HR & Strategic Happiness experts about the ideal work-life balance
By Robin van der Meulen | 05/09/2019
We all try to pursue the perfectly balanced life, right? Preferably with “being happy” as a positive side-product! But this is simply difficult in a time full of conflicting possibilities, FOMO (fear of missing out) and FOBO (fear of better options). No wonder the awareness for the concept of work-life balance has been growing increasingly. We want fun and meaningful jobs with opportunities for growth and a good salary, but we also want to be able to spend enough time on all our personal, social and community activities.
Do you recognize this stressful struggle to keep work and private life in balance within your employees or yourself? Then read on to discover how you as HR, higher or middle management, can contribute positively to relieving stress!
On August 22nd, 2DAYSMOOD organized an inspiration session about the concept of work-life balance. With HR professionals and Strategic Happiness experts we discussed how you as an employer can best deal with work-life balance. After all, it is a critical factor of a healthy organizational culture and a personal driver for employee happiness. In this blog you will read the scientific insights, tips and experiences that we shared with each other.
Do the checklist: “Do you check or send emails more than once a week outside working hours?”
Why is work-life balance an issue?
Nowadays we fill up our days hyper-efficiently. In addition to work, we plan various activities concerning sports, social time, family, personal development, vacation, etc. Of course we do not forget to share these experiences on social media. But what we often do forget, is to bring the right balance in these time-consuming matters!
At or during work, is often when we first encounter problems with this juggling game. Logical, because we invest the majority of our time in it and it is the factor that provides the financial resources to keep the other juggling balls in the air. It is therefore difficult to just disengage or cut in working hours. Moreover, at work we often have to deal with high workload, lack of trust or (unrealistic) expectations from customers, managers, colleagues and ourselves. All this makes it hard or unsafe for both employees and managers to discuss an imbalance between work and private life and the consequences thereof (stress, burnout). As far as I am concerned, that must change. Because with openness and awareness you take the first step towards a more positive working environment with happy and productive employees.
Do you have a desired balance between work and private life?
Before we share experiences and scientific insights, I first want you to consider your own or your employees’ work-life balance. Is there a desired separation between work and private life? Or are you looking for some sort of integration, in which you still have enough moments to switch off and recharge? Answer the following questions with “yes” or “no” to gain more insight (or ask them within your team):
- Do you check or send emails more than once a week outside working hours?
- On average, do you feel guilty when you are not working?
- Do you work more than once a week during your lunch break?
- Is it hard for you to relax and let go of work?
- … even when you are on vacation?
- Does boredom, stress or work pressure often have a negative influence on your self-confidence?
- … and on the feeling of joy during and outside working hours?
- Do you find it difficult to maintain concentration for non-work-related matters?
Did you answer 2 or more of the above questions with “yes”? Then it is likely that you do not experience the ideal work-life balance.
What does the ideal work-life balance look like?
The question that remains is of course: when will we experience the right balance between work and private life? Is that related to an equal distribution of time? Does it mean that we have to spend 50% of our available time on professional matters and 50% on personal matters? Or is it more connected to feelings? Are we in balance if we experience a sense of control, low stress and enough freedom? During the 2DAYSMOOD inspiration session of August 22nd, we asked the participants when they experience a good balance.
“If I have enough time to do my work and also have enough time to relax (and sleep).”
“If I experience a positive feeling of relaxation after my activities have been successfully completed.”
“Always varied. If I can be at home with pleasure and if I can do my job with pleasure. Sometimes that means more work, sometimes more private time. “
“When I can focus on what I am doing, both at work and outside.”
In these 4 answers alone, different components are visible that can contribute to a sense of balance for an individual. The findings in my literature study seem to match with this. I could not find a clear description of the experience of the best work-life balance.
Science about work-life balance
Literature tells us that the experience of a work-life balance has to do with the different life roles (work, family, friends, personal) that you fulfill. The balance is influenced by the perception of time, satisfaction, effort and conflict. This perception differs per individual, and even per phase of life (think of an intensive study, new baby, chance of promotion, etc.). It was early investigated and acknowledged that non-work related issues that we experience in our life roles and phases, can be taken into the working day. In particular family or personal obligations. They can then have a negative impact on the health of the individual and the performance at work (Khalliath & Brough, 2008).
