The work-life balance: How to get it right

In a connected world of 24/7 communications, busy personal lives and equally busy days at the office, the work-life balance can easily suffer – along with employees’ performance at work. So what can employers do to help? Bruno Vanhaelst, Senior Vice President Marketing, Strategy and Sales Development of Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services and Sodexo Personal and Home Services, looks at the challenges and solutions to today’s work-life puzzle.

Why is it critical for employers to focus on employees’ work-life balance?

Bruno Vanhaelst: The answer is two-fold, with the first part being ‘Because it’s a priority for working people.’ Finding a balance, in a world where people are connected 24/7 and the lines between worktime and me-time are becoming blurred, is no easy task. Flexibility in the working day is becoming key. In studies, nearly half of HR directors say they offer the option of more flexible working hours to attract and recruit new talent1 , while most U.S. managers believe flexibility has a positive effect on employee engagement (60%), motivation (57%) and satisfaction (68%) 2. A recent Sodexo survey 3 showed that 90% of employees want to spend more time outside the workplace, while another study 4 found that improving the work-life balance was the No. 2 priority for employees. The second part of the answer is that employees who are struggling to balance their lives will be less engaged and less productive during their hours at work.

What kind of issues lie behind a poor work-life balance? BV:

There is a wide variety, from one-off incidents to ongoing situations: the heating boiler breaks down at home, a child is too ill to go to school, or there is a health issue with elderly relatives – a particular problem for the ‘sandwich generation’, who are caring for children and parents at the same time, while trying to hold down a job. Meanwhile, some families are single-parent and others, after divorce, are juggling two sets of mothers and fathers. At the same time, there are also work-related pressures. For many employees, workloads are increasing during office hours and then being extended into evenings and weekends – notably due to work-related emails that land in people’s smartphones. In a globalized economy, where cost-cutting is often high on the corporate agenda, employees can find themselves under pressure to produce more, with fewer resources, and to work longer hours. All of this creates stress, along with the risk of occupational burnout and even depression. In the UK, work-related stress is estimated to cost the country 10.4 million lost working days a year5. The same study also found that 27% of employees feel depressed, 34% feel anxious and 58% feel irritable when working longer hours. Needless to say, conditions like these affect people’s performance and staff retention. How can employers address this kind of situation? BV: There are various options, although the pace and complexity of modern life is a societal issue, rather than something that a company can resolve. If the first step is to have an office space that provides a pleasant working environment, the second is to offer a range of solutions – help with childcare, looking after seniors, financial support, flexible working schedules or concierge services to help employees with various day-to-day needs in their busy lives. In short, it’s about offering solutions that save people time, money, or sometimes both. To take employee programs a stage further, a third option would be to implement initiatives that improve their wellbeing through health & wellness programs, recognition platforms, employee assistance programs or learning and development. Obviously, I would add that it’s important to identify benefits that appeal to different employee profiles and lifestyles.

What sort of profiles are involved here? BV:

An international study by Sodexo has identified four distinct groups6. The ‘Pragmatist at Work’ tends to be older, with no children, and is employed by a large company. Salary is more important in this category. The ‘Fulfilment Seeker’ is younger, more likely to be working in a start-up and is less motivated by salary. Spread across all social categories and ages, you find the ‘Work-Life Balancer’, while the ‘Work-to-Live’ employee tends to be younger, planning to marry or start a family and is not really engaged in the employer’s goals. It’s crucial to understand the different lifestyles and needs of these various groups, in order to offer a suitable solution for each one.

What kind of impact can a better work-life balance have? BV:

It’s significant, and the same around the world. A study by Sodexo in seven countries found that 89% of SME leaders noticed an increase in productivity and efficiency after implementing measures to make it easier for employees to manage their personal lives. Meanwhile, 88% of respondents found such measures improved their company’s reputations, 82% reported that they made recruitment easier and 74% said turnover had increased. So, there is little doubt about their direct benefits to business. There is also a very clear benefit in reducing staff turnover – and all the associated costs. In a study by the Hay Group, using its database of more than five million employees, more than 25% who perceived no support for their work-life balance planned to leave their employers within the next two years, compared to 17% of employees who did feel supported8. A survey carried out by Sodexo9 found that employees in five different countries (Brazil, United States, France, Poland and India) rated the work-life balance as the second most important aspect of a job.

How can Sodexo help companies improve their employees’ work-life balance? BV:

Between our Benefits and Rewards Services and our Personal and Home Services, Sodexo has a broad portfolio available. These services include childcare support, mobility solutions, financial planning tools, health and wellness programs, concierge services, home care for dependent individuals, recognition programs among others and all of this enable employees to devote themselves fully to their work, in the knowledge that they will receive all the support they need in their private lives. This makes a very direct improvement to people’s quality of life, and the feedback we get is incredible. 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study – CareerArc and Idem Circles 2015 Consumer Research Report – Sodexo 2016 Sodexo Benefits & Rewards study involving 3,224 employees and 880 companies in the United States, India, France, Brazil and Poland 2016 Mental Health Foundation study 2016 Sodexo Benefits & Rewards study involving 3,224 employees and 880 companies in the United States, India, France, Brazil and Poland Quality of Life: a BIG asset for small business leaders — SODEXO benefits and rewards services - 2015 2016 Sodexo Benefits & Rewards study involving 3,224 employees and 880 companies in the United States, India, France, Brazil and Poland