As millions of office workers around the world juggled their home and working lives in the same space last year, one thing became clear — work-life balance is arguably more important than it ever has been. According to Bloomberg, we are working an average of three hours extra a day. And the companies who do not prioritize work-life balance for their employees are likely to lose out and fall victim to the ‘Great Resignation.’ In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some four million Americans quit their job in July 2021. The Harvard Business Review found this is most likely to impact 30-45-year-olds who work in health and tech and attributes a lot of it to high burnout associated with increased workloads. So, who are the companies with the best work-life balance and what can we learn from them about recruiting and retaining the best talent? And what lessons may work best at our own organizations? Read on to find out how companies with good work-life balance are coming out on top, post-pandemic and what that may mean for the future of how we work. 1. Capital One’s holistic approach to wellbeing Named in The Washington Post’s Top WorkPlaces of 2021 list, this financial giant employs 40,000 people and takes the approach that our financial, physical, and emotional wellbeing are closely linked. To maintain this, the group offers on-campus healthcare centers and access to affordable mental health care for their families. Capital One also encourages staff to get involved in community mentoring programs and increased paid time off for parents and caregivers during the pandemic. The company also encourages their staff to discuss important societal issues (such as the killing of George Floyd) with dedicated town halls and has pledged $200 million to support Black and Latinx small businesses. 2. Better.com’s emphasis on family support Topping Fortune’s 2021 Best Workplaces in New York™ list, mortgage company Better.com had big plans for an on-site daycare ahead of the pandemic. To support parents working from home last year, they launched a virtual day camp called Better Birds to give their staff parents a much-needed break. As Alex D’Amico, senior director of talent strategy, told Fortune.com, it’s all about listening to your staff’s needs and reacting to them: “We always speak about being first-to-market and being nimble in the delivery of our product to our customer. And I think from an HR side, from the people team, we want to meet that model for our employees.” Photo: Alexander Dummer via Unsplash 3. Sisense’s long weekends every quarter For employees at data analytics software company Sisense (another one that made it onto Fortune’s 2021 Best Workplaces in New York™ list), work-life balance is helped immensely by ‘Coming Up For Air’ days. A unique perk, Sisense gives every staff member in the company the first Friday following the end of the quarter off. Nurit Shiber, chief people officer at Sisense told Fortune: “The intention was to allow us to recharge after each quarter by spending more time with our loved ones, participating in a fun activity, or by just taking a break and getting ready for the next quarter.” To really commit, the company bans emails and phone calls during this time. Each employee has two self-care days every quarter to rest up. 4. Forster Communications’ rewarding healthy commutes Trying to change the culture of PR, an industry not known for work-life balance, Forster Communications not only developed a toolkit to help others in the sphere, they practice what they preach. Developed with Public Health England, the toolkit is free to download for employers in the UK and provides insights into physical activity, healthy eating, mental health, sleep, and recovery. To help encourage time out from the office, staff at the company who walk or cycle to the office are rewarded with extra PTO days and can gain money back from every mile they actively commute to meetings. 5. Expedia’s travel allowance for loyalty Once called “The Happiest Workplace in the UK” by Business Insider, travel company Expedia rewards staff who stay at the company for at least 12-18 months with a travel allowance of between £6,000 (around $8,176) and £10,000 (around $13,626). The company also encourages staff to pursue activities of their choice with a wellness allowance of between £400 and £1,200 ($545 - $1635). Staff can spend these on items such as running shoes, tennis rackets, or gym memberships to help them switch off from work. Whether you would benefit most from a healthier commute, an on-site daycare, an amazing free holiday, access to Nike’s 286-acre sports center, or Netflix’s full year of parental leave, companies with the best work-life balance are changing the landscape. They are showing us that there are more ways to reward employees than just salary or seniority and that now is an important time for companies to really listen and provide for their staff’s work-life balance needs.
