1st May 2018

5 time management tips to help employees achieve work-life balance

Work-life balance has hit the HR headlines again recently with a top US CEO quitting his job to spend time with his daughter and Richard Branson allowing his employees unlimited holidays.

Quitting work will not be an option for most people finding it challenging to juggle the demands of their job and the rest of their life.

Work related stress already costs Britain 10.4 million working days per year. The human costs of unmanaged work-related stress extends far beyond this.

A key way to protect your employees’ mental health against the potential detrimental effects of work related stress is to ensure they have a healthy work-life balance.

Read on for 5 practical tips for your workplace that could help your employees achieve work-life balance...

As the CEO of the $2 trillion global investment fund PIMCO, Mohamed El-Erian shocked the finance industry when he quit in January. He quit his job, giving up a massive salary, after his 10-year-old daughter gave him a 22-point list outlining all the events he missed so far during the year.

Quitting work will not be an option for most people finding it challenging to juggle the demands of their job and the rest of their life.

They may be putting in extra hours or using their smartphones to be on call when they're not physically at work. Also, in environments where there have been cutbacks or layoffs people can be afraid it may happen to them so put in more hours to prove their commitment.

So why should your employees' work-life balance matter to you?

The Mental Health Foundation says that the pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population. The cumulative effect of increased working hours is having an important effect on the lifestyle of a huge number of people, which is likely to prove damaging to their mental well-being.

It is estimated that nearly three in every ten employees will experience a mental health problem in any one year. However, the recent and dramatic rise in Britain’s working hours would suggest this is likely to increase. 13% of the UK working population work 49 hours or more per week.

So, if you have employees that are regularly putting in too many hours, you owe it to them, and arguably to your business, to get to the bottom of the situation and identify time management strategies to help them achieve the holy grail of work-life balance.

Here are five ways to encourage people to bring a little more balance to their daily routine:

1. Allow flexible working

Life is busy and for many people there is a constant juggling of work and family responsibilities along with accompanying guilt and a great deal of stress. A little bit of flexibility in working hours can make all the difference. For example, an employee may value being able to spend time with their children after school in return for an earlier start.

However, it's not just those with children that now have the right to request flexible working. If someone is going to be calmer and more productive because they've gone for a run in the morning, then it could be beneficial to allow that person to start their working day a little later. It's important for all of us to schedule time with family and friends, and activities that help us recharge. If we have something to look forward to it's also an extra incentive to manage our time well so we don't have to cancel.

A little bit of flexibility leads to happier and more productive employees and there are now many time management software solutions available which will make managing flexible working initiatives so much easier.

2. Allow working from home

Commuting is expensive, time consuming and stressful. Do all employees need to be in the office every day? Allowing someone to work from home from time to time can give them back several hours a day of their life to do something more productive with. It can also reduce your business's overheads by reducing the amount of desk space required. Encourage managers to focus on output rather than presenteeism.

3. Have a policy regarding unpaid leave days

Employees have serious, life-changing events, emergency family needs, and often simply desires to explore life opportunities. While some events will be covered by legislation, parental leave for example, others may not.

Allowing unpaid leave from time to time will reduce those occasions where employees are forced to "pull a sicky" because they have something they simply have to do, or would really like to do, but insufficient holiday available to do so.

The chances are the day will be taken off anyway, so simplify things for them and your business by having a coherent policy. This can also include so called "duvet-days" for those occasions when employees are not actually ill but simply cannot face coming to work. As these times are often caused by feelings of stress, they arguably could help ward off longer periods of absenteeism and mental health problems.

4. Ensure people take their holiday..and that they don't work while doing so

Have a clear policy on allowing holiday to be rolled over and encourage managers to keep a watchful eye for employees that don't use their holiday absence entitlement. There are some very sound business reasons for doing this:

People need holidays and are more productive for taking them.

If an employee cannot do their job in the allocated time then the reason why needs to be investigated. Are the business's expectations unreasonable? Is the department under-resourced? Or is there a training or ability need that needs addressing?

Employees involved in fraudulent activity are often reluctant to allow anyone to cover for them lest they are discovered.

Of course, even when people are on holiday many will still work. With so many of us having work emails available on our smart phones it's sometimes too tempting to just "check" for anything interesting or urgent coming in. And our colleagues know this, so are also tempted to send us emails. It's a slippery slope.

German vehicle-maker Daimler has an innovative approach to holiday email, which many people about to return from holiday may well wish their company would copy. Email these people while they are on holiday and you will get a message like this:

I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it's really important or resend the email after I'm back in the office. Danke Schoen.

Apparently, people receiving such a notification rarely get angry. "The response is basically 99% positive, because everybody says, "That's a real nice thing, I would love to have that too," Daimler spokesman Oliver Wihofszki told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

5. Make sure your managers lead by example

Having policies that encourage a healthy work-life balance will only be effective if your management team accept that they apply to them also! Too often if a manager arrives early and leaves late then this will encourage a culture of presenteeism.

Team members will compete to be the first in and/or last out to 'prove' their commitment and perhaps gain career advancement. Ensure this type of behaviour is not inadvertently encouraged.

El-Erian explained he was struggling with the same thing so many parents do – work-life balance.

"Work-life balance was an initiative that we had been devoting more time to at PIMCO. But that knowledge did little to dampen this very personal wake-up call," he wrote.

"I felt awful and got defensive: I had a good excuse for each missed event! Travel, important meetings, and urgent phone call, sudden to-dos. But it dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point. As much as I could rationalise it – as I had rationalised it – my work-life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my very special relationship with my daughter. I was not making enough time for her."

Tough or creative action may be required...

Consider the case of a forward-thinking company based in Amsterdam, Holland, that believe they may just have found the answer, with the introduction of their ‘disappearing office’.

Each evening, at 6pm, the desks in the office are lifted into the ceiling, along with the computers and anything else that happens to be on the desk at that time.

The design studio, Heldergroen think the concept will reinforce a stronger work-life balance for its employees, according to lifestyle publication, TrendHunter.

Using a key-operated lifting mechanism and steel ceiling cables, staff have no option but to finish for the day, when they return in the morning, everything is left as it was the previous night.

Once the desks have been lifted away, the office space is then available for employees to use for other, non-work-related activities.

Sometimes in life drastic measures are called for, but if you're not up for such a drastic office remodel there's always the option of keeping an eye on the hours employees are working using a time and attendance system.