Overworking staff causes a slew of problems that not only end up costing companies time and money, but even people’s lives. In fact, in Japan—one of the most overworked populations in the world—the word ‘karoshi’ literally means ‘overwork death’. Since 1999, karoshi cases in Japan have skyrocketed by nearly 3 times. About 80% of these work-related deaths end in stroke or heart failure, while rest turn to suicide—many of the victims are below the age of 29.

The consequences of overworking are not limited to Japan, all over the world people are living to work and not the other way around. This overworking epidemic has been linked to other issues like:

  • Depression
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Burn out

In recent years, the concept of work-life balance has become a hot topic, and for good reason: Healthier, happier people can work more efficiently. They miss less work, rack up fewer expenses, and are able to add more value to the company.  

As millennials begin to take over the workforce, companies are realizing that in order to reduce turnover, retain high performers and boost productivity, they need to keep their staff happy. Encouraging work-life balance and providing the proper resources for the team should be a top priority for all leaders. In this B2B Tips article, we share with you the essentials for building a successful work-life balance strategy for your team.

Flexible work arrangements

Everyone is different and that includes their working styles and personal lives. Offering flexible work arrangements that can be molded to fit individual needs is one of the keys to achieving work-life balance. Flexible work arrangements involve more than choosing your desk at the office, there are a variety of ways you can give your team the freedom to work in their optimal setting.

Remote work

With the advent of wireless internet and online business communication platforms, working remotely is more accessible than ever before. For instance, many software companies hire freelance programmers who work from their laptops in other countries. For many industries, having a nearly 100% remote team is a realistic possibility.

Working remotely is ideal for some people, for instance those with young children and families benefit a lot from being able to stay home. However, others may concentrate best in an office environment, and enjoy getting out of the house and in-person socializing with colleagues. As a best practice, leaders should think of offering remote workdays to everyone as needed. This adds variety to people’s work lives, reduces stress and even saves money!

Ergonomic and customizable workspaces

For those teams that have an office or cannot do business remotely, customizable office spaces work wonders. Office staff are at work for about two-thirds of their day, so it makes sense that the environment they work in should fit their needs. The classic fluorescent lights over rows of grey cubicles resembles a prison more than a space for innovation and collaboration.

Ergonomic offices are scientifically designed to help staff feel more comfortable while they perform job functions—things like stand-up desks, and treadmill desks are an example. Additionally, allowing staff to freely customize their desk areas, work from anywhere in the office, and create collaborative group working areas are solutions to the trapped feeling that some staff may get when their environment is too heavily controlled.

Vacations and time-off

In many countries, people often feel ashamed for taking time-off work to recharge which results in burnout and reduces productivity in the long term. Staff working in competitive and high-stress industries often avoid taking days-off, come into work ill, and work on holidays. In fact, 37% of millennials often feel guilty about taking time off work.

However, vacation time is a key component of a productive workforce. Taking time away from work allows staff to relax, recharge and come back refreshed and motivated to work. A study by EY found that for every 10 vacation hours a person took, their performance reviews were about 8% higher.

Employers play a key role in encouraging their team to take some downtime without feeling guilty. In addition to offering all employees paid vacation, leaders should encourage people to take at least 1 personal day every month to disconnect and recharge. Staff often get bogged down in work and forget to prioritize their time off. To avoid this, leaders should be set up to allow the team to lock in their upcoming vacation days each quarter. When team members can enjoy their lives outside of work, productivity skyrockets and the organization thrives.

Flexible working hours

Everyone is different and that includes their hours for peak productivity, but the classic 9am to 5pm structure limits this. While some people work best in the early hours of the morning, others are able to work most efficiently later in the day. Often, people end up wasting hours on end at work being unproductive and distracted because they’re being forced to work outside their optimal hours for efficiency. For instance, a night-owl could get a task done in 45 minutes after 5pm, but this same task takes 2+ hours in the morning.

Overly structured work hours end up costing the company precious time and money, in addition to reducing the productivity of the organization. While most organizations need their staff to be present for meetings and during peak business hours, on the day-to-day there’s often room for flexibility.

Instead of basing people’s performance on the hours they clock, productivity should be measured on the output of work. A simple solution is to offer flexible working hours between the times of 7am and 8pm to everyone as needed. This structure ensures the team is present during peak business hours, but also allows them to start and finish working when it’s best for them.

