Promote healthy work-life balance in your business
Work-life balance is the balance an individual needs between time allocated for work and time for other aspects of their personal or family life.
Introducing appropriate employment practices to help employees achieve a better work-life balance brings tangible benefits to your business.
In addition, certain employees have the right to request flexible working. Demographic changes, including an ageing population and smaller family structures, will increase the likelihood of your employees requesting flexible working arrangements to help them effectively combine work with other responsibilities such as caring for children or elderly relatives.
This guide examines how to promote healthy work-life balance in your workplace and highlights some of the benefits for your business and your staff.
Advantages of improved work-life balance
Introducing employment policies that encourage a healthier work-life balance for your employees can bring real benefits to your business and your staff.
Work-life balance advantages: employees
A good work-life balance can enable staff to feel more in control of their working life and lead to:
- increased productivity
- less instances of sickness and absenteeism
- a happier, less stressed workforce
- staff feeling valued and that their personal and/or family life is important
- improvements in employee mental health and well-being
- more engaged staff
- greater employee loyalty, commitment and motivation
- staff less likely to leave
Work-life balance advantages: business
The benefits of a work-life balance initiative are not confined to just the workforce. Work-life policies and flexible working practices can also benefit your business as you can:
- lower levels of absence, sickness and stress
- increase competitiveness and productivity
- boost staff morale
- improve customer service
- help you react to changing market conditions more effectively and meet customer demands through flexibility - for example, shift work, part-time work and flexitime can help you open longer without making your employees work longer hours
- meet seasonal peaks and troughs in your business
- lead to more committed and positive attitude in your staff
- reduce staff turnover and minimise recruitment costs - see control staff turnover
- become recognised as a business that people want to work for and therefore helping you attract top talent
Identify work-life balance problems
As an employer, you might find it hard to judge whether you are supporting your employees' need to balance their work commitments with their home life.
How to recognise poor employee work-life balance
Tell-tale signs of poor work-life balance in your employees include:
- decrease in productivity
- employees doing a lot of overtime
- employees taking a lot of time off to deal with 'emergencies' involving children or other dependants
- high levels of employee stress
- high rates of absenteeism or staff sickness
- high levels of staff turnover
If you recognise a number of these symptoms affecting your staff and your business you may need to take action to create a healthy work-life balance in your workplace.
Create a healthy work-life balance
There are no hard-and-fast rules on what constitutes the ideal healthy work-life balance. The measure of what is acceptable in your organisation will depend on the operational requirements of your business and the needs of your employees.
Flexible working practices to promote healthy work-life balance
Employers can use some of the following methods to positively address work-life balance in their business, including:
- part-time working - see considering requests to change working hours
- introducing job-sharing
- employees working from home
- self-rostering - allowing employees to choose which shifts to work
All employees have the right to request flexible working. For a full explanation of the types of flexible working and the advantages, see flexible working: the law and best practice.
Other flexible working arrangements
Other policies that make it easier for employees to balance work and their private lives include unpaid career breaks and paid sabbatical schemes. These are a cost-effective way to retain valued staff or reward those with long service.
Allowing your employees extra days off work - whether paid or unpaid - can improve their work/life balance. Holiday purchase schemes enable employees to buy additional - usually limited - holidays on top of their annual entitlement.
You could consider giving employees maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave in excess of the statutory minimum, eg higher pay or longer leave.
These schemes give employees a measure of control over how their working lives are organised and foster greater employee loyalty and commitment.
Making the working environment more attractive
Improvements to the working environment can boost morale and help you retain valued staff.
Typical techniques include:
- free exercise or well-being classes
- a free or subsidised canteen
- company days out
- childcare vouchers - see set up a childcare voucher scheme
- funding and/or time off work for training and certain job-related duties and activities
Implement a flexible working policy
Achieving a work/life balance is not just a one-off exercise, but a long-term commitment to operating your business in a way that respects your employees' responsibilities outside work. Policies designed to help you achieve a healthy work-life balance need to be tailored to your business and your employees.
