Managers are increasingly aware of the importance of promoting a healthy work-life balance for employees, which in turn, increases job satisfaction. However, with so many advances in technology over the past several decades, achieving this balance has been much more difficult.
The advantages in the way people access information, communicate with one another, and complete tasks have allowed for flexibility in the workplace, but they have also diminished the distinction between work and family. I recall while working in the Netherlands, my immediate manager was based in Bangkok, Thailand, and the company headquarters was based in Glenview, Illinois. Back then, I was given a company issued Blackberry, and there seemed to be an expectation of immediate response. It felt like I was on call 24/7, given the spread of time zones I was working across. Indeed, this did take a toll on my time with my family.
If people do not have time to relax and recharge, their ability to do their job decreases and their performance level suffers. After attempting to keep up with barrage of emails received from all parts of the world, and realizing responding immediately was unsustainable, as I was experiencing extreme burnout, I learnt to put the Blackberry away after 20:00 Central European Time, and only respond to the most urgent emails on weekends. I felt almost an immediate sense of relief. Physically, I felt so much better, and psychologically, my anxiety level seemed to decrease significantly.
Interestingly, I found in Europe that in addition to hiring, training, employment contracts, and regulatory considerations, ensuring that employees are both healthy and satisfied at work is well within the purview of human resources oversight. In the US, this concept is gaining momentum, especially since research is continuing to show diminishing productivity in work environments where work-life balance is not practiced. In Europe, I have seen city and national government agencies, as well as human resources professionals, take stands on behalf of employees, influencing organizational and managerial expectations, and establishing policies to ensure that employees are treated properly.
One example of what human resources and/or upper management can do in this regard is override the culture to encourage employees to take time for themselves. Upper management must communicate to front line managers, through words and lead by example. I’ve seen leaders declare that work communication past a certain time of night, or weekends, is only acceptable in high time-sensitive situations, or never at all. Human Resources can suggest to employees that they turn of their work phones in the evenings (as I had done so myself), and to leave work computers in the office, especially while away on vacation.
Another useful tool for management is flextime. This is particularly useful for employees in global markets, since they are often on the phone early in the morning or late at night with clients or suppliers on the other side of the globe. We have seen in recent years the four-day work week gain traction, allowing employees to work four ten-hour days. Human Resources professionals and organizational leaders should be observant and creative, identifying when employees are pushing themselves too hard and offering solutions that maintain productivity while preserving work-life balance.
Balance – a beautiful, fragile thing
- Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.