Work-Life Balance: The key to healthy employees and organizations
By Maggie Carey and Kelly Cave
What is work-life balance?
Both organizations and individuals thrive when employees feel a sense of autonomy, high morale, and overall happiness. In recent years, many have begun to think that the way to achieve this is through emphasizing the importance of work-life balance. This “work-life balance” phrase has been a buzzword in popular culture, but what exactly is work-life balance? More importantly, how can individuals and organizations reap the benefits of this concept? Occupational health researchers commonly define work-life balance as the ability to accomplish goals and meet demands in both work and personal life domains . One of the major frameworks that researchers use to describe the strain that arises from a poor work-life balance is the job demands and control model . According to this model, employees experience strain as a result from an overload of demands and an insufficient amount of resources to handle those demands. In the case of work-life balance, a common example of a demand many workers face is an excessive workload. One resource employees can use to handle that demand is sufficient time to complete work. However, if companies do not provide the proper resources to handle the demands employees face, strain arises, and wellbeing suffers.
Why is work-life balance important?
In recent years, several organizations – including the American Psychological Association (APA) – have conducted national surveys, which support the claim that conflict between our work and life domains is one of the major stressors experienced by employees. The Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology recognizes the importance of improving employee health and wellness by listing work-life balance and the integration of work and non-work as a “Top 10 Workplace Trend” for the past seven years. Dr. Diane Halpern, former president of the APA, went one step further and suggested that the ability to balance work and non-work domains is one of the biggest social challenges of our era. Thus, it is imperative that both organizations and individual employees are aware of the consequences an imbalance can cause.
Many people think work-life balance is a luxury – something that is nice to have but is not necessary and impractical to achieve. Contrary to this belief, a lack of balance is a huge health and wellbeing concern that impacts both the individual employee and the organization. Issues resulting from a lack of work-life balance have become more apparent in recent years, likely due to the increase in employed adults. A report from the 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics found that an overwhelming 61% of married couple families with children have both parents employed. Additionally, the labor force participation rate for all women with children under the age of 18 has climbed to over 70%. While this increase in employed adults has its benefits, work-life balance could pose more of a challenge to these groups of people. Additionally, parents are not the only ones whose work-life balance is impacted. A 2011 Gallup poll concluded that 1 in 6 working Americans report caregiving responsibilities associated with an elderly or disabled family member or friend. About 56% of these caregivers also reported working full time. In addition to having extra responsibilities, about 70% of employees with caregiving responsibilities reported experiencing work-related difficulties due to their dual roles. These difficulties include rearranging their work schedule, taking unpaid leave, and decreasing their hours . Due to this changing nature of the workforce and the prevalence of responsibilities outside of work, work-life balance has emerged as a modern-day problem with harmful consequences.
What are the consequences of a poor work-life balance?
As stressors increase in either work or life domains, a healthy work-life balance becomes harder and harder to achieve, leading to both personal and organizational consequences. At the individual level, a poor work-life balance is linked to both psychological and physical health outcomes . Studies have shown that individuals who report greater conflict between their work and non-work lives also report lower levels of job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and commitment to their organization [5 & 6]. At both the individual and organizational level, increased conflict is associated with higher levels of absenteeism, turnover, stress, and burnout [6-10]. Research has also linked increases in work-life conflict with decreases in job performance [6 & 11].
In addition to the negative personal outcomes, poor work-life balance also has negative impacts on organizations, especially financially. For American businesses, the cost of stress has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. Hatfield reported that stress-related illnesses cost American businesses between $50 billion and $150 billion a year in 1990. Now, almost three decades later, the estimated stress costs for American businesses have doubled to about $300 billion a year . These costs are typically a result of the increases in absenteeism, turnover, and reduced levels of productivity by employees suffering from a poor work-life balance.
What can your organization do to help?
Organizations worldwide are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences a poor work-life balance can have, and many are seeking solutions to reduce its negative effect. Fortunately, researchers have found evidence to suggest that lower conflict between work and life domains is related to better individual health outcomes and organizational outcomes. Review studies have concluded that less conflict is associated with higher levels of employee commitment, job satisfaction, job performance [5, 6, & 11], and organizational citizenship behaviors .
So, what can organizations do to help promote their employees’ work-life balance? One common strategy organizations implement is alternative work arrangements. This can include flexible work scheduling or telecommuting. The purpose of these arrangements is to give employees a greater perception of job flexibility. Other strategies may include work redesign, which aims to increase schedule control and may include the addition of a self-scheduling system, or dependent care support, such as on-site child care, subsidized child care, or additional sick days. When these strategies are not viable, training can be used to help employees gain control over their unique work-life situations by teaching them strategies that can be used to improve their balance.
With this information in mind, maybe it’s time to rethink if you and your organization are making successful strides to a better level of work-life balance. Unfortunately, many will continue to overuse “work-life balance” as nothing more than a buzzword, and others will still feel that it is a luxury – something that is nice to have but impractical to achieve and unnecessary. Knowing both the individual and organizational psychological, physical, and financial benefits, where do you stand? How will you capitalize on the potential benefits of work-life balance at your organization?
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