Every employee wants to achieve a better work-life balance, but it's not solely the responsibility of employees to figure out how to balance the demands of work with the equally important demands of life. Employers have the power to institute policies that create an environment for promoting good mental health.
A good work-life balance allows employees to live in the moment. They don't stress about work when they're at home, and they don't stress about their home or family when they're at work. That's the goal, at least, even if circumstances mean a little stress creeps in from time to time. An employer who understands the importance of having both a personal life and a professional life will take steps to identify work-life conflict among employees and then institute policies that help solve those problems.
Start With Employee Feedback
Before you start enacting policies, check with your employees and identify their particular pain points in terms of balancing their home life with time spent at work. Are the parents on your team having a hard time picking up their kids from school on time in the afternoon? Do you have employees who spend more than half an hour on the road each morning trying to get to work? Are your employees having a hard time sleeping at night because they're worrying about all the work they have to complete?
Your employees may initially be caught off guard by these questions. Brief them on the topic of work-life balance and give some examples. Then, ask them to mull it over and write down any struggles they are facing along with any potential solutions. Reconvene a few days later to compare notes and find a common thread that can be tackled right away.
Developing Solutions for Work-Life Balance
The solutions that you develop to promote a healthy work-life balance shouldn't be incredibly expensive. However, investing a little bit of money into improving your employees' morale and reducing their stress can lead to improved productivity and greater revenue in the long run.
Keep in mind that you're not setting out to solve all of your employees' personal problems. For example, if someone is considering divorcing his spouse, you don't need to bring a therapist into the office to provide counseling. However, you can at least make sure that the employee feels comfortable taking time off to go see a therapist.
Common solutions that encourage a healthier work-life balance include a robust benefits package, flexible scheduling, telecommuting opportunities, unlimited paid time off policies, allowing pets at work, welcoming children to sit in when needed, ensuring no one is overworked and actively discouraging communication from people who have taken time off.
As your small business grows, you may have the budget or space to offer a few on-site programs, like a gym facility or day care center. Remember that what works for one group of employees may not be adequate for another group, so be sure to re-evaluate your policies as you welcome team members to their new job.
1. Add Perks to Your Benefits Package
A relatively easy way to promote a better work-life balance includes making a more robust benefits package. If you don't already, consider adding discounts for gyms, child care, health food stores, yoga classes, spas, family-friendly activities, etc. Make sure the health insurance you offer covers mental health so anyone who does feel overwhelmed by work can seek professional solutions.
2. Allow Flexible Scheduling
Flexible scheduling allows your employees to come to work a little earlier or later — or even leave in the middle of the day and come back to work in the afternoon — in order to take care of life's numerous appointments and obligations. As long as your employees get their work done and give advance notice if they need to miss important meetings, the specific hours an employee works often don't matter. Flexible work schedules are a great alternative to time off. Employees still clock in and complete their usual hours for the day, just at different times.
This can allow parents to drop their kids off at school and pick them up again without stressing about being "written up" for being late. It also allows employees to tend to their health by giving them flexible hours for scheduling doctor appointments during the day.
3. Create Work-From-Home Opportunities
Telecommuting can solve numerous problems, such as difficulty getting to work due to a long commute or a broken-down vehicle, needing to tend to a sick child or simply wanting a quieter work space away from the hectic office. If your employees cannot easily perform their work from a computer, create work-from-home opportunities for the days when working from home seems like a necessary option. For example, can they complete some sort of training or continuing education online?
Of course, offering work-from-home opportunities means you'll need to determine how to best manage people who are not in your direct line of sight. You can make sure your employees get work done at home by focusing on clear deliverables or using a time tracking app for employees to show what they've been doing.
4. Consider Unlimited Paid Time Off
Unlimited paid time-off policies are gaining in popularity because they allow employees to take time off when they truly need it rather than struggling through tough days in order to preserve limited paid time off for when they "really need it." Instead, knowing that they can take a mental health day whenever the need arises can ease employees' stress.
