As you head into the July 4th holiday, it’s a great time to share some crucial strategies for unplugging with your employees. The desire for work-life balance is not new, but the pandemic has changed what people value and how they achieve it. While employees are now more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work, they are also feeling pressure to be “always on.”
The top two reasons people quit their jobs were ‘personal well-being or mental health’ and ‘work-life balance,’ according to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index study.
Organizations have reaped the benefits of hybrid work, including increased flexibility, improved employee satisfaction and retention, and enhanced productivity and performance. However, it’s also created a work environment with few boundaries or guidelines for unplugging. The line between professional and personal life is blurred, and employees feel the strain and burnout of working around the clock.
Challenges of Hybrid Work on Work-Life Balance
While working from home has its advantages, it also has drawbacks, including feelings of loneliness and difficulty separating work from personal time. With modern technology making connecting more accessible than ever, employees commonly face these challenges that make it difficult to separate work from personal life:
Blurred boundaries between work and personal life.
With hybrid work comes the flexibility and technology to stay connected 24/7, which has led to a more challenging time separating work from personal life. Findings from Microsoft suggest that the 9-to-5 workday is quickly disappearing, with more employees working “after hours,” particularly between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. These additional hours are contributing to a “third peak” in the workday, where some workers are jumping back on their emails and messaging apps.
“The third peak should be an available option for people who need it, but the challenge moving forward is, ‘How can we make sure people are not working 24/7?’ If people are working all three peaks, that’s a recipe for early burnout.”
- Shamsi Iqbal, principal researcher at Microsoft Research/Viva Insights
Potential for longer working hours.
The blurred physical space between work and home also leads to employees working longer hours. The average Teams user now sends 42% more chats per person after hours, according to Microsoft. Working longer just because it’s more convenient backfires at a certain point, straining well-being and work performance.
Difficulty in disconnecting from work.
Employees feel like they need to be “always on” in a digitally-connected world. Digital overload has become an urgent issue in the new remote and hybrid work era. According to Microsoft, 54% of respondents felt overworked, while 39% described themselves as exhausted. More than half of employees (59%) report burnout, found Aflac in their WorkForce report.
Organizations must clarify that flexible work doesn’t mean “always on.” Offering a cookie-cutter approach to well-being is ineffective, as many factors can contribute to a skewed work-life balance. Instead, organizations can promote total well-being, starting with intentionally rolling out these 5 strategies:
1. Set Clear Expectations and Norms
A key to mitigating the “always on” mentality is having managers work with teams to set explicit norms around core working hours, such as expectations around appropriate response times. For instance, you might ask team members to respond to chats within an hour during core working hours. To ensure that these expectations are the norm for everyone, organizations can develop policies around response times for different communication channels and clarify expectations for work outside of regular hours.
“I think we need to reset the expectation and realize that most information, unless it’s urgent, can wait for a reply.”
- Shamsi Iqbal, principal researcher at Microsoft Research/Viva Insights
2. Encourage Regular Breaks and Time Off
Studies have shown that breaks—even if short—throughout the day can improve well-being and productivity. Research by Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab found that breaks between meetings allowed the brain to “reset,” reducing a cumulative buildup of stress, while back-to-back meetings can decrease the ability to focus and engage.
Organizations can help normalize taking breaks by fostering positive attitudes toward them and taking breaks themselves. For instance, HR managers can include information about taking breaks in the company’s wellness training programs and during “wellness moments.” Managers who take breaks and lead by example help prevent possible stigma and guilt around employees taking breaks.
“Empower your employees to block time on their own calendars for 15-min breaks and/or 1-2 hour heads-down time to avoid meeting burnout.” -Jenny Moebius, SVP at Skedda
3. Model Effective Time Management
In a hybrid work model, employees can easily try to tackle the ever-increasing workload by working more, which leads to burnout. Managers can help by helping to prioritize projects and setting realistic goals. Adopting a goal-setting framework like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can help employees understand the broader business goals and how their work supports that, empowering them to focus on work that matters most and delay less important tasks.
Additionally, organizations can help by utilizing time management techniques and tools, such as building in breaks and cutting down on unneeded meetings. For example, managers might start meetings five minutes after the hour or wrap up meetings 5 to 10 minutes before the hour so employees have a break between meetings. Leveraging more asynchronous communication and making face-to-face meetings more intentional allow employees to manage their time more efficiently.
4. Foster a Supportive Company Culture
Employees view a supportive company culture as very important. According to Microsoft, respondents viewed “positive culture” (46%) and “mental health/well-being benefits” (42%) as “very important.” Organizations can create a company culture that fosters employee engagement and inclusion in a hybrid work environment in the following ways:
Allow for flexibility and work time preferences.
People vary on when they work most productively. A developer who writes code may be more productive in the evening, while a writer may be more in tune with their muse in the early morning. Allowing for some flexibility on when employees work—especially for focused, independent work—can help some find a better balance.
Provide resources for mental health and well-being.
Four in five employees agree that mental health coverage is as important as major medical coverage, according to Aflac. Organizations can offer mental health benefits and consider new online platforms like virtual visits and digital therapeutics to address employee burnout.
Conduct regular check-ins and feedback sessions.
It’s essential to check in with people to ensure they don’t feel like they need to work around the clock to keep up. People have different needs and challenges that may not always be easy to spot. Managers can help by fostering transparent communication during weekly 1:1s and by conducting feedback sessions with empathy.
Promote self-care and stress management.
Physical and mental breaks decrease burnout, improve productivity, and reduce mistakes. Organizations can strongly encourage employees to take at least a 10-minute break every hour with a combination of physical activity (stretching or walking) and restorative mental activities (meditation or naps).
“Workplace leadership can play a crucial role in the overall well-being of their employees simply by paying attention to their behavior. Supporting employees taking breaks, leaving on time, and using vacation time is important for productivity. An overworked employee is going to be less sharp and ultimately less productive.”
- Dr. Teralyn Sell, Psychotherapist and brain health expert
5. Invest in Technology and Infrastructure for Supporting Work-Life Balance
It may seem counterintuitive to incorporate more technology into a workforce already experiencing digital overload, but tech tools can help workers better manage their time when used appropriately. For instance, scheduling options in Microsoft Outlook can “pause” messages sent after work hours, meaning employees will only see the messages in their inbox when working hours resume.
Additionally, technology that supports asynchronous workflows can help reduce the number of meetings—especially during unconventional hours with distributed teams—-that employees sit through. For example, employees can record a Loom video for team members on the other side of the globe to watch during their regular working hours.
Improving Work-life Balance in a Hybrid Work Model
Organizations can support their employees by modeling sustainable working habits, ensuring employees get breaks, and adopting practices promoting health and well-being. Managers can monitor and assess their team’s needs by collecting feedback and conducting surveys, then using this information to adjust policies and practices. As organizations figure out what hybrid work looks like for their business, they must constantly communicate their approach to helping employees achieve healthier work-life balances. Leaders must also demonstrate their commitment to evolving norms and best practices as they learn more about improving the hybrid working experience.
For insights on how to build human connection and a vibrant hybrid work culture, read our Humaning series with Jackie Dube, CPO of The Predictive Index. If you’re ready to start scheduling and booking desks and rooms, create your free Skedda account today.