Drawing up a clear policy on flexible working can have a positive impact on management by making it clear the circumstances in which a request for flexible working will be considered and approved. This saves management time and means that inconsistencies in management decisions are removed. It can also help employees by explaining their rights around flexible working.
Develop a flexible working policy
When developing a flexible working policy for your business you should take the following into consideration:
- determine your core business requirements first - what you want to achieve
- ask staff - both managers and other workers - what they want from a flexible working policy
- consult with trade unions/staff associations
- consult all employees affected and agree upon selected flexible working policies, eg flexi-time
- decide which of your employees will be covered by the scheme and ensure the flexible working scheme does not breach employees' rights or unfairly discriminate - the Labour Relations Agency may be able to advise you on this Tel 03300 555 300 - see also flexible working: the right to request and duty to consider
- draw up written procedures for implementation and evaluation of your flexible working policies, including regular reassessment
- ensure support from senior management for flexible working
- take the lead by demonstrating a commitment to work-life balance
- explain any changes to staff and keep them updated on any regulatory changes, eg the right for parents to request flexible working
Read more on flexible working: the law and best practice.
You may find it helpful to conduct a trial or pilot the flexible working scheme to see how effective and workable your new policies are. Change the programme if this proves necessary and keep track of the progress of your business and your employees' work/life balance.
You can measure the success of your flexible working policies by gauging staff feedback and tracking changes in the rate of absenteeism, rate of staff turnover and customer satisfaction. See staff feedback, ideas and forums, control staff turnover and how to manage absence and sickness.
Introducing flexible and family-focused workplace policies - Adventures Day Nursery
Adventures Day Nursery is a private children's nursery in Belfast. The business opened in 2006 and since then has grown to employ over 25 full-time and part-time staff.
Maria McDonagh, Manager at Adventures Day Nursery, explains how they introduced family-friendly initiatives to help and support their employees.
Prioritise your policies
"During the last five years, we have introduced workplace initiatives to ensure our staff have the best possible work-life balance. We encourage employees to suggest workplace schemes that will benefit them.
Our challenge has been to implement rewarding initiatives that are low-cost. For example, we offer job-sharing and have implemented support so that pregnant employees have the option to transfer to lighter duties and shorter shifts. We also have an open door policy so that management are available to staff at all times.
We have introduced initiatives to reduce stress and offer staff support on a personal level. We ensure we have adequate cover when employees need to take time off work at short notice. To help reduce financial pressures for our staff we enable them, if needed, to receive part of their salary in the middle of the month rather than having to wait until payday.
Our 'special leave' policy allows staff paid time off during a bereavement or family celebration. Employees may also take unpaid leave when needed. We also have a 'sunshine hours' policy - this allows staff to finish shifts early on a rotational basis whenever the weather is good."
Consult and communicate with staff
"A big challenge we have faced in implementing family-friendly initiatives has come from ensuring that our policies are fair to all our staff. Not all of our employees have dependent children, so we have made sure to have other initiatives that benefit and appeal to all workers.
Our staff are always involved in helping to create new initiatives. Schemes are proposed through our staff suggestion scheme, and at the monthly one-to-one meetings.
The rules for each initiative are discussed and agreed with all staff to ensure a high degree of fairness across all policies.
Also as a service provider, we must ensure our staff initiatives do not negatively affect the quality of service we provide to our customers. We minimise business risks by creating a supportive environment, where staff are happy to assist and support each other.
All staff are made aware of workplace initiatives at their induction programme, their monthly meetings and through the monthly staff newsletters."
Review and update your policies
"We regularly review our policies to ensure that we are compliant with legislation. As the nursery manager, I attend seminars and conferences to ensure we maintain our legal responsibilities."
"We use questionnaires and one-to-one meetings to get feedback from staff. These help us to identify our initiatives that have benefited the organisation. The measures we evaluate against the schemes include improved morale in the business, lowered sickness and absence rates, low staff turnover and customer satisfaction.
We have also won awards for our commitment to supporting our staff, and for the service, we offer our customers."