveys yield a wealth of insights into how your employees feel and how to improve the employee experience. Make surveys engaging to improve response rates through gamification, for instance. Ask specifically about policies that may affect their ability to juggle work with their personal lives, and what would improve work-related stress. Work-life balance will mean different things to different people, but you should be able to identify common threads and patterns.
Once you’ve conducted a survey, share the results in full with everyone to show you take them seriously. Transparency with information reduces anxiety and boosts employee engagement. Then act—implement policies that reflect what your employees have disclosed. Think about ways you can balance productivity and efficiency against improving the employee experience—and remember that they often lead to the same thing.
2. Bake in work-life initiatives into company culture
Employee burn-out is a problem that not only profoundly affects individuals, it affects productivity and your bottom line as well. Don’t leave work-life balance issues to onboarding discussions and HR company handbooks, make it part of everyday work practices. You could prioritize having work-life training in regular Learning and Development (L&D) programs, and model by example by setting good work-life boundaries as leaders, for instance.
Providing social events and paid time off for good performance to reward staff for hard work is also effective in showing that work-life balance is important to company culture.
Managers should be asking check-in questions during 1:1s– such as “how is your workload right now?” and “how can I help you get the balance right?”
3. Offer flex-time or hybrid / remote working
Nine in ten employees think flexible working would boost morale in their organizations, according to a study by Staples. Workers are increasingly prioritizing flexible work, sometimes over higher pay. In a post-pandemic world where remote and hybrid work has become the norm, companies are offering flexible work schedules to attract and retain talent.
Working in a remote or hybrid model cuts time otherwise spent commuting, and can lead to happier, healthier employees who have more time to spend doing what they love. However, it’s not for everyone. Some personalities prefer working around others, so offering employees a hybrid work model accommodates all preferences.
To learn more about employee experience – and specifically, digital employee experience (DEX) – check out Forrester’s report. It’s packed full of insight, including the factors behind why organizations with mature DEX programs are headed for success.