In recent years, there has been a far greater prevalence in employers and employees alike recognizing the need for a good work-life balance. There is now a greater understanding of how beneficial it can be both for individuals and organizations as a whole. The benefits encompass many areas of the employee’s life, while also enabling them to become more effective at work. Many employers are putting in measures to support a good work-life balance, recognizing that they need to do this to enhance productivity and attract the best candidates to their workplace.
Work-life balance over time
The desire for a good work-life balance is not a new one. The phrase first came into common use during the 1970s and 80s as workers learned to juggle the demands of both work and family. Coming into the 21st century, the desire for balance grew greater, starting a trend of remote working and making the most of vacation days. Now, many young people who are entering the workplace for the first time are searching for a job that will fit around their lifestyle, rather than shaping a lifestyle to fit around work, as was more prevalent in the past.
The recognition of the need for a good work-life balance is generally a good thing, helping to prevent burnout and facilitate a more fulfilled life. However, it is not without problems, placing on today’s employees an expectation that they should be succeeding in both work and life, and causing stress when that does not happen.
Physical and mental health
Our understanding of how stress can impact on mental health has grown considerably in recent years. It can lead to anxiety and depression, with sleep problems such as insomnia only exacerbating the stress. It can also spill over into alcohol or substance abuse, as stressed individuals struggle to find ways to cope with their feelings.
We are also gaining a greater understanding of how good mental health is beneficial for health as a whole, with issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease known to be a possible consequence of severe stress.
In a good work-life balance, there is time for relaxation and exercise, a known factor in reducing stress. However, also simply ensuring that there is enough time for everything in itself reduces stress.
Benefits for employers
With employees today expecting to be able to maintain a good life away from work, employers who recognize the importance of a good work-life balance will attract more candidates for open positions in their workplace. This allows them to select employees of the highest caliber.
It will also help them get the best out of all employees. Many days each year are lost to ill health, and while sickness can never be eradicated, reduced stress levels can at least lessen the numbers of sick days taken each year and may also speed the recovery time.
Healthier, happier, less-stressed workers are also likely to be more productive. Employees who are exhausted or stressed are likely to at best result in sluggish levels of productivity, and at worst can cause mistakes that can take a financial toll on the company, damage their reputation, or even physically endanger others.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the medical profession, where life and death decisions happen every day, and mistakes could even result in the loss of life. Anybody who enters the medical profession expects a demanding work environment, and for the most part, medical professionals are able to find strategies that help them cope with the stress that occurs naturally in a fast-paced medical environment. Increasingly, medical workplaces are also rising to the challenge, putting strategies in place to help their employees leave the work behind to also enjoy a happy, healthy home life where work does not intrude.
Helping medical professionals to manage the demands of the work can start at the very beginning of their career, with the universities involved in training the new generation of medical professionals starting that support. Walsh University is a good example of this, offering online nursing programs that not only aim to teach students the mechanics of nursing, but also help them to develop in mind, body, and spirit so that they can find a good worklife balance. As the courses are fully online, students can schedule their studies around their other commitments – further helping them to avoid stressing out. Nursing is, of course, a challenging career and therefore qualifications will be hard-earned so learning to look after yourself in the process will stand you in good stead.
The development of technology has provided new ways that employers can offer a good work-life balance. The remote working that became commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic would have been impossible 20 years ago, but thanks to video conferencing platforms and internet in the home, it allowed collaboration and monitoring to continue. Remote working is often seen as a very simple way to improve a work-life balance, as by taking away a time-consuming commute, it provides employees with more time away from work without reducing their working hours.
How flexibility is the key
People’s expectations of what constitutes a good work-life balance vary from person to person and can even change for the same person at different stages of their career. There can be times when the career is the main focus, with the employee wanting to devote their time to it. Later on, perhaps after starting a family, a fulfilling home life needs to be factored into the equation. And, as already stated, the quest for a good work-life balance can be stressful if it is not fulfilled.
The more flexible a workplace can be, the easier it can be to facilitate everyone in balancing their lives to their personal requirements. The possibilities are endless, with job shares, a mixture of part-time and full-time positions, flexible working hours, the option to work more hours over fewer days, and remote working just some of them.
Not all options will be possible for all workplaces, but it is well worth employers taking a look at the possibilities to see what will work for both them and their employees.