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Startup Guide to Finding a Better Worklife Balance


Worklife balance is a phrase that has become part of common language in the workplace. And at face value, it’s something we intuitively understand. But actually defining it, and more importantly, knowing if you have it, are much more difficult than you might first think.

This startup guide will look at worklife balance and how to find what's right for you, your team and your business.

What is worklife balance?

The ‘balance’ in worklife balance refers to the challenge of effectively striking a balance between the work which is being paid for, and the personal, social and leisure responsibilities which an individual is faced with.

Traditionally, professional life and personal life were considered to be two completely separate priorities.

However, with society changing due to globalisation, family dynamics and ever increasing work pressures, being able to actually maintain a worklife balance has become much more complicated. This issue has attracted the attention of both organisations and their employees around the world, as both sides feel the pressure and effects.

For employees, worklife balance means that they have the challenge of balancing their personal lives with the demands of their profession.

Having to devote a period of time from their day to work isn’t always as simple as ‘clocking on’ and ‘clocking off’. Sometimes individuals work for extended hours due to client pressure or high demands from their team. Sometimes, employees are faced with being ‘accessible’ 24hrs a day through the use of technology. And with remote working and the global reach of the internet, this balance has never been more difficult for employees to strike.

Back in the early 1980s, the term worklife balance was adopted thanks to a sharp rise in the number of working women professionals. Either entering the workplace, or having children while in work.

Since then, the demands on people to maintain a worklife balance has grown to an unprecedented level. For employees and business owners alike, it’s reached a point where they’ve had to acknowledge its importance in the current climate. With employees across sectors regularly facing burnout, companies of all kinds experience a loss of productivity. This is what's made worklife balance one of the hot topics in both boardrooms and staff rooms around the world.

An individual’s work life can have an enormous influence over organisational productivity and their personal wellbeing. Let's discuss some opportunities and concerns relating to work life:

Woman smiling on laptop after achieving a good worklife balance

Impact profitability and growth: Now more than ever, employees are facing an excessive pressure to achieve the profitability and growth targets set for them. This can build stress, which ultimately hampers the overall productivity of the employees and disturbs their worklife balance. Having a well structured worklife balance can greatly ease the pressure from both actual on the job, and perceived work pressures. In turn, this will favourably impact employee productivity and contribute to a more favourable workplace culture.

Employee engagement and quality of service: It might sound obvious, but having the wrong balance between ‘work’ and ‘life’ will adversely affect the engagement of employees at work, and this will hamper the quality and output of services delivered to customers. Employee engagement is really important, with poorly engaged individuals getting their hours in, but in an ineffective manner resulting in a drag on other individuals/teams that interact with them.

Alternatively, the quality of service will be much more reliable and consistent if employees feel that their efforts are valued by managers. This is also true for employees that perceive their organisation as being committed to ensuring the personal and professional success of its employees.

Talent acquisition/retention: With an increase in the social make up of the workplace, expectations have changed. Baby boomers are gradually being replaced by a relatively young group of professionals who have higher expectations of a favourable worklife balance.

They expect that their work responsibilities will allow them to attend to personal/social responsibilities which they see as equally, or more, important than work. Currently, issues regarding worklife balance are among the top reasons for staff leaving the workforce and organisations can be faced with a high rate of employee turnover. This increases the costs to organisations and can have a negative impact on morale. Modern solutions like flexible working and having strong employee wellbeing policies can help with staff retention and reduce absenteeism.

Worklife balance is not something that should be a choice, for individuals or businesses, but should be the normal way of operating. Noting that the correct balance might be different for some employees, it’s imperative for the management to discuss and implement strategies in an effective and meaningful way. When worklife balance is done right, startup founders will benefit from a happy and motivated workforce.

Woman on laptop holding child, trying to get a grasp on her worklife balance

Why is worklife balance important?

For a startup, the importance of worklife balance comes from the benefits it can bring to the business. Employee wellness strategies aren’t necessarily just a financial and resource cost, if they’re done properly they can see a big return on your investment.

Time savings: By having a supportive and conducive work culture, startups can achieve higher productivity from employees. They can also help employees to plan and utilise their time in work more efficiently.

Retaining talent: As discussed above, successful worklife balance strategies can not only help with employee retention, but also provide a cost saving to an organisation that might otherwise have to incur costs due to employees leaving.

Reducing absenteeism: Startups can use work life balance programs (if effectively implemented) to reduce their absenteeism rate by almost 50%. When employees feel valued, respected and listened to, they become more invested and loyal, meaning that when they do have bad days, they’re more inclined to go into work and communicate their issues, rather than avoid them by staying off work.

Competitive advantage: Startups can use worklife balance policies and practices to organically grow a team that is resilient, productive and dynamic from the very start. By adopting various solutions such as flexible work options or shift work, the business will be more competitive and better placed to meet the demands of customers. This type of intangible advantage can also help a startup achieve its strategic growth goals.

Create loyalty: A startup’s policies and programmes which aim to support the wellbeing of its employees will help to build a loyal and committed workforce. This can be especially important to startups that often have to rely on individuals or small teams to be creative and go the extra mile in order to achieve growth.

Worklife balance is crucial for every employee and an imbalance in either work or personal life will result in challenges for both the employee and the business. If startups provide the required support and help employees in the form of employee centred policies and solutions, a startup will be able to reap the benefits of improved employee productivity, reduction in staff turnover rate and realise cost savings.

Business leaders and managers should be encouraging all their employees to engage with wellbeing and worklife balance policies. It’s no good having the policy if they aren’t being accessed, so managers can motivate their teams and make sure communication is open and constructive, allowing for changes to be made when needed.