Separating personal and professional life

Drawing the line between work time and personal time can be tough for many people, especially those working in teams, start-ups and heavily competitive industries. Too often, staff are replying to emails long after they’ve left the office or working overtime to catch up on tasks.

However, failing to set boundaries on when to work and when to disconnect has several consequences. When people forget to leave work at work they end up burnt out, irritated, and resentful towards their job, which decreases their performance. When work problems mix with one’s private life, stress levels increase causing employees and their personal lives to suffer.

Leaders are responsible for setting these boundaries for their team, and helping staff leave work at the doorstep when they go home. Once the workday ends, everyone should be able to enjoy their personal lives without worrying about their reputation. Some tactics to help team members separate their personal and professional life include:

  • Setting limits on the number of overtime hours that can be worked
  • Encouraging the team to firmly plan and set aside personal time
  • Not sending messages or emails to the team outside of office hours  
  • Only letting staff use designated work computers, phones and emails for completing tasks

Today, there are several platforms available to help teams separate their work life from their personal life. For instance, the secure business chat app Rolo features a notification setting to that sets work hours so staff can’t be disturbed outside of work.

Self-awareness and reflection

Practicing self-reflection and becoming more self-aware helps not only the employees, but also the company as a whole. A team that is aware of their strengths and areas for improvement can achieve goals more efficiently together and make better decisions. Achieving work-life balance requires individuals to know what their needs are and how to prioritize their responsibilities to achieve both their personal and professional goals.

Journaling

Implementing scheduled self-reflection activities at the office encourages staff to take a step back, review their past accomplishments and failures and move forward with a clearer picture of their aspirations. Leaders can encourage self-reflection through journaling sessions during work hours on a consistent basis.

Goal setting

Get the team to periodically write down their personal and professional goals with work-life balance in mind. This helps staff make better decisions when prioritizing and managing their time in and outside of work. When people have something they care about to work towards, they’re more likely to feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which boosts motivation in the long term.

Debriefing sessions

Leaders should conduct weekly debriefing sessions with everyone to review the past week, set priorities for the upcoming workdays and get everyone on the same page. These sessions open up the door for clear communication, so leaders can better understand where the staff are unsatisfied and how to mediate issues that may not otherwise have been brought up.

Promoting healthy lifestyles

During times of high stress or when workloads are particularly demanding, team members often forget to prioritize self-care and end up sacrificing their health in the process. It’s easy for people to choose work over getting to the gym, enjoying time with friends, preparing a healthy meal or getting a good night’s sleep. However, in the long run people that make time for their health routines end up more productive than those that forgo healthy habits to work.

Health not only includes eating well and exercising, it also involves an individual's mental state and social habits. Most teams are likely spend a large part of their time at work, so promoting an environment that reinforces healthy living in the workplace is a key component of work-life balance. There are several strategies leaders can implement to keep their team healthy and happy:

  • Offer time to exercise or relax during work (in addition to a lunch break)
  • Provide coupons to exercise classes, meditation courses, and yoga sessions
  • Encourage staff to start clubs at the office like book or running clubs  
  • Organize monthly social events for the team like game nights, dinners, day-trips, sports events
  • Offer easy access to mental health services and therapy
  • Provide healthy snacks in the office
  • Encourage staff to pursue passion projects

Leadership bonus tips

To further optimize a work-life balance strategy, leaders can implement these bonus tactics:

Encourage open communications

Periodically ask staff for suggestions to improve or change the work-life balance strategy. Listening to staff opinions and acting as their companion rather than an authority, encourages more honesty in discussions.

Walk the talk

Good leaders, lead by example. Employers should be work-life balance role models for their staff. For instance, avoid sending late emails or staying after hours, take time out of the workday to exercise and relax, and talk about your upcoming vacation plans.

Cross-train employees

Training individual staff on the team in multiple areas is especially useful for when others want to take time off. Often, staff won’t take time off because they fear nobody can replace them while they’re away. Spreading knowledge across the team solves this problem, and employees can relax when time off is needed.

Conclusion

Forming a comprehensive work-life balance strategy helps make it a priority in the day-to-day workings of the business. When staff are able to enjoy their personal life, they become more relaxed, inspired and happy. In turn they make more efficient use of their time at work, adding value to the organization, while also saving time and money. When people can enjoy their private lives while also making a living, everyone wins!