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What can companies do to enhance work-life balance?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had major effects on the work-life balance of global employees — but a number of companies are pursuing creative solutions to enhance the quality of life that their workers can enjoy. Linnear COSEC investigates what corporations are doing to improve work-life balance, and what small businesses should do moving forward.

Every single worker has been touched by the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to sweeping health and safety restrictions implemented by governments all over the world, an unprecedented proportion of workers across virtually every industry were all sent home to work 100% remotely practically overnight.

In many cases, studies indicate this forced push towards remote working has enhanced the work-life balance of employees — but in some other ways, it has subsequently hurt the well-being of employees.

Yet in order to truly understand the impacts remote working has had on employees and the quality of their working lives, it’s crucial to examine what work-life balance actually is. Likewise, there are a number of innovative pilot schemes companies from all over the globe have implemented to further and enhance that balance that must be delved into to fully appreciate their effectiveness.

This guide explores what work-life balance is, what corporations and limited companies are currently doing to battle pandemic fatigue and enhance work-life balance, and tips on what you as an employer can do to improve the work-life balance of your employees.

What is work-life balance?

It’s worth pointing out that what constitutes a healthy work-life balance can be relatively subjective. Different employees want different things, and no two industries are totally alike.

That being said, there are several generally agreed definitions of work-life balance and its characteristics that most human resources professionals utilise in some capacity in order to guide their own internal corporate policy.

The concept of work-life quality as many of us know it was developed at the 1972 International Labor Relations conference. Initially referred to as “quality of work-life”, the conference defined this as the total quality of an employee’s working life within an organisation.

Fast-forward 40 years, and that definition has since evolved — but researchers say that the core concept of work-life balance still consists of four key elements.

Those elements include:

  • A safe work environment
  • Occupational health care
  • Appropriate working time
  • An appropriate salary

More important still, there are a number of characteristics that impact an employee’s work-life balance.

First and foremost, the attitude of an employee can drastically affect their motivation and work-life attitude. This includes the personal and career growth opportunities, the nature of their job and inherent stress levels.

Other characteristics also play a factor — like a participative leadership style with an open working culture, as well as the ability to capitalise on alternative work arrangements. Above all else, this area of alternative work arrangements revolves around flexible office arrangements that allow employees to vary their working patterns or perform some tasks remotely.

While that may feel like a tall order amongst many UK corporations, a vast majority of the workforce seems to agree that work-life balance isn’t only desirable — it’s totally achievable.

According to one 2020 survey conducted by Joblist, 70.9% of workers believe that achieving a favourable work-life balance is possible.

Despite this belief that work-life balance is attainable, more than 38% of Millennials say they have yet to experience the work-life balance they’re looking for in their current roles. That may relate to low pay, rigid working conditions, stress or anything in between.

Yet above all else, it’s crucial to note that enabling employees to achieve the right work-life balance for them is mutually beneficial for employers.

Researchers have found that work-life quality is directly linked to a team’s productivity levels, performance and job satisfaction. Bearing that in mind, it appears a number of corporations and big limited companies are finally beginning to take note of this correlation — and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) appear to be following suit.

What are employers doing to ease pandemic fatigue?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, huge swatches of the global business community were forced to begin working remotely almost overnight.

In many respects, this move to remote working fulfilled certain characteristics employees had been hunting for in a more flexible working life. But in some ways, this move to 100% remote working has led to other stresses.

According to one study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), mass remote working has led to an 8.3% hike in the number of emails being sent after business hours versus pre-lockdown. That effectively makes the average worker’s day 48.5 minutes longer than it used to be.

Likewise, because video conferences are so much quicker and simpler to arrange than large, in-person meetings, many corporate workers have faced a huge rise in the number of meetings taking up their time.

To ease this rise and reduce working hours, American investment bank Citigroup has developed a creative solution: “Zoom-free Fridays“.

In a company-wide memo published in March, the bank’s management told staff they must now limit their video calls on Fridays to provide staff with more time to perform tasks relating to both their work and domestic lives.

To launch the new initiative, Citigroup even invented a new holiday on 28 May known as “Reset Day”.

But Citigroup certainly isn’t alone in its mission to enhance the work-life balance of its 210,000 workers.

Goldman Sachs is encouraging its employees to stay offline and out of the world of work on Saturdays, and US medical insurance specialist Boomer Benefits enforces a policy of mandatory leave to make sure staff are taking time off to rest (whether they want to or not).