A PTO policy lumps all personal time, sick time and vacation time into one category: paid time off. An unlimited PTO policy goes a step further than a regular PTO policy by allowing employees to take as many days off during the year as they want. However, most employers do place some restrictions, such as only allowing a maximum of two weeks to be taken off at once.
Although some employers may be concerned that an unlimited paid time-off policy would promote absenteeism, the opposite has proven to be true in most cases. In fact, many companies actually save money with an unlimited paid time-off policy because employees only take time off when they need it, not when they feel like they have to "use it or lose it".
5. Allow Pets and/or Children at Work
A pet- and family-friendly work environment may be a less stressful environment. Life happens, and as a business owner, it's important for you to sympathize with your employees during odd circumstances instead of adding to their stress. If a parent needs to bring a child to work for the day due to an unexpected school closing, make that child feel welcome by letting her sit at a desk to study or taking her on a tour of the office (don't forget to point out where the bathroom and snacks are located). Although it's definitely important that young children in the office have good behavior, don't make the parent feel like the child is being a burden for simply bringing in a well-behaved child for a couple hours.
As for pets, they're like children for many people. If a pet is sick or has a vet appointment in the afternoon, it can be a huge relief to pet owners to be able to bring their pet to work. However, having pets in the workplace on a regular basis can also boost morale, so it's worth adopting a pet-friendly policy.
Be sure to outline exactly what kind of pets are allowed in the office before you have an unexpected alligator in your midst. Also, develop rules about cleaning up after the pet. Like children, it's important that pets have good behavior so they aren't a distraction or disruption.
6. Evaluate All Workloads
Having too much on their plate is a source of stress for many employees, and it can cause them to work overtime or worry about looming deadlines even when they're supposed to be relaxing at home. Employees should feel comfortable admitting that they are struggling to meet a deadline or that they have too much to do. Regularly check in with employees to ask how they're handling their workload. Make sure they know that it's fine to admit that they need to pass off some tasks to someone else.
7. Discourage Communication During Vacation
What's the number-one thing people need to do on vacation? Relax! However, many workaholics end up answering emails, chiming in on chat messages or handling client phone calls while they're supposed to be relaxing. As a small-business owner, you can actively discourage this and encourage a greater work-life balance by responding to any messages sent by a vacationer with a frank, "I don't want to discuss this with you until you're back from vacation!"
Be sure to walk the walk by completely checking out when you go on vacation too. If you get into the habit of not really taking a break from work, your employees may get the impression that you expect them to do the same. Make it a little easier for employees to enjoy their vacation by forwarding their work emails to someone else while they're gone, and be sure to reorient them with a "here's what you missed" report on their first day back.
8. Get More Involved With Your Employees
How well do you really know your employees? Try to create opportunities for your team to get to know each other and for you to understand their personal lives. What's important to them, and what motivates them? When your employees feel like they can speak openly about what's important to them, they may feel less stressed at work.
Encourage your work family to bond a little more through team-building activities that get everyone away from their desks or completely out of the office. You can also plan non-mandatory activities outside of the typical work hours and invite your employees to bring their family members too.
In-House Offerings for Larger Corporations
Larger corporations have greater budgets and more space to get exceptionally creative at meeting the needs of their employees in house. When employees can accomplish many of the necessities required for a healthy work-life balance without even having to leave their workplace, they are more likely to feel relaxed and appreciated.
Businesses that have cafeterias should be sure to offer healthy foods for those who want them. Other on-site services that can be helpful include a gym, day care and even pet care. Be sure to survey your employees to find out which accommodations would be most useful. Remember that these services can pay off in terms of increased productivity and employee happiness.
Take Care of Yourself Too!
Finally, as a business owner, be sure you create a work-life balance for yourself as well. Train your employees and managers so well that you can confidently leave your business in their care and take a proper vacation. You deserve it!
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.