If your industry places significant time demands on you and your employees, you’ll probably have heard the term ‘work-life balance’ plenty of times over the years. But what does it really mean? And what can you do to promote it in your workplace?
What does work-life balance mean for your employees?
Broadly speaking, work-life balance is about employees feeling well both in and outside of work. It means they are able to balance these two aspects of their lives in a healthy way. But the term ‘work-life balance’ can mean different things to different people – it depends on what’s important to them.1
Even social science experts aren’t completely agreed on a single definition of work-life balance. Historically, the idea came up in discussions around women balancing work and family responsibilities. Of course, the debate is much wider now, and it continues to change as social and technological factors around our working lives evolve.1
The boundary problem
Technology has been a great driver of efficiency in modern work. Yet it also enables an ‘always on’ work culture, where many employees can be contacted or undertake work outside the work environment. This disrupts the boundary between work life and non-work life, which can make achieving work-life balance more of a challenge.1, 2
Why is work-life balance important?
- Work-life balance is recognised by NICE (the organisation that guides doctors) as important for mental health. NICE encourages workplaces to support work-life balance through policies.3
- If your employees look after themselves and achieve a good balance, they’ll be more productive and less likely to experience burnout.3
- A good work-life balance can protect your employees’ physical and mental health. It may help to protect against high blood pressure, drinking too much alcohol and depression, for example.4
How you can help
- Ensure employees have a reasonable workload and that they aren’t facing any unrealistic expectations.5
- Encourage leaving work on time and switching off from emails in the evening. Think ‘working smart, not working long’.5
- Try to promote an open culture about time constraints and workloads, so that people feel able to speak up if they feel overwhelmed.5
- Consider promoting flexible working as a way to help people juggle work and family demands. See the ACAS website for guidance.6
- As NICE advises, review your policies to support a culture that respects work-life balance. NICE suggests referring to the principles of the Health and Safety Executive's management standards for work-related stress. These identify six areas of work design that can affect productivity, sickness and safety if not properly managed.3
- Remember that a person’s idea about their ideal work-life balance can change as their lifestyle changes, for example if they start a family.
You may also find it helpful to read Bupa’s information for employers and managers about workplace mental health.
- 1. Eurofound. Working time and work–life balance in a life course perspective. A report based on the fifth European Working Conditions Survey. https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/sites/default/files/ef_publication/field_ef_document/ef1273en.pdf, published 2012
- 2. Duxbury L, Smart R. The myth of separate worlds: An exploration of how mobile technology has redefined work-life balance. 2011. In Kaiser S, Ringlstetter MJ, Eikhof DR et al (Eds.) Creating balance? International perspectives on the work-life integration of professionals pp. 269–284
- 3. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Workplace health: management practices. Published June 2015. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng13/chapter/Recommendations#mental-wellbeing-at-work
- 4. How to manage stress. Mind. http://www.mind.org.uk/media/1993364/how-to-manage-stress_2015.pdf, accessed March 2015Leineweber C, Baltzer M, Magnusson Hanson LL, et al. Work-family conflict and health in Swedish working women and men: a 2-year prospective analysis (the SLOSH study), Eur J Public Health , 2013, vol. 23 (pg. 710-6)
- 5. Mental Health Foundation. Work-life balance. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/w/work-life-balance, published 2018
- 6. Acas. Flexible working and work-life balance. http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/3/1/Flexible_working_and_work_life_balance_Nov.pdf, published June 2015