Why Work/Life Balance Is a Workplace Safety Issue
Balancing the demands of life and work helps workers be more productive and work more safely.
As the concept of wellness makes its way into workplaces around the country, employers are beginning to realize that it’s a critical part of employee health and safety. And a big part of wellness is finding the right balance between your work life and your personal life.
According to NIOSH, employers who encourage their workers to develop a good balance of the two may experience a reduction in the overall risk of workplace injury and an increase in safety compliance.
It’s a relatively simple thing that can have a far-reaching impact on both physical and mental health. In this article, we'll show you why it works and what you can do to help your workers find more balance.
Understanding Work/Life Balance
Achieving a strong balance between work and life doesn’t mean getting things perfect all the time. Rather, it’s about being able to split your time and energy between work and other important aspects of your life.
Health Canada found that work/life balance is generally associated with four broad categories:
- Role overload occurs when the time and energy demands of multiple roles are too great to perform the roles adequately or comfortably.
- Work-to-family interference happens when work demands interfere with the ability to perform family-role responsibilities, like when long hours on the job prevents attendance at a child’s school or sporting event.
- Family-to-work interference is the opposite. It happens when family demands interfere with fulfilling responsibilities at work (e.g. a child’s illness prevents regular attendance at work)
- Caregiver strain refers to the “burdens” in the day-to-day lives of caregivers, attributed to the need to provide care or help to someone who needs it.
Whether it’s being able to do your full-time job (and do it well) and still attend your kid’s hockey practice, or fulfilling your work responsibilities during the day so you can relax in the evening with your family, striking a work/life balance that works is critical to maintaining a healthy life.
Why Balance Matters at Work
Statistics Canada found that 3.7 million Canadian workers go through a regular day feeling high levels of stress. Moreover, The Management Journal’s semi-annual employee engagement index reports that:
- 15 percent of employees in Canadian workplaces are “actively disengaged” from their jobs
- 60 percent are “not engaged”
- Only 25 percent identify as “engaged”
It may come as a shock, but this means that an astounding 75 percent of the workforce falls somewhere between miserable and apathetic.
In addition, research continues to uncover significant links between occupational health and safety and work/family stress. This manifests in the workplace as higher absenteeism, lower performance, and both job and family stress. When this makes it difficult for workers to concentrate on the task at hand, it can lead to preventable accidents.
But a shift is coming. According to Gary Kunath, author of Life... Don't Miss It. I Almost Did, 70 percent of American professionals say they would trade a pay raise for an increase in personal wellness. It's no surprise, then, that “wellness” has become a buzzword among health and safety professionals and employers around the country are looking for ways to better support their staff.
The rewards for employers who do a good job with this are significant. Studies have reported benefits that include:
- Attracting new employees and retaining current staff
- Improving morale
- Reducing sickness and absenteeism
- Enhancing working relationships between colleagues
- Increasing levels of production and satisfaction
- Decreasing stress and burn-out (learn more about Managing Employee Burnout to Reduce Deadly Accidents)
Creating a Work/Life Balance Program
First and foremost, employers must realize that work/life balance isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Workforces are comprised of individuals of different ages, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, and family needs, and the initiatives offered have to be sensitive to this (see 5 Steps to Creating a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Workplace for related reading).
Each workplace should take time to tailor its policies to its own culture – and this often requires consulting with employees. As with any health and safety program, both the employer and the employees must take an active role in making it work effectively.
So, what types of initiatives fall under the work/life balance umbrella? Benefits, policies, or programs that promote a better balance between work demands and the enjoyment of life outside work are all part of this category. This includes:
- On-site childcare and seasonal childcare programs (e.g. March Break)
- Eldercare initiatives
- Flexible working arrangements and shifts
- Parental leave for adoptive parents
- Employee assistance programs
- Family leave, sabbaticals, etc.
- On-site workshops on related topics (e.g. stress, nutrition, smoking)
- Fitness facilities or financial membership assistance
What Workers Can Do
Whether your workplace has an official work/life balance program in place or not, there are a number of ways individuals can take initiative to better manage stress and conflicting demands of work and home life.
Even small breaks can give you a few minutes to step away from your duties and recharge.
Make To-Do Lists
Sometimes we feel like we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Writing down your tasks gives you a visual idea of how much you really have to do so you can plan your time accordingly. And checking off the items feels great.
Unplug from Technology
Our electronic devices can be used to make our lives more convenient. But with constant emails, social media blasts, and buzzing notifications, they are more likely to contribute to our feelings of stress and overwhelm.
Set aside specific times when you can turn your phone to airplane mode and immerse yourself in something enjoyable.
Build Downtime into Your Schedule
We often think we can do it all, which leads to stress and imbalance in our lives. Downtime is the last thing on our minds when we’re rushing between work and family commitments, and it’s more likely to happen if you’ve built it into your schedule.
4 Simple Ways Employers Can Help
If the thought of creating a work/life balance program seems daunting, here are four easy things your workplace can do to get started:
- Train managers to be more supportive of work and family
- Allow employees more control over their work hours
- Offer a resource guide for employees and their families
- Encourage and support flexible working schedules
There’s no question about it: a healthy workforce is one that is able to successfully manage the demands of both work and life so that neither suffers. It’s both unacceptable and dangerous that nearly three quarters of workers are disengaged from their jobs – and that must change.
Whether you start small or begin with a grand gesture, employees will appreciate the support as they strive to find a work/life balance that works for them.
Talk to your workers and find out what types of initiatives they’d like to see, and watch as they help your business become stronger, more productive, and safer.