Likewise, many corporations have worked to focus on empowering their teams with mental health coping mechanisms to improve their overall work-life balance.

According to one study by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, four out of ten workers say they’ve battled with mental-health issues during the pandemic. And supplementary research by US poll company Gallup found that 46% of workers were subsequently concerned about a number of work-related setbacks like layoffs, fewer hours and pay reductions.

One solution that global coffee giant Starbucks has pursued to combat this stress has been to offer its 349,000 employees up to 20 free mental health therapy sessions every year.

That being said, it’s critical for UK employers and their teams that these support levels and initiatives don’t simply cease to exist the moment that government restrictions are eased and businesses are able to host on-site teams again.

According to one study by the Future Strategy Club (FSC), 52% of UK employees say they’ve got a better work-life balance and feel closer to their families as a result of new remote working patterns. Likewise, workers in the United States are currently saving a combined 62.4 million hours per workday by ditching their morning commutes.

That equates to more home time for workers, more productivity for employers and happier teams. That same study found that around half of the saved commute time is being redeployed towards household activities, exercise and childcare — while a third of that saved time is being reinvested back into work.

Bearing that in mind, it’s little wonder 70% of workers say they want to see a more hybrid mix of office and remote work after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. This is where employers have got to step in with creative, innovative and flexible policies to ensure their employees can continue to maintain a positive work-life balance — while still moving further back towards some iteration of what was once considered normal.

What can companies do to improve work-life balance?

No two companies are 100% alike. Similarly, the precise actions one employer should take to improve the work-life balance of its workers will inherently be different from the actions others are taking.

That being said, there are several key actions all limited companies should consider in order to enhance the well-being and satisfaction of their employees.

First and foremost, management must explore flexible working arrangements. Despite the many domestic or logistical challenges that may go hand-in-hand with remote working, 65% of employees say they believe that they are more productive when working from home. Unsurprisingly, 47% of staff told researchers they wish that their organisations offered flexible working.

Bearing that in mind, it’s worth considering whether certain tasks or job roles can be performed partly (or entirely) off of company premises. Management must also consult with stakeholders and employees to find out which employees or teams actually want more flexible working patterns.

After all, some proportion of workers are clearly happy with the pre-pandemic status quo — and so not all of the workers without your own organisation may actually want flexible working arrangements. But many will, and offering those options will drastically enhance those workers’ productivity and happiness levels.

Similarly, it’s worth following in the footsteps of Citigroup and considering policy-led efforts to slash meetings and emails.

According to one study, workers spend an average of 13 hours per week reading and answering emails. Multiple that number by the number of workers on your payroll, and chances are the time your employees spend emailing each other is staggering.

Meetings are even worse. Workers waste 87 hours per month on meetings. That equates to around $37 billion lost per year in lost productivity. So not only are lengthy meetings annoying employees — they eat into a company’s bottom line.

Banning after-hours emails or meetings at certain times of day could enable your workers to focus more on their tasks — both domestic and work-related.

Finally, employers can improve the work-life balance of their employees by encouraging self-care.

Management should introduce healthcare initiatives or promote working cultures that take better advantage of existing company benefits to ensure that employees are looking after themselves both during and after the working day.

That means listening to stakeholders and employees to find out what it is they need, and then implementing policies that will enable teams to actually take the time and utilise those policies.

At the end of the day, this is just a starting point. There are a wide range of initiatives companies can and should pursue in order to enhance work-life balance. The key for management is to engage with its employees and truly listen.

After all, by opening up dialogues and working to improve work-life balance, both limited companies and their workers will benefit from enhanced trust, productivity and happiness.

Want to learn more about work-life balance and corporate policy?

Check out the Linnear COSEC knowledge centre to ensure that your business stays up-to-date on all the latest industry news, or get in touch to find out how our company secretarial services can drastically reduce your costs and free up your time to help you focus on running your business.

About the author

Nicholas joined in 2018 to set up the Company Secretarial Department in the group’s company formation divisions. After establishing the department, he was a key stakeholder in the development of Linnear CoSec. Prior to joining the group, Nicholas worked in a variety of client-facing positions at an international provider of corporate services, caring for a diverse portfolio of companies. He is a Chartered Secretary and Governance Professional, and holds a bachelor's degree in Politics as well as a Masters in Corporate Governance.

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