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How businesses can encourage a healthy work/life balance and benefit from more engaged and productive employees

October 22, 2015

Working is a balancing act. Whether its deadlines or internal demands, we all have plates to spin. This is particularly so in small businesses where there are fewer resources to draw on when the pressure is on.

Being busy at work is the norm for most of us, and often leads to an imbalance between work and life. Letting this equilibrium tip more towards work is not good for our wellbeing and can have negative effects on health and performance at work.

With recent news reporting that 40% of employees are suffering from “brownout”, a milder form of burnout, and are consequently disengaged and demotivated at work, businesses need to think how they can get the best out of employees, including allowing them to re-energise themselves.

Helping staff to strike the right work / life balance

As an employer, this can be challenging to manage. Employees have a duty to remain fit for work and are responsible for delivering their contractual obligations. However, when their workload is excessive they may struggle to complete work on time or to the required standard, despite their best intentions.

A way to help boost the quality of their work is to help them manage their work/life balance. While it is the employee’s responsibility to hold up the balance in their home life, there are certain initiatives you can provide in the workplace to aid the situation.

1. Culture needs to come from the top

Company culture can dictate how employees perform and how they behave. Strict company cultures, for example with an austere approach to employees can make employees feel unappreciated and isolated. This includes attitudes to working hours and output, so businesses, especially SMEs, need to foster an understanding and collaborative culture where everyone feels involved.

This can be achieved by simply outlining that being a team player is more important than working long hours at your desk. Expecting employees to work 8am-8pm is not productive, as they will burn out and their tiredness will lead to mistakes.

Encourage best practice from the top by leaving on time, thus letting junior employees follow suit. Facilitating them to have a life outside work gives them the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones or complete activities they enjoy. This lets them switch off and forget about work for a while, ensuring they come back to work fresher and with more energy than before.

2. Endless emails

One barrier to employees switching off and leaving on time is the threat of emails clogging their mobile phone inbox. The arrival of technology has heralded an ‘always on’ culture, with many businesses expecting emails to be responded to 24/7.

When we send emails out of hours this sets the expectation with employees that they must respond to be successful in the workplace. Providing guidance and support on the differences between urgent and important communications will help them ascertain what needs their immediate attention and what can be left until the next day.

Emails should also be managed during the working day, as many employees find switching off email alerts and only responding at set times of the day helps to significantly reduces stress levels as they are able to concentrate on tasks at hand, aiding productivity and creativity.

3. Take a break…

An important part of managing employee stress levels is knowing when to let them take a foot off the pedal or take a well-earned break.

Research consistently demonstrates that taking time out will boost performance, therefore encouraging employees to eat lunch away from their desks or go for a lunchtime powerwalk could help increase productivity.

Taking at least 30 minutes off at lunchtime allows for more effective concentration in the afternoon, as a relaxed brain is a productive brain which encourages creativity and energy for the rest of the day.

4. …But not a KitKat

The old phrase is true, you are what you eat. Therefore, if you want your employees to be on their best form, don’t stock the office cupboards with sweets or fatty foods.

While a nibble in moderation can help boost your mood via serotonin release, eating lots of fat or sugar will affect their body’s energy levels. A sugar hit may perk you up temporarily, but it won’t get you through the day. For example, they also cause mood spikes, which are not ideal for colleagues or clients.

Therefore, supporting employees to re-balance their diet by encouraging healthy eating in the office at least can build resilience and help with wellbeing. Research has proven that some foods can reduce symptoms of stress. For example, low levels of zinc are associated with anxiety; eating more cashew nuts can address this, while magnesium, found in bananas, can help you relax.

Giving employees the opportunity to eat their 5-a-day while not overloading them with caffeine (perhaps by stocking green or fruit tea) will result in a more stable sleep pattern and allow employees to wake up refreshed and ready for work.

5. Be flexible

While having fixed working hours are practical, especially in client facing industries, sometimes it’s not the best for our wellbeing. Good work/life balance is about spending the appropriate time on you, your hobbies and your loved ones as well as your work responsibilities.

One way to achieve this is by enabling employees to work when they are at their most productive in the day, as it can help free up time for other, enjoyable activities. Small adjustments to help employees can make a difference, for example, letting some start work at 8 or 10 and adjusting their hours accordingly.

This lets them work to their body’s natural cycle and perform at the optimum performance. A tired, lethargic employee will not produce the same results as one who is fresh.

Additionally, working flexibly frees up time for the employee to address their wellbeing – for example, by encouraging them be physically active. Research suggests that just 15 minutes of moderate physical activity per day increases life expectancy by 3 years, and just increasing your daily step count from 2,000 to 4,000 steps produces greater health benefits.

In addition, evidence shows that physical activity has a massive benefit on mental health. Physical activity engages different parts of the brain, enabling a more relaxed state of mind. Making time for physical activity 2 or 3 times per week will help your workforce feel healthier and happier, giving them the energy to tackle issues head on.

In conclusion

Integrating work and life can be difficult for everyone at times. Employers are in a great position to make a positive impact on the lives of their employees through small cultural changes. In doing so they will reap the rewards with happy, healthy and productive teams.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Lucy Whitehall, a Wellbeing Consultant for CABA, the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association which supports personal and professional development for Chartered Accountants.

More help on motivating and managing staff

For more tips and ideas on how to get the best out of your staff, read these guides;

And for more guidance on employment issues, try some of ByteStart’s other guides;