In today’s work environment, with unrelenting pressure to get more things done in less time and the technological capacity to stay connected around the clock, employees often struggle to balance the demands of their work and personal lives. However, companies can help employees by giving them more flexibility to integrate the two, according to several consultants and studies.
Over half of workers are stressed at work on a daily basis, and 60 percent say that work-related pressure increased in the last five years, according to a survey from Accountemps. More than half of the CFOs in the same survey agreed that their teams are stressed, with the top causes being heavy workloads and deadlines, work-life balance and unrealistic expectations from managers.
"Technology makes people more effective, but it blurs the line between work and non-work time. It’s not easy to get work done at the office and be a great mom or dad," Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps, told Bloomberg BNA.
Employers can reduce stress and help employees handle competing demands by allowing more flexibility on where and how work gets done, according to Driscoll. Managers can also play a major role, communicating with employees, "encouraging them to take breaks and asking what work/life means to them," he said.
Flexible scheduling, paid time off and technology can allow employees to customize how they manage their work, Driscoll added. "Companies can do this to retain people and prevent the loss of productivity through burnout. Turnover also impacts productivity. They can create a workplace that enables people to have a balance," Driscoll said.
Work-life integration is apparently a better choice, cognitively, than trying to balance between the two, according to research first published in the journal Human Relations and later reported in the Harvard Business Review.
The study looked at 600 employees and found that workers who had fewer boundaries between work and life—that is, the ones who incorporated the two instead of trying to segment them—maintained higher levels of job performance overall. The researchers suggest that companies allow employees to take that personal call or work from home to boost productivity.
Employees who are allowed to take time off as needed or to address personal matters during working hours may ultimately be more productive and better focused on their jobs in the long run, according to Kevin Cashman, senior partner, CEO & Executive Development, of Korn Ferry. Cashman also authored The Pause Principal, a book about how taking a break can lead to breakthroughs in ideas.
"It is counter-intuitive, but the more complexity and importance a problem has, the more likely we are to break through with an idea during a pause," Cashman said. When issues are more complex, the typical reaction is to try to be hyperactive and work faster, but taking a break can help people to gain a new perspective, Cashman said. Employees also need that balance, to ensure continued productivity and avoid burnout, he said.
Creating a better work/life balance (or integration) requires companies to figure out what employees want, and they must also train managers to better handle workers with flexible schedules, according to Driscoll. "It takes top-down regulations to become a key part of the company culture," but employers can make gains in areas such as turnover, productivity and burnout if they help employees deal with competing demands from their work and personal lives, he said.
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