Work-life balance part 2: How can organisations support the work-life balance of their employees?

Women sat looking at laptop making notes with baby in a highchairs

Last month’s blog explored what work-life balance looks like, and why it is so important for today’s workforce.  This month we will be going one step further to explain how organisations can support work-life balance for their employees – especially important when you consider that research this month confirms yet again that people want balance over pay.

It is evident that a healthy balance between career and home-life will look different depending on the individual and organisation, but there are common principals which can be adopted by employers in order to support the work-life balance of their people, thereby promoting well-being and maximising their potential.

1. Support work-life balance by promoting flexibility

Flexible working (office, remote or hybrid) is a key factor in enabling better balance. A recent survey of 2000 UK full-time employees1 found that work flexibility increased happiness (60%), autonomy (70%) and perceived work-life balance (59%). It also enabled them to attend to personal responsibilities such as childcare (59%), a key factor reducing stress, frustration and conflicting work-family priorities.

A post-pandemic study2 also found that employees who were satisfied with organisational flexibility were 3.4 times more likely to successfully balance professional and personal demands, and 2.6 times more likely to report happiness at work. Hence, an organisational culture allowing workers to adjust hours in-line with their personal and family needs will support work-life balance and improve perceived balance and well-being.

It’s important to note that flexible working is not synonymous with work-life or work-family balance, although it can significantly contribute towards facilitating it. The ability to work remotely, for example, will not automatically lead to healthy boundaries being established unless there is an organisational culture that allows people the “right to disconnect” at appropriate times3. Locational flexibility coupled with unrealistic expectations and demands on employees’ time can actually undermine the balance and risk stress and burnout, as workers are not able to physically ‘leave work’. This can be particularly frustrating for parents who may experience “job-creep” into family time. For work-flexibility to effectively promote balance, there needs to be well-defined and co-created boundaries, effective communication and agreed expectations.

2. Support work-life balance by providing supervision and support

Vyas’s recent literature review3, examining the “New Normal” at work, post-Covid, highlights the importance of organisational support in achieving an effective work-life balance. Although some responsibility does lie with the employee, supervisors and line-managers should be trained to help them set boundaries and establish a working arrangement that fits around their personal needs. Parents will feel more confident, focused and able to perform well if they are adequately supported in their responsibilities around school pick-ups, child sickness etc.

Employee well-being programs have some value but such measures shouldn’t short-cut a cultural change towards more supportive organisations.

Research has shown that almost a third of all employees are reluctant to take a sick day if they feel too unwell to go to work4. There is little value in providing employee well-being courses or apps, for example, if the culture is still not perceived as supportive of their personal needs. For too long there has been an expectation of employees to go above and beyond for their organisation, rather than to establish healthy boundaries and work effectively within them. Support needs to be personal, genuine, and relational as well as policy-driven. 

3. Support work-life balance by establishing a trust- and outcome-based culture

Long term and sustainable employee work-life balance can only be achieved when an organisation fosters a “trust- and outcome-based working culture”3. Trust is especially important for flexible and remote working situations where employees have a greater sense of independence. Such a culture requires clear communication of expectations and an increased sense of organisational meaningfulness and engagement to be instilled within workers.

People Science Principle Consultant, la Ko emphasises the need for leaders to empower their managers to structure projects in a way which allows greater autonomy, without compromising support, and allow measurement of success to be outcome- rather than hours-based5. This is arguably easier to achieve in higher-level leadership positions, although with effort and intentionality, principles of trust and engagement can be applied throughout the organisation.

Parent and Professional – supporting organisations to support their people

It is clear that employers play a key role in promoting a healthy work-family balance for parents within their workforce. Parent & Professional specialises in supporting organisations to facilitate working parents in effectively integrating their professional and personal responsibilities. This brings significant benefit both individually and organisationally as employee well-being, engagement and performance improve.

Parent & Professional’s coaching programmes are designed to support leaders, managers and employees in both promoting and achieving work-family balance.

By Andi Simmons. Exec Coach (EMCC) and Psychologist (MSc Psych, MBPsS)

1. OnePoll research (2022) on behalf of Glassdoor, surveyed 2,000 UK employees who work full time either in an office or at home between 22 August – 30 August 2022

2. Linked in People Science (2021) Employee Well-Being Report. Data-driven insights into people’s happiness and success at work

3.  Vyas, L. (2022) “New normal” at work in a post-COVID world: work–life balance and labor markets. Policy and Society, 41(1), 155–167

4. Qualtrics 2022 Employee Experience Trends Report

5. Linked in People Science (2021) Employee Well-Being Report. Data-driven insights into people’s happiness and success at work.

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