The past 18 months of increased remote work have made us all question what we want from our office culture – from whether a commute is really necessary to whether the "increased productivity" it creates is actually just a facade. After all, as The Washington Post reports, up to 80% of US workers are as productive (if not more productive) when they work from home. This period has also made us question whether some aspects of ‘office culture’ can actually be quite detrimental to equality in the workplace. One of those aspects is the arbitrary division of certain tasks by gender that often go unrewarded. A recent article by Nieman Labs explained it is not your female colleagues’ job to buy you cake. Let us explain. In your office, who tends to organize the leaving cards, the birthday cakes, or even the Secret Santa? As the Harvard Business Review outlines, unfortunately, these tend to be carried out by women, and are what they call “non-promotable tasks.” Not only are women more likely to volunteer for these kinds of tasks, but they are also more likely to be asked to do them, and to say yes when asked. As this report details, taking these tasks on (and indeed, saying no to them) tends to have a negative impact on their career prospects, and ultimately, increase gender inequality in the workplace. And as one study published in the American Sociological Review found, although women are more likely to be described as "helpful" or "community-oriented" in their performance evaluations, this was not associated with receiving the highest performance rating (for men or women). The simple solution? These tasks need to be divided at a management level, or as Niemen Labs puts it, “managers buy the cakes.” So, why can gender roles in the workplace be so detrimental? This expectation at work is especially detrimental when you account for what sociologists refer to as “the second shift” of extra household duties that many working women must complete after work each day. As a recent article by Vox explains, although women may be more likely to want to work from home than men, they have a harder time doing so. Women (and especially mothers) working from home tend to report higher rates of stress, depression, and hours clocked. “In other words, women need more flexible work arrangements, because women have more to do.” Of course, not eradicating supposed gender roles at work can also have a negative impact on men. One of these destructive gender stereotypes is that men should prioritize work over family. As Thekla Morgenroth, a research fellow in Social and Organisational Psychology at the University of Exeter, told the BBC: “Men who do take parental leave can therefore face backlash and be seen as weak, lacking work commitment and so on, which can result in consequences at work such as being demoted or not taken seriously. Men are, of course, aware of these potential consequences, and this could definitely contribute to them deciding against taking parental leave even if it's offered.” How do we tackle that? Sarah Forbes, a researcher at Birmingham University Business School, suggests visible “fatherhood champions” at companies, both to inspire fathers to take leave and improve their knowledge of leave provisions. Calculating the cost of gender inequality in the workplace Unfortunately, the nature of discrimination tends to be cross-sectional, meaning that Black women don’t just have to contend with gender discrimination at work; they also may experience racial discrimination. For example, The Guardian reports that Black women in the US have to work 19 months to earn what white men earn in one year. In fact, Black women are only paid 63c to every dollar that non-Hispanic white men earn, equating to a potential loss of $946,000 over a lifetime. To combat this, the report iterates performing regular pay audits and creating a plan to address significant pay gaps for employees with similar roles and experience but who may differ only by race or gender. Building equality and inclusivity into workplace language There are other powerful ways we can target gender inequality in the workplace for a better division of what The Financial Times calls ‘office housework.’ One of these is the role of language and how gender-coded language can affect employees. According to the BBC, as we tend to associate particular language and behaviors with particular genders (‘agentic’ with male and ‘communal’ with female), using this language in job advertisements can put off great candidates from applying for particular roles. John Fiset, of Canada’s Saint Mary’s University, shares an example of the two from actual job posts: Communal: “We’ll support you with the tools and resources you need to reach new milestones as you help our customers reach theirs.” Agentic: “Tell us your story. Don’t go unnoticed. Explain why you’re a winning candidate.” It’s a simple adjustment to make but a powerful one. One so powerful that behavioral designer Kat Matfield created an online tool called Gender Decoder so you can check your job descriptions for subtle gender bias. What each person can do to tackle gender inequality in the workplace Each day, there are simple steps each of us can take to strive for better equality in the workplace. These include (but are not limited to): End imposter syndrome: Have direct conversations with employees about perceived inadequacies and what you can do about them, have empathy and share your own experiences. Take time to understand the biases that women (particularly women of color) may encounter and see what you can do to tackle these. Be an ally for female employees: Share your time generously with female colleagues and be available for impromptu support. Ensure you make an effort to share their wins and to be heard in meetings. Finally, make an effort to ensure office housework is evenly distributed and normalize saying “no” if not. As our workplaces evolve post-pandemic, it’s time to leave antiquated ideas of gender roles behind and promote equal pay, less burnout, and equal time with our children. It is the perfect opportunity to do what we can to tackle gender inequality in the workplace once and for all.
