The Perilous Effects of Work-Life Imbalance

William J. Wiggins Culture, Employee Development, Employee Engagement, Employment Branding and Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, Uncategorized

Work-life balanceThe lack of opposition between work and other life roles. It is the state of equilibrium in which demands of personal life, professional life, and family life are equal.”

I had been traversing the United States from coast to coast, California on Monday, Virginia on Tuesday, California again on Wednesday, Arizona on Thursday, Atlanta on Friday, topping off the week with a presentation to about 500 union employees in Portland on Saturday.

Suddenly I found myself at a venue on stage in front of an audience with no real idea of how I’d gotten there. I looked behind me to the large 2-story screen and I was on slide 20. It was as if I’d awakened from a deep sleep and found myself on stage. How did I get to slide 20? Who did my PowerPoint presentation? There were so many questions in my head. I remember thinking “give me a minute, I have no idea where I am right now.” I recovered and finished the presentation.

When I stepped off stage, a concerned colleague immediately accosted me insisting I get checked out at the nearest hospital. The only thing of that past hour that I remembered was the last five minutes; and  I was certain that I’d only thought “give me a minute, I have no idea where I am right now.” By all accounts, I had actually said it out loud to a stunned audience.

My diagnosis, Chronic Exhaustion!

I try to steer away from the subject of work-life balance. It’s like seeking a housebroken unicorn. It’s so elusive, why bother? Recently I found myself feeling and behaving similarly to how I did during that time period when I was subsisting on Cheezits and other airport fare. Marathon meetings and conference calls were becoming my social life; all at the cost of my relationships with my family, my friends, even my health. While I didn’t practice work-life balance, I preached it from on high to my employees and vigorously supported the practice throughout my organization. Sheer HR hypocrisy!

So what’s the problem? A little hard work never killed anyone…
Can we be sure about that? Rarely are the boundaries between work and life clear. Today, however, work is likely to invade life leaving little time for personal fulfillment, family, self-care, and never mind yoga.

The impact of all work and no play…
Fatigue. When your employees are tired, their ability to perform productively often suffers — which could lead to dangerous or costly mistakes.
Poor health. Studies have proven that stress adversely impacts the immune system and can worsen the symptoms employees experience from most medical conditions.
Poor quality time with support systems. Missing important family events or working through precious time with family can leave employees feeling isolated and disconnected from what brings them to work in the first place.
Seize the opportunity to support your employees. This is traditionally a time of year when employees are most challenged in maintaining a healthy balance. It’s prime time for you to conduct a review of your workforce to determine how you can support them in achieving a better work-life balance.

Check in directly to the source…
Take time to find what motivates your employees, find out what’s important to them. What makes your employees keep coming back day after day? Hold focus groups or include a few key questions in your next staff engagement survey around work-life balance aimed at identifying concerns, and common stressors. You may be surprised at how simple questions like “how can we support you in achieving work-life balance?” may reveal some prime opportunities to support them.

Review your HR policies for opportunities…
Perhaps your organization has policies, guidelines, or practices that could be modified or downright retired. I’m referring to policies or guidelines drafted before job sharing, flexible working hours and telecommuting became a standard part of the American working experience. A little flexibility to an employee managing children, aging parents, 2-hour commutes, a shrinking paycheck, and a bake sale here and there may help tip the scales in their favor when it comes to successfully balancing the demands of the job and family. Is it still reasonable to expect employees to “check their personal lives at the door” for 8 to 10 hours in in this age of immediate responsiveness and expectations of 24/7 availability?

Model work-life balance from the top down…
Employees tend to take their cues from leadership. While being driven to over the top performance, your leadership could be unintentionally modeling behaviors that are counter to work-life balance. Sending emails on the weekends, holidays, or off-hours could signal to employees that this is the standard; and furthermore that 24/7 availability and responsiveness a requisite for advancement and success. Encourage your leadership, from the top down, to model a healthy work-life balance.

If lower burnout, higher engagement, and higher retention is your organization’s objective, then reconsider the message that your leaders are sending when sending emails at those ungodly hours of the night, or when they are working without rest or meal breaks and subconsciously checking their watch for anyone that comes in after 8:00 AM and leaves before 7:00 PM. In other words, LIGHTEN UP! Supporting your employees in having a work-life balance can actually increase productivity. Make an effort to reward efficiency over hours worked. In the long run, your employees will be far more productive.

Striking a healthy work-life balance is a culture shift, and takes a commitment and concerted effort. It is a continuous process as your employee’s families, interests, and work-life changes. Put work-life balance on the docket and prioritize it as one of your organization’s objectives. This may prove to be a most productive culture change.