Achieving Work Life Balance While Working From Home
| By 3P INSIGHTS |
Once upon a time, in a pre-technology era long ago, it was fairly easy to draw a line between work life and home life. Today however, technology enables constant connection, which often causes work to bleed over into people’s personal time. Working from home can further blur personal and professional boundaries, throwing off work life balance.
The “Working-From-Home Economy”
Research conducted by Nicholas Bloom, Professor of Economics at the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences, shows that nearly twice as many people in the U.S. labor force were working from home compared to working onsite as of mid-summer 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And this “working-from-home economy,” as he calls it, is not expected to go away after the pandemic does. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers expect the proportion of their full-time employees working from home will level off at around 19% after the pandemic. This is a drastic reduction from mid-summer, but it is three times more than the number of workers working from home in 2019.
This shift to a working-from-home economy is welcomed by many employees. Research conducted through the London Business School suggests that remote workers have more responsibility over their work. Remote workers complete 50% more tasks through personal choice — because they see them as important — and half as many because someone else asked them to. This autonomy to make decisions about what work to complete, and how to complete it, is an essential part of employee empowerment. Research suggests that remote workers are also more productive. That productivity, though, may come at the expense of work life balance.
What can management do?
According to Marcello Russo and Gabriele Morandin of the University of Bologna, work life balance begins with management. They note that flexibility does not always translate into better work-life balance. Remote workers often experience high work intensity due to their ability to communicate with colleagues anytime through their devices. This constant connectivity not only blurs the line between work and non-work activities, it also can make remote workers feel like they are supposed to be connected to their work at all times. To better support employees’ efforts to achieve healthier work life balance, management should consider the following:
Set a good example. Employees follow their leaders. If management sends emails at all hours of the day and night or work throughout the weekends, employees will think this is the expectation – and they will feel obligated to respond. While some people can handle this level of work, most cannot. Being a good manager means leading by example. If management is drafting emails late at night or over the weekend that don’t require a response until the next business day, select the option to delay sending the email. Pick a time to send that matches when you expect your employees to be working.
Train supervisors. Research demonstrates that organizations that educate their leaders on the benefits of providing employees with a healthy work life balance will see better results. Management can start by training supervisors on best practices for providing their work teams with family, personal, and performance support, as well as teaching them why it’s important to do so.
Encourage nonwork activities. Nonwork activities have been shown to help employees broaden their networks, build new skills, and gain a greater sense of purpose, both professionally and personally. For example, Forbes Human Resources Council found that giving employees an opportunity to volunteer helps organizations not only give back to the community, but increases employee engagement, encourages teamwork, and ultimately increases employee retention and loyalty.
Communicate clearly and often. Robert Half Management Resources notes that management needs to know what employees are striving for. Everyone doesn’t have the same work life balance goals. Although the clear trend is that more employees will be working from home into the future, some employees may benefit from working remotely more than others. Some may want to work from home every day, others may prefer working from home only a few days a week. Keeping an open mind and maintaining flexibility is important. To that end, management needs to stay at the forefront of emerging work life balance trends and keep employees informed of their options.
What can employees do?
While pressure from management can certainly lead to poor work life balance, our own professional aspirations can also cause us to put our well-being on the back burner. However, creating a balance between work and home is vital for not only improving physical and mental health, but also for our career development. The following actions can help improve balance in our own lives while working from home.
Be realistic. Being able to meet deadlines helps us feel a sense of accomplishment and control. Research shows that stress levels are lower among employees with greater autonomy over their work. However, people need to be realistic about deadlines and workloads. Make a “to do” list, take care of the most important tasks first, and ask for help when needed. Also, be sure to take regular breaks.
Learn to say “no.” Employees also need to be realistic about workloads. Just because you can do more doesn’t mean you should. Mayo Clinic staff recommend cutting or delegating activities you don’t enjoy or can’t handle. Don’t accept tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation. You’ll end up performing better at the tasks that you do accept!
Detach from work. Working from home can make employees feel like they’re always on the job, which can lead to chronic stress. If you work from home, dress for work and have a dedicated workspace, if possible. When you’re done with work each day, transition to “home life” by getting out of the house (for some exercise, preferably) and changing your clothes. Also, seek guidance from managers about expectations when you are disconnected. Make sure you both understand when you are supposed to be on and off the clock.
Unplug. This may sound drastic, but Robert Brooks, professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life, says “there are times when you should just shut your phone off.” According to Brooks, phone notifications interrupt our time “off” and inject stress into our system. He recommends making personal time authentic. Don’t text colleagues while playing a game with your children and don’t send work emails while hanging out with friends. Consider having a separate computer or phone for work that you can shut off when you clock out. If this isn’t possible, use separate browsers, emails, and filters to distinguish work and personal electronic spaces.
We also need to accept that there may be no “perfect” work life balance. Some days might require more work while others allow for more time to pursue hobbies or spend time with loved ones. Balance should be the goal every day, but ultimately, it is achieved over time.
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