How does work-life balance affect employee engagement?
Work-life balance – splitting your time and energy between work and other important aspects of your life – is important for employee engagement, and individuals who do not manage this balance are at risk of burnout or demotivation. However, Aon Hewitt employee engagement research suggests that work-life balance often isn’t the main driver of employee engagement in the UK. Instead these tend to be availability of career opportunities and recognition for a job well done. However, overall organisation-level results can sometimes mask the drivers of specific populations e.g. Generation Y, Baby Boomers, technical specialists, long-serving employees.
I think there are three main reasons for this:
- A ‘good’ work-life balance is subjective and will depend on our priorities – some people don’t mind working long days, whereas others feel under quite a bit of pressure if they have to work an extra half an hour every day.
- The ‘right’ balance is always in flux – priorities change over time, sometimes even on a day-to-day basis.
- Work-life balance is in many ways an outcome that is influenced many of the same factors that impact employee engagement – work tasks, control, manager behaviour, technology, flexible working policies – as well as being itself a driver of employee engagement.
Of the workplace factors that influence work-life balance, management behaviour is probably the factor that is often most impactful. It makes sense that managers who create work-life balance for themselves role model the behaviours and support employees in their own pursuit of work-life balance; this includes creating a work environment in which work-life balance is expected, enabled, and supported.
However, it would be unfair to say it’s all down to managers who are often the most time-poor themselves. Organisations (and senior leaders/role models) have a role to play by equipping managers with the resources, tools and skills to enable employees to take responsibility of their own work-life balance. Some of the initiatives that I have seen organisations use to promote work-life balance include time management training, personal resilience workshops, stress awareness, better IT provision to facilitate remote working and reduce travelling, working compressed hours and introducing flexible benefits (e.g. buying/selling holiday, childcare vouchers and subsidised gym membership).
Looking into the future, this topic is particularly important for Generation Y employees – the UK’s future CEO’s – many of whom saw their parents working long hours in jobs they didn’t always like and who as a consequence don’t want that for themselves. In fact, research suggests that Generation Y employees care more about work-life balance but see less of a clear distinction between their day in terms of their work and personal lives. Flexible working and empowerment will be key to engaging with the next generation of top talent.
My final thought is that we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of respite – time to recharge our batteries. The UK has well established laws around annual leave and it’s in everyone’s interest – employees, managers and organisations – to take responsibility for using and enjoying our provision.
Thanks to Laura Heathcock who is an Occupational Psychologist from Aon Hewitt’s global employee engagement team. The team work with more than 5,000 organisations across 120 countries, helping them implement high impact employee engagement strategies such as employee surveys to drive business performance.