It’s been almost 15 months since the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, the US borders closed to much of the rest of the world, and around 42% of 157 million US workers (almost 66 million) switched to working remotely full-time. While some experts argue that this has led to an unhealthy always-on culture and the rise of Zoom fatigue, we have learned a few very important lessons from remote working that we need to keep in mind as some of us choose to return to work in an office setting. As a result of the flexible remote work policies that have remained for many post-pandemic, many workers are moving to more affordable parts of their metro areas. In the cities of New York and San Francisco specifically, they are leaving the city completely, ditching high living costs for more affordable locations. But it hasn’t been the only major change the remote work revolution has brought. Even before the pandemic, achieving work-life balance had become the second most important factor for US workers in relation to choosing a company after compensation. And the blurred lines that a year of remote work (along with closed schools) brought have forced that further into focus. As Forbes shares, the increased acceptance of working from home may help our workforce to finally gain a better work-life balance. It’s no doubt that a year of remote work has changed both our lifestyles and our priorities greatly. So, what have we learned from the advantages of remote working? And what impact will that have on our decision of whether we want to be working from home or the office? A flexible remote work policy is a must for employers An interesting trend emerged when younger generations entered the workforce – they weren’t afraid to prioritize work-life balance. But what is even more important is that older employees are just as likely to want flexible working — they are just less likely to ask for it, according to The New York Times. In a report by Harvard Business School, the vast majority of the 11,000 workers and 6,500 business leaders surveyed listed expectations for flexible, autonomous work, better work/life balance, and remote work as the development most urgently affecting their businesses. Only 30% cited that they were prepared for these. And according to The Times, 50% of employees would quit if denied a flexible remote work policy, so it’s a shift that employers will need to pay serious attention to. Teams need the right tools working from home or the office Leaning into a year of remote work made it blisteringly obvious that not all employees had access to the right software. According to a report by Deloitte, employees who worked in a culture that encouraged innovation and had access to collaboration tools were 34% happier than those who did not. And although a third had requested better collaboration tools, only a third of these received a positive response to the request. Interestingly, when employees used the tools they were familiar with at home in the office, they reported increased productivity, higher engagement, and improved morale. [caption id="attachment_466139" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash[/caption] Achieving work-life balance is more important than ever When many employers initially feared that a move to working from home would lead to lower levels of productivity, study after study has found the opposite – employees get more done but only because they work longer hours. In fact, US workers are working on average three hours extra a day. The long-term result of this? Higher levels of burnout and decreased productivity. And in the short-term? Half of us (54%) are checking our devices more outside of work hours, feel more alone (24%), have gained weight (22%), and feel a decrease in our mental health (21%). The impact of these worrying trends from remote work has revealed that achieving a work-life balance is absolutely paramount for our health and happiness. It is vital that employers need to do what they can to encourage and promote this for their employees. Remote working has proved not every meeting is necessary Like it has done for achieving work-life balance, remote work has made it glaringly obvious that we need to use our time at work wisely. And often, that means clearing our calendar of unnecessary meetings. Recently, investment bank Citigroup announced a ‘Zoom-free’ Friday to ease the video call fatigue associated with our new ways of working. A large-scale study by Microsoft found that in about 30% of video meetings, employees interacted with their emails, while in 25% of meetings, they worked on other files such as documents. This was especially true for longer meetings and meetings held early in the day. Possibly the most important finding was that attendees of meetings that lasted 80 minutes or more were six times more likely to multi-task than those who were in meetings that lasted 20 minutes or less. Whether we are working from home