According to research in the Netherlands, by HR service provider ADP (2018), 62% of the 500 Dutch respondents indicated that their private situation has an impact on work performance.
“Choosing from seven drivers of happiness, 62% of 1400 Dutch employees put “work-life balance” in their top 3.”
How do employees assess their work-life balance?
The term work-life balance has been around for decades, but at 2DAYSMOOD we have noticed that this has become an increasingly important issue for employees in recent years. Work-life balance is therefore one of the 15 measurable drivers of the 2DAYSMOOD Employee Happiness Model. With the use of our weekly 15 second survey, several of our customers surveyed the work-life balance in their organization. In 21 different companies, in total 3206 employees were asked how satisfied they are about their work-life balance, but also how important they think this is for their happiness at work.
On average, the employees gave a satisfaction score of 3.55 (out of 5). You could conclude this is a sufficient score. However, the potential impact of this figure is fairly high, because the employees scored an average of 4.4 (out of 5) on the statement “the work-life balance is important for my pleasure at work”. So now we see a significant discrepancy between the current situation and the desired situation according to the employee. As director, HR manager or team leader, this is a sign to take the subject seriously. Take it on as an opportunity: the greater this discrepancy, the greater the positive impact that can be achieved.
In the annual HR benchmark study (2018) of HR service provider RAET, the question was asked: “What determines whether you are happy in your work?”. Of the 7 happiness drivers, 26% of the 1,400 Dutch employees placed “work-life balance” at number 1, 21% in second place and 15% in third place. This puts the driver at the top as the biggest influencer for a positive feeling at work. Even above “Salary/terms of employment” (2nd position) and “Meaningful work” (3rd position)!
Is the employee or employer responsible?
You can surely ask yourself to what extent you as employer, HR, or supervisor are responsible for the work-life balance of employees. Are they not responsible themselves? Of course! However, as an employer you can play a role in this. According to research by SBI training & advice among 1,500 Dutch employees, four in five employees think that they can benefit from preventive external support and guidance to achieve a good balance between private and professional life. The vast majority (69%) of employees believe that the employer should contribute to this financially. In conclusion, managing a good work-life balance is seen as a joint responsibility.
The great thing is that this research also shows that most employees have no problem when the employer discusses the balance between work and private life. Yet more than 80% of employees rarely or never discuss this subject with the employer themselves. So a call to action for the management! Time to give that employee a little push and make the topic open for discussion. For example, ask your employees one of the following questions.
Three simple questions to discuss work-life balance
Question 1: “How are things at home?”
There are many employees who have certain care duties in addition to their work. For example for their young children or one of their parents. Because of these time-intensive and high-responsibility circumstances, they carry pressure and stress with them, also to work. By asking the above question, and thereby showing genuine interest, you will reach a mutual understanding. Why is someone tired or irritable, or why is he or she not available? Where one person likes to work according to the principle of work-life balance (keeping work and private time strictly separate), the other prefers to work from work-life integration (for example, finishing some work in the evenings when the children are in bed).
Question 2: “What do you think the standards and expectations are with regard to work-life balance?”
Employees think they should be available 24/7. Even though it is not in black and white that the telephone must always be within reach or that emails must be answered immediately. Employees often feel a certain pressure from both the employer and colleagues. Discuss together how you feel about this, speak up and don’t hold in your expectations or experiences! Then get everyone involved and consider how you can work together with respect to everyone’s preferred work-life balance.
Question 3: “What can you do yourself to improve your work-life balance?”
Has the balance been lost? What are the causes of this, according to the employee? And what has he or she done lately to retrieve the balance, both at work and at home? Could certain household tasks be outsourced for extra free time? Can you change the timing or frequency of your weekly work-outs to make room for other activities? Could groceries be ordered in advance weekly? Ultimately, you want to coach your employees in such a way that they develop more personal leadership. In every conversation, on whatever subject, it is important that the employee can define his own responsibilities and goals. Employees must feel they are the owner of the problem or situation. Sharing tips and own experiences can of course always help!
