The Work-Life Balance: How To Get It Right

In a connected world of 24/7 communications, busy personal lives and equally busy days at the office, the work-life balance can easily suffer – along with employees’ performance at work. So what can employers do to help? Bruno Vanhaelst, Senior Vice President Marketing, Strategy and Sales Development of Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services and Sodexo Personal and Home Services, looks at the challenges and solutions to today’s work-life puzzle.

Why is it critical for employers to focus on employees’ work-life balance?
Bruno Vanhaelst: The answer is two-fold, with the first part being ‘Because it’s a priority for working people.’ Finding a balance, in a world where people are connected 24/7 and the lines between worktime and me-time are becoming blurred, is no easy task. Flexibility in the working day is becoming key. In studies, nearly half of HR directors say they offer the option of more flexible working hours to attract and recruit new talent1, while most U.S. managers believe flexibility has a positive effect on employee engagement (60%), motivation (57%) and satisfaction (68%)2. A recent Sodexo survey3 showed that 90% of employees want to spend more time outside the workplace, while another study4 found that improving the work-life balance was the No. 2 priority for employees. The second part of the answer is that employees who are struggling to balance their lives will be less engaged and less productive during their hours at work.

What kind of issues lie behind a poor work-life balance?
BV: There is a wide variety, from one-off incidents to ongoing situations: the heating boiler breaks down at home, a child is too ill to go to school, or there is a health issue with elderly relatives – a particular problem for the ‘sandwich generation’, who are caring for children and parents at the same time, while trying to hold down a job. Meanwhile, some families are single-parent and others, after divorce, are juggling two sets of mothers and fathers. At the same time, there are also work-related pressures. For many employees, workloads are increasing during office hours and then being extended into evenings and weekends – notably due to work-related emails that land in people’s smartphones. In a globalized economy, where cost-cutting is often high on the corporate agenda, employees can find themselves under pressure to produce more, with fewer resources, and to work longer hours. All of this creates stress, along with the risk of occupational burnout and even depression. In the UK, work-related stress is estimated to cost the country 10.4 million lost working days a year5. The same study also found that 27% of employees feel depressed, 34% feel anxious and 58% feel irritable when working longer hours. Needless to say, conditions like these affect people’s performance and staff retention.