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How to Support Employee Work Life Balance in a Pandemic

Work life balance is a very important aspect of a healthy work environment. Employees who can balance their personal lives and careers are more engaged, more productive, and less likely to suffer from the dreaded employee burnout.

With the pandemic, it has become harder than ever to set boundaries between work and personal time. Studies show that newly remote employees are working longer hours than ever before, finding it difficult to disconnect at the end of the day, and experiencing high levels of stress. This leaves HR managers with tough decisions. How to support employee work life balance when work and life are both happening in the same place

In this post, we’ll offer our best tips for helping employees achieve balance even when they are working from home.

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Create a culture of gratitude.

The benefits of gratitude are well-documented. Gratitude improves our physical and psychological health, enhances empathy, and reduces aggression. It improves sleep, reduces depression and anxiety, and contributes to stronger relationships. Creating a culture of gratitude in the workplace boosts employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

Gratitude is more important than ever. The uncertainty and stress of the pandemic have made it difficult to see the things that we are most thankful for and employers must work overtime to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in the workplace.

Encourage employees to thank each other with kudos at the all-hands meeting. For example, at Factorial, we have “normal kudos,” in which one employee thanks another for helping them out. We also have “funny kudos,” where employees submit silly videos offering thanks. Finally, we have the most beloved: “special kudos,” in which an employee treats their colleague to an employer-subsidized cookie and coffee. These little gestures give employees an opportunity to practice gratitude and feel more connected to the community.

So, how does gratitude impact employee work life balance? It makes employees feel more valued, more satisfied, and less stressed. That means workplace anxieties will be less likely to bleed into their home life.

Focus on productivity rather than hours.

When keeping track of a remote workforce, managers may be tempted to track employee hours more closely. With employees no longer coming to the office every day, it is easy to imagine that they won’t be clocking their usual hours. However, managers need not worry. In fact, one study found that the average length of the employee workday actually increased by 48.5 minutes during the pandemic.

Worryingly, this increase in working time does not correlate with increased productivity. Employees, wracked with anxiety, stuck in interminable meetings, and struggling to collaborate across screens have been less productive. In many organizations, poor collaboration and inefficient work practices have actually reduced productive time by 2% to 3% even as workers clock longer hours.

Managers that want to promote employee work life balance but still meet their goals should be sure to measure employee performance in terms of productivity, not time. This will motivate employees to get their work done faster so that they can focus on the life part of the work life balance. Trust us; Any hours lost won’t be missed– they probably weren’t very productive anyway.

Update your time off policies.

Employee burnout will undermine the effectiveness of any organization. There is only one known cure: vacation. Research has shown that taking time off of work is good for employees who come back from vacation feeling refreshed, more productive, and eager to tackle their goals.

Taking time off from work is more important now than ever, as stress levels continue to rise and days become indistinguishable from one another. As the lines between work and life blur, employees may feel that they have to be “always on.” However, many Americans have been forced to delay their vacation travel plans because of current circumstances. It may not occur to them to take time off when there is, seemingly, nothing to see and nowhere to go.

Even so, managers should encourage employees to make use of their vacation days for staycations, smaller trips, or personal projects. Even if employees are at first reluctant, they are sure to enjoy their time off in the end. Managers may even consider personalizing their time off policies to support employee mental health. Offering more time off will help employees to strike a better work life balance.

It is important to remember that employee vacations have a strong ROI. The cost of replacing employees very high and time off is a great way to improve employee morale and retention.

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Encourage breaks.

Breaks, like vacations, have become a casualty of the American live-to-work mentality. Even lunch breaks have been sacrificed on the altar of productivity, with 62% of workers admitting that they have lunch at their desks.

In the pandemic, remote workers may be even more likely to skip their lunch break as their workspace intersects with their living space. Eating at your desk may not be avoidable when your desk is the kitchen table, but it is up to managers to make sure employees are making full use of their lunch break rather than chowing down while stressing out.

Lunch breaks make for happier, more effective employees. One survey found that American employees who take a lunch break every day reported higher engagement based on metrics including job satisfaction, productivity, and likelihood to recommend their workplace to others.

Leaders must create psychological safety for employees so that they feel they can afford to take time for lunch. Even if managers know that they won’t penalize employees who take their full breaks, employees may fear the stigma. Will others see them as less productive? Managers should vocally encourage lunch breaks, short walks, and coffee breaks. Leading by example is a great way to encourage employees to enjoy moments away from work so they can come back refreshed.

Offer flexibility.

Finding work life balance is difficult when employees have more responsibilities than ever before. Working parents have been especially hard-hit by the demands of childcare and homeschooling in addition to their full-time jobs. One of the best things managers can do to support balance is to offer employees the flexibility to make their own schedules in these trying times.

Remote tools can allow employees to coordinate asynchronously so that they don’t need to keep the same hours. Instead, employees can make time to care for children or other family members who need help. They’ll also be better able to take care of themselves.

Lead by example to encourage work life balance.

Now that vaccinations are rolling out, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have agreed to receive vaccinations on camera. Why? Because leaders need to lead by example in a crisis. The simplest way to help employees achieve a better work life balance is to demonstrate it yourself.

Develop a gratitude practice by regularly thanking employees for their unique contributions. When others show gratitude, celebrate their initiative and kindness. Focus on productivity in employee performance reviews instead of concentrating on hours. Offer more time off and then take advantage of the new policy to go for a hike, visit with family, or even read a book on your couch.

Take your lunch break, go for walks, leave early to pick up your kids. Your employees will follow your example. By creating a unique safe space, you encourage employees to cultivate work life balance. This means less burnout, more engagement, and high productivity. And most of all, it means a workforce of happy people who feel cared for, seen, and valued.

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