or office, we need to be selective about how long our meetings need to be (or indeed, if the discussion requires a meeting at all). Employees need the choice of working from home or office It will come as no surprise that sharing a workspace with your children, pets, or spouse (sometimes in very small spaces) is not for everyone. The Society for Human Resources Management reminds that some employees are uncomfortable with the isolation of remote work. They share the example of The New York Times’ newspaper unit who prefer working from the office as it is what they are used to. According to The Wall Street Journal, around 25% of work time will be from home (versus 5% pre-pandemic). Meanwhile, Forbes shares a lengthy list of employers that are offering indefinite remote work. The main takeaway is that employees will inevitably have different preferences – the most important thing is that they are given a choice. We need to rethink how we use office space As a result of this choice and the reality that fewer employees will be in the office, organizations will no doubt need to rethink how they use their office space. And let’s face it, it’s a massive expense for employers – it can cost up to $595 per square foot. Even pre-pandemic, it’s estimated that around 30-40% of desks were typically unoccupied anyway. A study by WeWork found that post-COVID, most employees will want to split their time between the office, home, and other locations such as co-working spaces, libraries, or cafés. ComputerWeekly shares that a quarter of employers are planning to reduce their office space, while almost three-fifths say they planned to change meeting room layouts to make it easier for remote staff to participate in discussions, while 55% would add video-conference rooms. The biggest lesson from remote work whether we are working from home or office? This year of remote work has been the catalyst to readjust our relationship to work and how we work. In the next normal, employers will need to give employees the opportunity to decide where and how they work, prioritize work-life balance, and get the flexibility they need to do their best work.
In February 2021, just two months before all US adults were to be offered a COVID-19 vaccine, Brent Heyder, the president of Salesforce, declared, “the 9-5 is dead." Even if it soon becomes safe for office-based employees to return to work in their droves, some companies are not entirely sure that the traditional 9 to 5 job is worth returning to. Instead, companies like Salesforce are giving employees the choice between: Flexible working (1-3 days in-office for collaboration, meetings, and presentations) Fully remote (for roles that do not require the office or those who live too far from one) Office-based (for roles that cannot be done from home) The company argues that ditching regular work week hours will improve employee connection, work-life balance, and equality, ultimately leading to increased innovation and better business outcomes. So, is the 9 to 5 job really dead? There is no doubt that flexible working looks likely to become a standard offering for many employers. With improvements to technology, we have seen trends such as the rise of digital nomadism flourish. Around 70% of employees expect flexible work schedules post-pandemic, and 50% say they would leave a job if it were not offered. However, the idea that “the 9-5 is dead” may be an oversimplification. According to a report by Inc., regular work week hours have always been a "modern-day illusion," and clocked time has never been a good indicator of progress or productivity. It argues that, by giving employees task ownership instead, they can complete these more efficiently with respect for both their own time and their teammates’. Inc argues that the 9-5 job is not dead because it did not really exist in the first place — most workers struggled to get their work done within the allocated time, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. By allowing flexible working and shifting our focus to outcomes and the benefits of remote working, workers can avoid burnout by using their time more wisely and setting appropriate, achievable timelines for their goals. Why working 9 to 5 hours may not suit younger employees Enabling flexible working will not only future-proof your organization to accommodate employees’ expectations, but it will also be an important move for retaining younger employees. For example, nearly one in two (45%) of millennials will choose flexibility over pay. And when the vast majority of businesses report that it costs $15,000 - $25,000 to replace a millennial employee, it could be an expensive mistake not to hear this preference. The New York Times echoes this, saying, “it’s not about jumping up titles, but moving into better work environments.” Companies such as Apple and Walmart have also begun to discuss the need to shift the focus from prioritizing shareholders to taking care of employees. An increase in flexible work schedules may also help gender equality. As more fathers and non-parents request it, there is less space for "the flexibility stigma" mothers experience to remain. A survey by Werk also found that older generations are just as likely to want flexible working — they’re just less likely to ask for it. How to move away from regular work week hours So, if flexible working