“We start every meeting with the question “How are ya?”. Opening with this improves the quality of the discussions; everyone has already spoken once.”
Best practices of work-life balance in the organizational culture
2DAYSMOOD – “But we don’t expect you to respond right away!”
Half a year ago, at 2DAYSMOOD we also discussed the subject of work-life balance in a team context. We actually saw in our team baseline measurement that the desired situation presented a different outcome than the current satisfaction score. At 2DAYSMOOD everyone works where, how and when they want, which means that employees also work in the evening as soon as the children are in bed. As there is no distinction between work and private telephone, some colleagues got stressed by the fact that they started the evening with a clean, empty inbox, but started the night with a red mailbox icon in the screen. It is difficult to resist the temptation to read your e-mails in the evening, and when you are already reading…
Once this feeling was shared during our team lunch, the colleagues who worked in the evening reacted with surprise; “But we really don’t expect you to respond right away!”
Since everyone appreciates the flexibility and autonomy of the 2DAYSMOOD way of working, together we have agreed on two new rules. If you work in the evening, you put your written emails in drafts or you schedule them for sending. Mails only go out the next morning. Moreover, we now also communicate via Slack instead of WhatsApp. In this way you can maintain your private contacts in your free time through WhatsApp, without being confronted with work-related messages. Slack messages are then put on snooze!
During the 2DAYSMOOD inspiration session for customers, some inventive practical examples were also shared.
Vie People – Employment contract reduced to two pages
Reindert Kriek, HR innovator at Vie People says: “We start every meeting with the question “How are ya?”. Opening with this improves the quality of the discussions; Everyone has already spoken once. At the same time, everyone knows about each other’s current mood that might influence their representation in the meeting: one person may have some private matters on his mind while the other has just completed a successful project. Our founder Wendy has always set a good example in this.”
“We have also reduced our employment contract to 2 pages with comprehensible and fresh language. At the top of the header it says: “You work as much as possible with cool clients on challenging assignments, so that you get stretched and challenged, but not stressed or overloaded.” In this way, the expectations for each (new) Vie employee are clear. And that makes the threshold to keep each other sharp on this a lot lower.”
Aareon – Green Consultancy with flexible working hours
At Aareon, Europe’s largest supplier of software for real estate companies, they have devised the principle of the Green Consultancy policy. Eelkje Kingma, HR advisor: “Our consultants are on the road a lot, and some customers may be located far from their home address. With Green Consultancy, Aareon strives for a better balance for its employees, fewer travel and accommodation costs and less environmental impact. For example, we consult with our customers about which activities can be carried out remotely and whether flexible working hours are possible. We also encourage the use of public transport, carpooling with colleagues and we offer the possibility to spend the night. This means that you can already work remotely while traveling in the train, or perhaps start remotely at home and then travel outside rush hour.”
Otherside Software – Work-life integration with vacation photos
Happiness manager Petra van Lint, who works at Otherside Software in Den Bosch: “We think it is important that work and private life should not obstruct each other. For example, all employees including the board members can bring their children to school. We also ensure that you can plan work-outs just after work. As a result, work and private life sometimes intertwine and that is actually fun. For example, this summer we asked colleagues to send photos of themselves at their holiday destination. We have pinned these photos on a board in the cafeteria. This initiative actually works as a motivator to start personal conversations with colleagues during the lunch break.”
Are you a role model during and outside working hours?
Ultimately it also starts with yourself, as a director, HR manager or team leader you have an exemplary role. Take a good look at your own working method and flexible attitude or the trust you give others. Can this have an impact on the work-life balance of your colleagues?
For example, I was on holiday in Sweden in July and could not resist the temptation to read my email and respond. See here what I got back from the 2DAYSMOOD co-founder …
“You are such a committed colleague. Glad you work here. And now I don’t want to hear you anymore okay? Go celebrate your holiday!!!!
Byeee! Speak to you after your vacation.
You got it right!? I don’t want to hear any more from you!!!!!”
Robin van der Meulen
Strategic Happiness Expert 2DAYSMOOD