Help Employees Take Responsibility for Their Own Work/Life Balance

Ultimately, employees should have the power to make their own choices about work/life balance.

There’s no doubt that work/life balance is important to employees. This has become increasingly apparent to employers—and employees—during the pandemic, as many employees working from home have gotten a taste of the freedom and flexibility that such an opportunity provides: Less time and cost required for daily commutes. The ability to take breaks during the day to attend personal responsibilities. The need to be on hand while children are learning remotely. For more introverted employees, a quiet environment where they feel they can be more productive.

But as employers strive to leverage the value of work/life balance and flexibility in helping to attract and retain employees, there’s one important point they must keep in mind: not all employees have the same needs. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work for everyone.

Many Employees Want to Come Back to the Workplace

In fact, while media reports continue to point to the ability for employees to continue working in a virtual or hybrid work environment to help address what is being called the “great resignation,” reports also suggest that some employees crave the ability to return to the office.

According to research in the UK, for instance, 32% of employees indicated they wanted to return to their offices in January. Why? They felt it would have a positive impact on their mental health.

Other surveys paint an even more dramatic picture. A survey by OnePoll indicates that 87% of employees say they’re ready to work from the office.

And yet, employee sentiment isn’t quite so easy to discern. Bloomberg reports that 55% of employees say they’d consider leaving their jobs if they had to come back to the office. In such a muddied environment, what are employers to do?

Fundamentally, employers and their HR staff members, managers and supervisors must recognize that work/life balance is personal.

Laying the Foundation and Getting Out of the Way

An outgoing, extroverted employee who lives alone may value time in the office with colleagues above spending personal time at home. Conversely, an introverted employee with significant responsibilities for partners, children, and others, may crave the ability to enjoy downtime to help them reenergize and recharge.

The point is you can’t predict—or dictate—the type of work/life balance that will meet the needs of all of your employees.

What you can do, though, and what you can encourage your HR staff, managers, supervisors and others to do, is to provide the flexibility for employees to make their own choices about work/life balance—making opportunities available to them, but not dictating when and how they take advantage of downtime.

Within the environment, it’s important to communicate to employees that you both recognize their varying needs and understand the importance of mental health and the impacts the pandemic and other environmental factors may have on their needs. And it’s okay—in fact advised—to approach employees who don’t appear to be coping well—to see if they need additional help and assistance to find the right balance.

But, by and large, it’s employees themselves who need to determine the balance they need.

Promoting Options for Flexibility

Paid-time-off or PTO policies that many employers already offer can go a long way toward helping employees find this balance without feeling “guilty” when they may need to take a mental health day, for instance. The old practice of offering “sick” days and requiring employees to actually be sick, or provide some medical support for an absence, fails to recognize wellness as an imperative. PTO plans let employees decide when they need to take some time off.

Holidays are another example of where employees often have different needs. Not all employees celebrate the same holidays. Requiring them to take the same days off, therefore, doesn’t allow the flexibility that many employees will desire.

To the extent possible, the times and days that they work, as well as where they work can be flexible factors that help employees maximize flexibility to meet their unique needs. In situations where it literally doesn’t matter when or where they work, why should it matter when or where they work?

Importantly, organizations need to continually communicate their philosophy around flexibility to their managers and supervisors to ensure that they, too, are allowing employees the appropriate flexibility to meet their work/life balance needs.

Certainly, there will be some positions—customer-facing roles, for instance—where remote work may not be feasible. Even in these customer-facing roles, flexibility in hours and days worked can provide great benefits.

In an environment where employers of all kinds are increasingly concerned about the ability to attract and retain top talent, focusing on the things that matter most to employees—like flexibility in addressing work/life balance needs—can go a long way.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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