is inevitable, then what is the best way to implement it? A report by Inc. advises to keep these three golden rules: Debunk the 40-hour myth. What was first introduced by Henry Ford in the early 1900s to attract autoworkers who were used to 12-hour shifts has become obsolete. In fact, having fewer hours to complete a task tends to sharpen focus. Adapt to peak-performance styles. Some people thrive by replacing their fifth working day with four 10-hour shifts, while some find that impossible. Offer your employees the opportunity to decide when and how they work best. Offer solutions to the challenges of working from home, including home office setup ideas and appropriate technology. Synchronize schedules. Ensure that teams who do need regular meetings have at least some overlap during their flexible working hours. This may not need to be every day but assess how often your team will need it. Different flexible working options Inc. outlines some of the options available for organizations hoping to move on from the concept of the 9 to 5 job below: Flexitime: Employees can choose from a range of available hours Compressed work week: The work week is compressed into fewer than five days (usually by creating four 10-hour days) Flexiplace: Employees can work virtually from home or any non-office location Job sharing: Two people voluntarily share the duties and responsibilities of one full-time position, with the salary divided according to this share Work sharing: Usually used to avoid layoffs, this introduces reduced hours and salaries for a portion of their workforce in order to maintain all employees Expanded leave: Employees can request extended periods of time away from work without losing their rights as employees – this can be paid or unpaid Phased retirement: Under this arrangement, the employer and employee agree to a schedule of gradual reduction of work commitments over a period of months or years Partial retirement: Employees can continue working on a part-time basis, with no established end date Work and family programs: Employers provide some degree of assistance to employees who have childcare or elder-care responsibilities Benefits of flexible work schedules According to job advertisement site Flexjobs, some of the benefits of leaving a 9 to 5 job behind for employees include: Improved retention: Even pre-pandemic, 80% of workers would choose a job that offered a flexible schedule over those that did not, with 80% saying they would be more loyal to their employer if afforded flexible working. Increased talent: By offering what is known to be one of the most attractive perks, offering flexible work schedules can help your organization recruit top-tier talent. Improved diversity: Not only has inclusion and equality become a non-negotiable for younger workers, building a more diverse workforce creates higher-performing teams, so it’s also smart business. Increased productivity: Even before the pandemic, remote workers worked more hours on average than in-office employees. But more importantly, shifting to a results-oriented culture enables teams to focus on getting the results they want. Improved employee engagement: One of the best ways to drive engagement is to show workers they are respected enough to be trusted with flexible working Decreased costs and environmental impact: Unsurprisingly, fewer overheads and less commuting (or at least less rush-hour traffic) have a hugely beneficial impact on cutting costs and helping climate change. How Wrike helps teams succeed with flexible working Now that the world’s workforce is starting to ditch the 9 to 5 job, we need the right software to keep up. Wrike enables teams who opt for flexible work schedules to gain 360° visibility on progress and productivity with shared dashboards, one-click Gantt charts, and advanced, automated reporting. Get started for free.
Starting to feel burnout from your 'always on' work culture? The initial results from ‘the great work from home experiment’ were very promising, with a third of managers reporting higher productivity levels. However, the data was missing one important factor — we had embraced an 'always on' work culture, forgetting the advantages of a work from home culture. The increased productivity did not account for the fact that we began working, on average, an extra three hours a day. Or that over half of us (54%) are checking our devices more outside of work hours, felt more alone (24%), had gained weight (22%), and felt a decrease in our mental health (21%). In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the excessive use of devices and resulting sleep issues cause us to be less productive. Ensuring better work-life balance isn’t just good for employees’ health, it’s good business. It reduces stress and the likelihood of burnout, which costs the U.S. economy somewhere between $125 - $190 billion dollars a year. It’s also part of a very important work trend indicating that each new generation that enters the workforce values the importance of work-life balance more than the last. Not just that, but several countries around the world have now started to create legislation around being contacted outside of work hours, or what the European Union has campaigned for as ‘the right to disconnect.’ So, what are the most effective work-life balance tips for an 'always on' work culture? Set up ‘working hour’ settings for all apps In what one Wall Street Journal writer described as ‘a masochistic need to please bosses’, many of us may feel that we can never be too far from our work devices. In fact, a 2016 study by The Academy of Management found employees rack up eight hours a week answering emails outside of work hours. How to tackle this element of 'always on' work culture: If you’re unable to ignore your devices, at least cut the notifications. For example: Google Calendar: ’Working Hours’ enables you to set defined work hours, automatically notifying eager meeting-makers that you’ll be off at that time. Apple: Customize your do not disturb settings to automatically trigger for work emails during evenings and weekends. Slack: Setting your local time will notify colleagues that you’re likely to be offline and set expectations of when you can reply. Wrike: Creating a work schedule will automatically inform colleagues (especially international ones) that you won’t be available during scheduled PTO or public holidays if you are tagged during that time. Find allies who value the importance of work-life balance Trying to find your way out of a Friday evening meeting? Even if you’re client-facing, it’s unlikely that your clients (or indeed colleagues) want to meet at a time that they’re also winding down from the week — remember this. Fast Company recommends that you find and foster relationships with people in your network who also appreciate the value of keeping schedules within designated work hours. As the statistics suggest, an 'always on' work culture isn’t the most effective way of working for anyone. Bear in mind the impact your personality type can have Struggling with an 'always on' work culture while your manager seems to thrive? The Harvard Business Review suggests that your personality, specifically within the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, may have a role to play. For example: Creating time and space to switch off: If you are extroverted, schedule regular, active breaks with others and leave your devices in a different room when you’re de-stressing. If you are introverted, try to limit online meetings and switch off in a quiet place where you can get absorbed in an activity. Tackling information overload: If you have sensing preferences, avoid getting lost in details and ask others for their take on a situation. Don’t obsess about getting things perfect. If you have intuition preferences, try to focus on one thing at a time. Creating boundaries:If you have thinking preferences, consider your impact on others (particularly in relation to written communication). If you have feeling preferences, try to make sure that you’re not supporting others to the detriment of your own needs. Striking the right work-life balance:If you have judging preferences, set boundaries with both yourself and others around when you’ll be available. Try to stay away from your work area during time off. If you have perceiving preferences, respect others’ boundaries by not emailing out of hours, and convert your to-do list into blocks of time. Create strict boundaries for yourself The most effective way to avoid falling victim to 'always on' work culture is to treat working from home the same way you would treat working in an office. This includes everything from starting on time to wearing noise-canceling headphones to drown out distractions (just swap chatty colleagues for partners’ annoying meetings or screaming kids). Forbes recommends thinking of your home office as if it’s five miles away and removing your work equipment from sight at night in order to reinforce the importance of work-life balance. Wrike helps teams set healthy work boundaries by encouraging asynchronous communication and collaboration. If you’re a manager, normalize taking PTO The pressure of an 'always on' work culture can often come from the perceived expectations of a manager. If you’re a manager, it’s advised that you reinforce and encourage taking paid time off. Samar Ali, CEO of Millions of Conversations, explains: “I lead by example and make sure to announce when I'm taking time off, [...], and what I plan to do to unplug. If there is one thing I recommend to all executives and employees, it is to find balance.” Reinforce that you are genuinely excited for your employees to take a break by asking about their vacations in order to break the stigma. Recognize the signs of burnout (and take action) Hopefully, with the right work-life balance tips to target 'always on' work culture, you can avoid burnout from happening to you or your teammates. However, it’s important to always be on the lookout for it. The Mayo Clinic advises that there are three common symptoms: exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of satisfaction with your work. If you do experience burnout, some things that can help are: A self-care day away from work A therapy session (here are some free mental health support options) Working with your team to agree on boundaries Learning to say no to additional projects As it’s now evident that working from home is set to make up at least some of our week into the future, setting boundaries at this stage is absolutely vital. With these tips in mind, we may finally be able to learn how to disconnect from an 'always on' culture before it costs both our economy and our health.