Work-life balance has perhaps never been more important. But Anne Fulton of Fuel50 says employers need to help staff achieve this during the pandemic and beyond.
Covid-19 is taking a toll on many people’s mental health. Missing out on the social aspect of work and the distinct lines between the office and our homes has made it even harder to achieve work-life balance. And with new challenges to contend with – such as Zoom fatigue and fewer opportunities for de-stressing – it might feel as though that goal of balance is slipping further out of reach.
Laya Healthcare recently surveyed 1,000 people in Ireland about their anxiety levels during the pandemic. The majority of respondents (80pc) said they hadn’t taken any sick leave since March and 62pc they hadn’t taken as much annual leave as last year. This is despite 91pc experiencing some level of anxiety linked to Covid.
Clearly, work-life balance needs to be a priority right now. It’s often described as something employees need to work hard towards, but Anne Fulton, founder and CEO of US company Fuel50, believes that companies play a pivotal role in supporting their staff in this area.
‘It starts with listening to employees to understand their needs and potential problem points’
– ANNE FULTON
Fulton founded HR platform Fuel50 in 2012. An organisational psychologist and an executive career and performance coach, she has focused on the areas of employee engagement, diversity initiatives and career-acceleration programmes. She has worked with more than 50 Fortune 500 companies through Fuel50, including eBay and Mastercard.
Can we achieve work-life balance in a pandemic?
In the current global climate, juggling our work and our personal lives has become an increasingly precarious balancing act. “The boundaries are blurred more than ever before as employees continue to work remotely,” Fulton says.
“As time blurs and employees become more fragmented between juggling work, home-schooling and family obligations, in the middle of a global pandemic, it can be detrimental to their overall wellbeing. Employees have to set boundaries to carve out non-work time and mental space to avoid burnout.”
It shouldn’t fall entirely on the employee themselves to make this happen, however. Fulton says employers have a “strong responsibility to their employees”, but it’s also a good way to do business as it will help them “operate and run their company more efficiently” in the long run.
“There are a variety of things managers can do to make sure their teams are productive, but it starts with listening to employees to understand their needs and potential problem points,” she says.
“Working from home is just as new for them as it is for the company as a whole, meaning employers have to be more transparent and flexible than ever before.”
Where should employers start? According to Fulton, open communication is key. It’s a good idea, she says, to maintain a “regular office setting” despite operating virtually. Team leads shouldn’t forget the importance of weekly check-ins, for example.
Showing that you value employees is another must. Employers should proactively implement training and planned reviews instead of “waiting for an in-person meeting” to give staff a platform, Fulton explains. This will give staff the opportunity to voice concerns, share insights about their role in the organisation and discuss where they feel they add value.
Companies may also need to change up employee benefits to adjust to the new way of working, she says. “For example, employers should speak to their benefits provider about telehealth options or perhaps create a stipend for any sort of mental health care.”
Moving forward, Fulton reiterates the role that open communication will play. And his works both ways – communication and transparency will need to be a priority for both employers and employees.
“For employees struggling to set boundaries, it could be an increase in workload or personal responsibilities that are preventing employees to have a work-life balance,” she says. “If it is work-related responsibilities, an open conversation with a supervisor could help address the problem by giving the employee more resources or shifting responsibilities.”