We are living in a fast-moving business world where technology and social media have become part of our daily lives – we are almost dependent on them. Customers are becoming more demanding every day, expecting speedy replies and 24/7 service. Employees are working longer hours, taking their laptops home, taking phone calls and replying to e-mails in the evenings rather than spending time relaxing.  It is this segment of the population- those who work long hours or during bank holidays – who require supermarkets, banks and other services to be open during unconventional hours, generating a vicious circle of supply-and-demand across different sectors and leaving very little time for employees to focus on their personal life.

Why is work-life balance important?

Work-life balance involves being able to leave work stress at work and family stress at home, meaning people can concentrate on work related tasks while in the workplace and being more productive, whilst dedicating time to family, relationships and personal hobbies while at home. Finding a good level of work-life balance helps to reduce stress and to prevent health and mental illnesses. As a result, employees are happier, there is less absenteeism and teams are more efficient and productive.

In a candidate-driven market, having a good reputation as an employer has become key to attracting great new employees. Encouraging work-life balance can work to your advantage as a business to keep employees engaged, helping you to retain your staff and saving you time and money usually involved with replacing an employee.

The right to disconnect

work-life balance

The right to disconnect, or as it is called in French law “Le droit à la déconnexion”, has been part of the French Labour Code since January 2017. It is a human right created by the French government to support work-life balance. According to this law, employees have no obligation to respond to work e-mails or phone calls after working hours, or to take home any work files, when employed by a company with more than 50 employees. How businesses will stick to the law depends on the employer: they can create new shifts to cover out of hours services, re-organize the workload or re-think their opening hours, services and policies.

France is not the only country who supports these practices. In the Philippines, the Labour Code includes “An act granting employees the right to disconnect from work-related electronic communications after work hours” and has been effective from February 2017. It protects employees from being reprimanded or punished for disregarding work-related communication sent after work-hours. In Italy, the Agreement of Aggregate Work identifies the worker’s rest periods as well as technical and organisational measures to ensure that the worker is disconnected from any technological equipment.

It is important to highlight that the right to disconnect is an employee’s choice, not an employee’s obligation, meaning that people who are required to work whilst out of the office can choose to do so, either because they hold a managerial position, they are in a commission-based job or simply because they enjoy the lifestyle.

There are other countries who support the idea even when it is not legally binding. In Germany for example, there are several companies who have introduced similar practices since the beginning of this decade: Volkswagen implemented a policy that stops email servers from sending emails to its employee’s mobile phones between 6pm and 7am; Daimler introduced software that gives employees the option to automatically delete incoming emails while they are on holiday; and Germany’s employment ministry banned its managers from contacting staff after hours.

In the UK, the awareness of work-life balance is growing and many initiatives are being trialled and introduced. At Whitehall, we support employee’s wellness through regular breaks, supplying fresh fruit every day, and providing comfortable break out and relaxation areas. We occasionally hold ‘Dogs at Work’ days – which not surprisingly are very popular! These are having a positive impact and are one of the reasons we rank 19th in The Sunday Times “Best Small Companies to Work for”.

“It’s not about leaving the office early, it’s about integrating work and lifestyle. At the end of the day, employers that trust their staff to do their job to the best of their ability, and recognise that everyone has commitments and interests outside the office, will create more loyalty.” – David Whitby, UK Country Manager at Glassdoor

How to support your employees to achieve work-life balance

As an employer, there are a few things you can do to encourage and support your employees in the process of finding the balance between family and work life.

  • Promote work-life balance – Promote messages and policies across the organisation that acknowledge the association between work stress and mental health. Lead by example, ensure managers and senior leaders have a work-life balance too.
  • Train the managers – Invest in training to enable managers to identify when a team member is not performing or showing signs of distress. Audit the work environment to identify factors that could be detrimental to their health. Promote a policy of open communication to enable employees to speak out when the workload is becoming too much, and monitor indicators of sickness or absence.
  • Focus on productivity rather than hours – Help employees to prioritise and differentiate between what is important and what is not, to enable them to work smarter not harder.
  • Organise team-building exercises – These help employees feel confident and supported by peers, trusting they will take care of their workload while they are on a break or on holiday.
  • Implement short breaks – Implement small short breaks throughout the working day to get employees to divert their attention from screens.
  • Encourage employees to take holidays – An effective way is to get them to book their holidays by the end of each year, without an option to carry over to the next year or financial repayment.
  • Support your team – Create programs to help your employees follow their passions, achieve their purpose and perform by taking individual responsibility for their work, health and well-being. There are specific software systems who can assist businesses on this matter, such as SAP SuccessFactors Work-Life.
  • Promote exercise – Walking meetings outside the office, a fifteen minute office yoga lead by an outsourced instructor or a ping pong table can get people to move. Some companies have a gym on site or offer gym membership discounts.
  • Create a breakout area – Whether it is a room to chill out, one with video games or with jumbo Jenga, having a space to socialise and relax during their breaks, can give people the opportunity to distract their minds from the workload.

work-life balance

  • Respect lunch times and holidays – Implement a system in which no one is vital for the business’ operations. Organise cover rotas and communicate the changes to the rest of the business. You can also use “Out of office” e-mails and voicemails to re-direct people to another member of staff.
  • Offer childcare services – Onsite childcare services or childcare vouchers can help reduce family stress. If this is not an option, flexible hours could be considered, allowing parents to organise their day in an efficient manner that works for them.
  • Promote social events – It can be a birthday party, drinks at a bar, volunteering for a charity or a business celebration. Social events encourage colleagues to talk to each other and meet in a non-stress environment, making it more relaxed and casual when they meet in the workplace.

Being an ambassador of work-life balance and creating awareness within the business, can help your employees to identify activities and attitudes that could be detrimental to their well-being, and those which could have a positive impact not just in the workplace but also in their personal life.

In conclusion, if you are interested in building your reputation as an employer, lead by example and through the working culture. The aim is to increase performance and productivity whilst promoting a healthy lifestyle.