Today’s employees – especially younger people – expect to be able to strike a reasonable balance between the needs of their personal lives and their professional obligations. They believe in working hard, but they also understand that investing time in their health, hobbies, friends and family is important to leading a fulfilled and productive life.
According to the Sage Walk with Me Report, 41% of the young workforce believes that technology will make the concept of “your desk” outdated, that the workplace will have more virtual staff in the next 10 years.
Progressive HR departments are embracing this shift in the workplace as a positive trend – and are looking at ways that they can use work-life balance as a means to attract and retain the best talent. They understand that work-life balance isn’t just good for the employee – it is also good for business because it can lead to lower costs and enhanced productivity.
The indirect costs of an exhausted workforce include absenteeism, health costs, reduced company morale, poor employee retention, lower productivity and lapses in quality of employees’ work. The costs of constantly recruiting and training new employees to replace those who burn out or leave can be substantial. By contrast, where the workforce works sensible hours, the people are often more creative, motivated, productive and engaged.
HR has an important role to play here – by means of helping to facilitate a culture that focuses in performance and quality of output rather than on the number of hours that people spend at their desks.
Here are some ways HR can support these changes in work culture:
1. Be there for employees
With mobile devices in every employee’s hands, many people fail to unplug from work, even over the weekends or when they are on leave. Be aware of employees who never log off and who don’t draw a clear line between home and work.
Watch for warning signs like frequent absenteeism or slipping productivity and work quality – these might indicate that an employee is working too hard rather than slacking off. Also ask managers to watch out for signs of burn-out among the members of their teams.
If necessary, make it a policy that employees don’t need to answer emails or their mobile phones outside work hours, unless it’s an emergency. Employee-assistance programmes or external resources can be considered to help employees who struggle to say no to pushy co-workers or who battle to manage their time.
2. Introduce workplace flexibility
Flexible hours don’t suit every job or every organisation, but knowledge workers increasingly expect some leeway around where and when they work. Though traditional managers fear that people will be unproductive when they work from home some of the time, or have some freedom in choosing their hours, this needn’t be the case.
Getting it right is about putting the right policies, technology, processes and performance management structures in place. There are affordable cloud-based technology solutions that can assist. Collaboration software (that can track task progress), videoconferencing, and human resources apps can empower employees and give business peace of mind in terms of output. HR and managers will need to make an effort to measure output regularly to ensure no one is falling behind.
Where it isn’t possible for people to work flexible hours, companies can support employees in other ways. For example, many larger companies offer employees onsite gyms or childcare facilities, or arrange laundry collection for people who cannot get away from the office.
3. Set the example
Leading by example is one of the best successful ways for HR to create a company culture that promotes an output-oriented culture and supports the principles of a healthy work-life balance. HR can encourage managers and business owners to set an example, by taking frequent breaks, by completing their tasks and by taking their allocated holiday breaks. HR can also offer work-life balance workshops and encourage community upliftment or philanthropic activities to encourage a sense of accomplishment that is not work related.
Whether you’re a small business owner or an HR professional at a large organisation, you’ll understand that it takes hard work and sacrifice to turn a dream business idea into a way of life. It’s important to support the employees who are joining your enterprise on this journey and to help them lead balanced and healthy lives.
* Anja van Beek, Vice President for People (HR) at Sage International (Africa Australia, Middle East and Asia)