Updated: Aug 14
Author(s): Ali El-sayed
The lack of a reasonable work-life balance is a growing issue that has been gaining recognition and frustration by employees in recent years. Workers are finding themselves dedicating extra time to their jobs outside of their normal work week. This issue was further escalated with the onset of employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. As employees adjusted to working from home, their work slowly creeped into their personal lives as their homes slowly became their offices. Employees no longer had the opportunity to leave their work in the office at the end of the day. Their workstation was now inside their home, making it increasingly difficult to work with their employer’s demands that deadlines be met and emails be responded to at any time of the day. These longer hours that employees are now working are chipping away at little amounts of personal time they need to tend to their personal and familial obligations. The work-life balance of these employees has become extremely unbalanced in recent years, and this needs to change.
It is important for employers to understand that a poor work-life balance “does serious harm to the world's working class” so they can now address the issue that working from home has begun to invade the work-life balance of these employees (Fleetwood, 2007, p. 388). Now that employees can complete their job duties at home, employers are taking advantage of the situation to further increase their expectations of employees. Employers are doing this “by creating a time squeeze with negative job to home spillovers,” as employees continue working after their normal working hours to ensure important tasks get done (Heywood et al., 2010, p. 1995). While this time squeeze can help the employer complete tasks with fewer resources and employees, it can lead to many concerns for the employees, including increased levels of stress and decreased job satisfaction since this time squeeze causes the employee’s working hours to spill into their personal hours. Employees already have many tasks that they must complete during their personal hours, such as attending to personal and familial events and activities that they have in their lives. This spillage will result in employees not being able to attend to personal and familial events that are important to them.
This is a major issue that is detrimental to workers, evident by how quickly work-life balance has become one of the biggest concerns for workers around the world, with many resorting to doing the bare minimum and vowing to not work past their typical working hours. Studies show that when “employees cannot find balance for their work and non-working lives, they experience an inter-role conflict” (Sánchez-Vidal et al., 2012, p. 545). This inter-role conflict can render workers unable to meet the obligations of their personal and familial roles, such as participating in hobbies and self-care routines, caring for their young children and elderly family members, or completing chores around the home such as cooking and cleaning. The labour role of these employees is consuming increased time in their day as employers expect employees to be highly committed to the company by working long hours and prioritizing their labour role over their personal and familial roles.
Employees who are expected to prioritize their labour role over their personal and familial roles face a very imbalanced lifestyle. Imbalanced lifestyles can be detrimental to the mental health of these employees, as “a balanced life contributes to authentic happiness, flourishing and life satisfaction” (Agosti, 2017, p. 2351). Employees that work excessive hours for their employer may perform greatly in their labour role, but their imbalanced lifestyle will cause them to perform poorly in their personal and familial roles, causing these aspects of their lives to fall apart. If an employee does not have adequate time to take care of their personal and familial obligations, their performance at work will eventually begin to decline while their absenteeism will simultaneously increase. These overworked employees will face burnout, resulting in them not being capable of performing at their highest ability. Their levels of job satisfaction will decrease, resulting in their commitment to the company to decrease and the company’s turnover to increase. They will also need to take more days off from work to handle personal and familial tasks such as attending doctor’s appointments or being alongside their children during major childhood milestones like attending their first sports game, as their extended working hours do not give them adequate time to complete these tasks.
It is important to note that the benefits of improved work-life balance are not limited to employees. Studies show that an increased work-life balance leads to “increased employee commitment and retention and productivity,” meaning employers can indirectly benefit from improving their employee’s work-life balance (Daverth et al., 2016, p. 1711). By allowing employees to allocate more time to their personal and familial roles, employers can expect employees to have lower absenteeism and turnover, increased organizational commitment, increased job performance, and increased employee satisfaction.
Given the benefits that both employees and employers can receive from employees having a balanced work-life balance, it is important that employers do what they can to ensure that employees have an adequate balance between their labour role and their personal and familial roles. A reasonable work-life balance can be achieved through various means. A good place to start would be implementing flexible working hours. Expecting employees to start their work early in the morning and continue working well into the evening does not allow employees to tend to their personal and familial roles. Employees should be given the flexibility to start and end their work hours at times that they deem reasonable, as long as they are able to meet deadlines and attend important meetings with their coworkers and clients. This flexibility allows employees to start their day a bit later if they need drop their children off at school, take an extended lunch if they have an important doctor’s appointment, or finish their workday early if they have a personal event to attend in the evening. This flexibility allows them to focus on their work during their work hours, preventing them from experiencing burnout and anxiety as they continue to disregard the accumulating number of personal and familial tasks that they are not able to complete due to their labour role.
Another way employers can increase work-life balance is by implementing a right to disconnect policy that values the employee’s personal and familial roles rather than their labour role. On June 2nd, 2022, Ontario passed a new law requiring all employers to implement a “right to disconnect” policy that stipulates what the employer expects of employees after working hours. Critics state, however, that the law has many loopholes. Employers can stipulate in their “right to disconnect” policy that employees are expected to continue working, respond to emails and communication, and complete work tasks after their typical working hours have ended. To ensure that employees have a reasonable work-life balance, employers should implement a policy that strictly limits or prohibits the expectations of employees to work after business hours have ended. This will allow employees to have time in the evening to tend to their personal and familial obligations.
Furthermore, employers should ensure that staffing levels are at an adequate level. An understaffed department will require employees to work excessive hours to ensure deadlines are met. If staffing levels are at an adequate level, then deadlines will be met without employees having to work longer hours than they typically expect to work. Furthermore, an adequately staffed department will allow for an employee to take time off for their personal and familial obligations without their coworkers having to work extra hours in their absence. When it comes to time off, employers can further improve upon their employees’ work-life balance by increasing the amount of paid time off that employees have access to. This can be done by giving employees more vacation days, sick days, or personal days. In addition to increasing these balances, employers should also ensure that employees who work additional hours under extenuating circumstances are provided an appropriate amount of lieu hours/days in return.
Work-life balance has become extremely unbalanced in recent years, and this needs to change. Working excessive hours can be detrimental to the well-being of employees, as they continue to prioritize their labour role over their personal and familial roles. Implementing flexible working hours, creating a right to disconnect policy with work-life balance in mind, and ensuring that staffing levels are adequate are all good ways of improving the work-life balance of employees.
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Daverth, G., Hyde, P., & Cassell, C. (2016). Uptake of organisational work–life balance opportunities: the context of support. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 27(15), 1710-1729. Doi: 10.1080/09585192.2015.1075567
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Sánchez-Vidal, E., Cegarra-Leiva, D., & Cegarra-Navarro, J. G. (2012). Gaps between managers' and employees' perceptions of work life balance. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23(4), 545. Doi: 10.1080/09585192.2011.561219