From real estate to entrepreneurship, one of the constant discussions since women have entered the workplace in large numbers has been how women can achieve a work-life balance. From tech giants encouraging women to Lean In to the number of women who opt out of the workforce entirely, the concept of balance is a highly divisive and heavily debated topic. Can women have balance between their work and their lives? What can employers and managers do to help the women they work with maintain a balance between these two important spheres?
Acknowledge that this isn't only about women
Although the concept of work-life balance often gets framed in the context of women who are trying to balance motherhood and working outside the home, there's really a much larger conversation to be had. American society overall needs to respect the home lives of workers at a much greater level than we currently do.
Too often, employers look only at the efficiency of their employees. Studies regularly show, however, that when employees are happy, their work improves. It's difficult to be happy in a job where you feel like you never get a chance to breathe.
Supporting policies that encourage balance is good for every facet of your business.
Flexible scheduling and telecommuting
There's really no excuse anymore for most office jobs to actually be done in the office. Yes, it's good for employees to work together at times, and having a centralized location helps employees collaborate and bounce ideas off each other, but when an employee has a child with a fever, or themselves needs to stay home, but is able to work, having systems in place that allow them to work from home helps the entire business succeed, and earns you credit with your employees.
If you're concerned about security, look into cloud based solutions for your software. Unless you're dealing with the most sensitive of HIPAA information (and sometimes even then!) you'll probably find that cloud solutions have better security than many small companies manage on their own.
Humane sick and vacation leave policies
One of the most frustrating things about salary work is the expectations that come along with it. Not necessarily the working more than 40 hour weeks - most salaried employees know what they're going to be getting in that area. No, the frustration comes when your boss regularly expects you to work 50+ hours a week, but then demands that you use sick time to cover an occasional doctor's appointment or lateness.
If your employees work salary, part of that is trusting them not to abuse the policies, and to get the work done when it needs to be done. If you can't do that, you shouldn't have hired them in the first place.
Support for childcare and family leave
Many American workers are part of what some call the "sandwich generation," where they are trying to take care of both elderly parents and young children. This can put an incredible amount of pressure on families, especially in areas where there isn't a lot of community support.
Along with reasonable expectations and support for flextime and telecommuting, supporting workers who need to take time off to care for a child, parent, or close relative who is ill helps support the employee and contributes to a more compassionate and productive workplace.
Lead by example
If you want your employees to be balanced and avoid burnout, you need to do it yourself. Leave when your work is done, don't talk about doing nothing but work all weekend or evening, and encourage them to do the same. This can be a challenge, since many entrepreneurs and small business owners identify themselves as workaholics. Consider it a challenge to better your business!
Don't just tell your employees you want them to be happy and healthy; help them get there. From sponsoring sports activities like a marathon team or a sports team in the local league to initiatives that get them discounts at a local gym, health initiatives in the workplace can help employees be more focused at work and appreciate their workplace.
Get input from employees
Most important? Ask employees what they need. Find out from them where office culture is pushing them towards unhealthy habits, and work with them to make the necessary changes to create a more balanced, happier, more productive workplace.
Don't fall into the trap of assuming that only women worry about their work life balance. Be aware of the particular pitfalls that can challenge women workers who are also parents, but know that all employees need to maintain a healthy balance between work and life, regardless of their gender.