Thought Leadership: Work-Life Balance

rene boudreaux

There are moments in life when your whole world changes. Moving to a new city. Starting a new career. Getting married. Having a child. Retirement.

These are the moments that create a seismic shift in your perspective and your behavior. They often change your priorities, and it can be challenging to fit pre-existing responsibilities into that new priority structure.

As my wife and I get ready to welcome our first child, I’ve spent some time thinking about shifting priorities and that elusive concept of work-life balance. How do we find it? What does it look like? And why is it so hard to define?

In my quest to define work-life balance for myself, I’ve come up with five principles I think both employers and employees need to keep in mind when it comes to the work-life balance conversation.


Flexibility is key.

As my wife and I consider what we want our lives to look like after our baby arrives, we know we both want to be able to spend time with our newborn. My wife currently works 12-hour shifts as a nurse but plans to cut back after the baby is born.

Likewise, I prefer having flexibility in my job to deal with the demands of a newborn and to give my wife a break. This kind of balance is important to everyone’s mental health and well-being, allowing us to give our attention to both work and the people who mean the most to us.

Flexibility is a win-win for employers and employees. “When people have more flexibility, they can give you more of their energy and focused, dedicated time,” says Tracy Brower, vice president of workplace insights at Steelcase in Holland, Mich., and author of Secrets to Happiness at Work, in an article for SHRM.


Work-life balance doesn’t look the same for everyone.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to work-life balance. It’s about deciding what employees and companies need and figuring out how to mesh those needs into a system that works for everyone.

In a Business News Daily article, Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, says, “Work-life balance will mean different things to different people because, after all, we all have different life commitments. In our always-on world, balance is a very personal thing, and only you can decide the lifestyle that suits you best.”

While we can all strive for work-life balance, it’s also important to remember that no job is perfect. There will always be something that isn’t ideal. However, when companies put policies into place that prioritize employees’ mental, physical and spiritual well-being, they reap rewards as well.

“Employers who are committed to providing environments that support work-life balance for their employees can save on costs, experience fewer cases of absenteeism, and enjoy a more loyal and productive workforce,” Chancey says.


Explore different ideas.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about a four-day work week where employees work 32 hours at the same rate of pay that they receive for 40 hours. Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a 32-hour work week bill in the Senate, but it is unlikely to go anywhere. However, just because a 32-hour work week isn’t the law, it doesn’t mean it’s not an idea worth looking at for your company.

Other ideas that improve work-life balance for employees include paid family/medical leave and paternity leave. As a soon-to-be new dad, the idea of paternity leave is particularly appealing as it allows new fathers like me time to bond with their baby and be there to see to their wife’s needs instead of needing to rely on other family members or friends for support because the dad needs to go back to work.


Set boundaries.

With the advent of remote and hybrid styles of working, the boundary between work and home has blurred even further. I know when I work from home, it can be difficult to set work aside and focus on things at home. Having my own office at home helps as there is a specific place for work. When I’m done, I can shut the door, creating a delineation between work and home. Even so, it’s still easy to think, “I’ll just run in my office and do one thing.”

That’s why setting boundaries is important, both for employees and employers. Employees should be able to turn off their phones and not answer emails when they’re on personal time. Setting those expectations early lets everyone know where the boundaries are.

Employers can help with this by making it clear what hours they expect employees to be available – and which hours they expect them to be off. Setting aside time for employees to unplug and get away from work is important, and it starts with employers having systems in place for when employees want to use their PTO. Cross-training and setting the expectation that barring serious emergencies, employees on vacation are not to be bothered allows your workforce to unplug from job responsibilities and return refreshed.


Let technology help.

A lot of the talk about artificial intelligence has focused on how it is going to take jobs away from people, but in an article for SHRM, journalist Kathy Gurchiek argues that AI could simply make life a little better for all of us, automating mundane tasks that could push us toward a four-day work week.

Regardless of whether we get that four-day week, AI tools can help ease some of the workload, which will allow for more work-life balance in the long run. Start investigating how your employees can work in partnership with AI tools to allow for more work-life flexibility.

The struggle for work-life balance isn’t going to end any time soon, but there are things that both employees and employers can do to make it easier for everyone to juggle responsibilities at home and at work. As my juggling act is about to add a new plate to keep in the air, I’m thankful for the opportunity to give some of these principles a try.

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