Employee engagement is a major focus of human resources investment in current workplaces. The reason for this is clear with businesses with highly engaged employees outperforming other businesses by 51% (1). However, highly engaged employees also tend to have less work-life balance.
This is because we can tend to label work-life balance as an individual problem rather than the company’s, and as a result more motivated people who are on the obsessive side of personality will likely sacrifice their life activities for the sake of the company. So how can we maintain high levels of employee engagement whilst being sensitive to the needs of our employees in terms of relaxation and leisure?
It is possible to promote both engagement and work-life balance at the same time. A recent study in fact examines this exact conjecture with 700 overworked technical Professionals at a Fortune 500 company (2). The research put the workers into two groups:
- the control group: for whom conditions remain the same to test against the other group in order to validate the hypothesis
- the test group: who were given greater control of when and where they worked and were given more support by their supervisors in terms of their family and personal lives
In the test group, the result was a significant reduction and work-family conflict (the subjective sense of being pulled in two directions). Workers reported feeling less str—essed, overwhelmed and having more time to spend with their families. Parents only resulted in working 1 hour less per week than non-parents, and as a result of the flexibility and greater autonomy, they actually increased their productivity by spending an additional 10 – 20 hours of work at home per week.
Follow these simple steps to improve the culture in your workplace:
Leadership must demonstrate a commitment to work-life balance by putting policies into place around:
- work hours and job design (with restrictions for job hours and minimal work required off-hours)
- organisational culture (No internal meetings after 4:30 p.m.)
- incentives to encourage work life balance (use it or lose it vacation policy, incentives for claiming sick days/ rostered days off)
- provide benefits (gym membership with use it or lose it privileges, paid paternity leave and child care
Address the Impact of Technology
Take a leaf out of Google’s book and create “charity penalties” for responding to emails out of hours (literally put a monetary fine on this that employees must pay to a nominated charity organisation).
Change company culture
- Ensure incentives do not focus on physical presence in the workplace
- Lead by example (be aware that your employees will watch how long you spend in the office)
- Devalue “badge of honour” type statements which brag about physical hours spent in the office
- Be reasonable about deadlines and negotiate considering pressures, always organise deadlines to occur on a Friday not a Monday so that employees not have to work over the weekend
Ultimately you want your employees to work smart, not hard. This means not spending countless hours in the office, and having a responsible level of work-life separation. Encourage these workers and support them with the tools they need to make their work-life balance more achievable you will find you have more engaged and more productive workers overall.
- Harter JK, Schmidt FL, Hayes TL. Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: a meta-analysis. J Applied Psychol. 2002;87(2):268-79.
- Kelly EL, Moen P, Oakes JM, et al. Changing work and work-family conflict: evidence from the work, family and health network. Am Sociol Rev. 2014;79(3):485-516.