Team working at desk productively thanks to a good worklife balance

What does an unhealthy worklife balance look like?

It’s so easy to normalise working long hours or being under extreme stress. Especially in a startup where the people at the top are probably working the very hardest and longest hours, which is inadvertently setting the culture for everyone else to live up to. This can lead to a normal way of working that isn’t obviously ‘unhealthy’, especially if it’s been done like that for a long time. Our assumptions, habits and expectations of work can become entrenched unless we consciously pause and take a step back every now and again. It’s no surprise that in the modern workforce, stress is considered normal. In fact, 44% of millennials say they’re stressed “all or most of the time”, according to a 2020 Deloitte survey.

Woman working from home struggling to get a worklife balance with her kids distracting her.

It’s important to realise that not everyone is in a position to make changes to their worklife balance. For example, if you’re on a zeroh ours contract, or if you’re very new to the team, you might not feel comfortable speaking up.

With the recent cost of living crisis, you might need to work long hours to earn enough money to pay bills, which in itself causes pressure on employees that over time will either cause fatigue/burnout, or will result in them leaving or having greatly reduced productivity. For those people who can make changes though, regularly checking up on your worklife balance can be achieved by following these five steps:

  1. Take a moment. It’s important that you can take a mental break and ask yourself: what is it that’s currently causing stress or unhappiness? How is that affecting both my work and personal life? What am I prioritising? What am I losing out on? It’s not often that we can take the time to reflect on work, often it’s only something we do when there’s a major life event and we have no choice. But why wait until it’s too late? Taking a moment to pause and think about priorities can help you discover whether the way you’re living and working is currently right for you.

  2. Be mindful of your feelings. Once you’ve audited your stress and priorities, you’ll be more aware of your current situation. Notice how that makes you feel. If you feel happy and fulfilled, that’s great, but what if you’re angry and resentful? Noticing your feelings will help you decide which changes you would want to make to your worklife balance.

  3. Reprioritise. Now it’s time to consider what needs to change. If working long hours is causing you stress and resentment towards the business, you might want to think about whether losing out on family time is actually worth it.

  4. Consider your alternatives. Following the steps above, now consider how you might make changes to help you meet your new priorities. Discuss these with managers, colleagues, family and friends and look at all the different ways you could achieve your new goals.

  5. Make changes. This might be asking for a new contract that allows for flexible hours, or it could be as simple as making sure you book in all of your annual leave so that you’re not letting stress build up. Changes don’t have to be big, it could be as simple as setting an out of office email response and not checking your emails over weekends.

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How can I help myself?

There are some things you can do to improve your worklife balance.

For startups, it can be a difficult balance to get right, with the immediate concern being the survival and growth of the business. Likewise, employees also face difficulties, and it might feel impossible to stand up for yourself at work, especially if your employment is precarious or you have other reasons to be worried about the security of your job.

For startup founders and employees alike, it’s important to understand an individual’s rights when it comes to worklife balance.

  1. To fully understand your rights at work, Citizens Advice is a great place to start. They hold information on contracts, work hours, sick pay, parental leave and much more. If you’re looking to have reasonable adjustments made in a workplace, an employer might have a duty to make them, so knowing exactly where you stand can be invaluable.

  2. Business leaders need to know when the expectations and demands of work are too much. Managers need to understand what’s happening for individuals, so ensuring that communication with all employees is open and effective is paramount.

  3. Promote a culture of 'working smart, not working long'. This means that prioritising should be encouraged across all levels of the business. Culture starts at the top, so if employees see their boss leaving at 4:30 because “everything is done”, that sends a powerful message. Keeping track of tasks and workload and discouraging people from holding less productive activities such as unstructured meetings should also be promoted.

  4. Draw a line between work and home. This can be a problem with the ubiquity of remote working, but if you do work from home, try to keep to a routine and allow for a dedicated workspace. Also make sure that employees fully switch off when the working day is over.

Man in suit looking stressed about his worklife balance

How can the workplace help?

At a startup, it can be vital to the success of a business to start as you mean to go on, with a strong, productive workplace culture.

This includes encouraging a healthy virtual culture. Teams now usually comprise a mix of remote and in house employees, but even in traditional workplaces the use of technology allows for flexibility and meetings are often held virtually. So getting your virtual culture right is important.

Part of any strong culture is in the communication of its values. Does your team actually know what “remote” means? Have you defined it? If you expect people to be at their desks during certain hours, do they know this?

Likewise, if people at your startup are expected to be on call, or if some meetings are mandatory and others optional, it’s really important to be transparent and clear when it comes to setting expectations. This will help everyone in your team plan their life accordingly and it will prevent conflict and clashes.

If possible, creating a tracking system that highlights people’s availability through a shared calendar can help people maintain healthy boundaries, especially if the calendar captures “offline” and “holiday” time, because it will be clear to everyone exactly who is working, and when.

Sheryl Sandberg

Chief Operating Officer at Facebook

“I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids. I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years, that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly.”

Frequently check in with your startup’s staff and colleagues. It really is important to keep an open line of communication with everyone in your team. This will help you to stay ahead of potential issues, such as burnout or worker frustration. This level of communication also allows you to know whether your team needs extra support to be able to perform at their best.

When your team needs help, jump in. As a startup leader, you'll have your own deadlines to worry about. But if someone else is struggling it can be really powerful to lend a hand. Setting a culture starts with the business leaders, by collaborating and helping colleagues meet their deadlines, it sends a powerful message and also shows your team that you care about them. Startups can be really small, so teamwork goes a long way toward success and builds team morale, whilst sharing the burden of stress.

Team of workers smiling after prioritising their worklife balance

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