Overworked employee work-life balance
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How to encourage your employees to have a healthy work-life balance

28 Feb 2017

If you want your employees to have a healthy work-life balance, you need to put your money where your mouth is and do the same.

Work-life balance has risen to the top of the agenda when it comes to the future of work. Companies want and need to know what they should offer in order to attract top talent and retain their current staff.

Similarly, employees are looking for the companies that offer the best culture and the healthiest work-life balance. A decent salary will go a long way but it won’t hold onto an unhappy workforce.

For the last number of years, the tendency to work longer and harder has been increasing to the point that countless studies have highlighted the negative effects it has on our physical and mental health. Even those who work remotely can’t escape the stress that overworking is causing.

Several recent developments have shone a light on the overworked culture that has been festering, and movements to reverse the dangerous trends are already afoot.

In October last year, labour standards authorities in Japan ruled that a man’s death was directly related to long work hours he had to put in. He was essentially worked to death, a concept known as karoshi in Japan.

This man was not the first victim – far from it. In fact, hundreds of deaths from overwork are reported every year, with the Japanese government saying that one in five workers are at risk.

On this side of the world, we might be more familiar with Sweden’s six-hour work day experiment to make workers less stressed, happier and more productive.

In France, workers now have a legal right to ignore their work emails outside of work hours in order to tackle the ‘always available’ expectation from employers and reduce the number of unpaid overtime that employees might put in by simply working on their phone.

Culture from the top down

From a managerial point of view, the best way to encourage a healthy work-life balance is to lead by example.

It’s all well and good to have a policy in writing that encourages employees to switch off their work notifications or silence their emails, but if you are sending them correspondence at 10pm or over the weekend, they might not feel comfortable ignoring you.

The problem is that bosses often have more to do, need to stay later or attend meetings during the day, making their days longer.

If it’s necessary for you to stay later, make sure you reassure your employees that they shouldn’t follow by example.

The same goes for taking holidays and sick days. As a boss, you might not take all of your holidays, but it is your job to ensure that staff are encouraged to do so.

Bosses and managers have more responsibility than their employees and can feel more obligated to come in on days when they’re not feeling well. However, this affects company culture and might make employees feel judged for taking a sick day when needed.

At the very least, they will be scrutinising their own level of sickness, deciding to come into work on the basis of thoughts such as: ‘My boss seemed really sick last week but they still came in and I don’t think I’m as bad as they were’.

Behaviour trickles down. Employees are instructed to take the temperature of the company they are working at to find out what is allowed and what is frowned upon. This is not always in sync with the employee handbook, which means they are basing it off their colleagues’ actions and, more importantly, their superiors’ actions.

In conclusion, employers looking to instil a healthy company culture that promotes a good work-life balance should look inward and make sure they are not inadvertently encouraging an overworked culture.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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