A good work/life balance is the responsibility of both the employer and the employee

These days, more and more people are struggling to achieve a good work/life balance. New developments at work (flexible working hours, continuous accessibility, globalisation) as well as in the personal arena (more ambitious dual earners, a wider range of leisure activities) are creating new challenges. In addition, social media makes everything public and puts pressure on you to have a seemingly perfect life. However, experiencing a sense of balance both at work and at home greatly affects your general quality of life. It also means that employees have less chance of developing stress or depression and companies can count on more dedicated and loyal staff.

The doctorate by Sara De Hauw, a researcher at Vlerick Business School, reveals that it is mainly the interplay between the employer and the employee which is essential when seeking initiatives which aim to improve the work/life balance. These days, the emphasis mainly lies on what the employer can or should do in terms of the working environment, but there are also many things which employees can do to improve their own work/life balance.

What determines the balance?

Whether the balance tends towards the positive or negative is determined by a combination of two factors. Sara De Hauw: “By work/life balance, we mean a person's general assessment of how successful they are within their different roles at home and at work, and how satisfied they are in these respects. Whether a person experiences a good or bad work/life balance is determined by a combination of the working environment within the company and what the actual employee thinks and does”.

Work requirements and support provided by the company

The working environment or working climate is determined by two elements.

1/ the REQUIREMENTS imposed on the employees. There are 3 types of requirements:

  • Emotional requirements: dealing with conflicts and complaints
    This always has a negative impact on the well-being of the employees. As a company, you must therefore immediately nip any negative emotions relating to conflicts and complaints in the bud or ensure that people can express their feelings.
  • Workload: how busy you are, what you are expected to get done within a specific period
  • Cognitive requirements: the focus, attention and mental energy which is required to perform a particular job
    Contrary to expectations, the workload and cognitive requirements do not have an inherent impact on employee well-being. However, everyone has their own optimal level. If the requirements exceed this level, people find it difficult to keep up and this adversely affects their well-being. Conversely, if the requirements are too low, there is not enough of a challenge. It is therefore very important for the company and the employee to work together to create the right level of tension by means of performance interviews.

2/ the SUPPORT which people receive from their working environment

  • If you are given a great deal of support by the organisation in general and by your colleagues, this will immediately boost your sense of well-being which will also have a positive impact on your work/life balance.
  • However, the support which you may or may not receive from your boss has a more indirect effect. The manager can make a positive contribution to a good work/life balance by 1) creating a safe working environment in which employees themselves can take more initiative to improve their balance and well-being and 2) creating a cooperative and enjoyable working environment which helps employees to think positively and 3) encouraging people.

Attack is the best form of defence

Employees who are dissatisfied with their work/life balance tend not to realise that there are several things they can do to remedy the situation themselves. Research has shown that two types of strategies are very efficient.

1/ perception: what is your own opinion of your work requirements and how does this make you feel?
Positive thinking and optimism when it comes to believing that things can change are very powerful weapons which can give your work/life balance an immediate boost. The use of humour can also help to put things into perspective.

2/ changing the situation: taking the initiative yourself and putting forward concrete proposals
Sara De Hauw: “For an employee, communication is the first and best weapon. It goes without saying that you can't change your company overnight, but everything starts with communication and openness. For example, take a critical look at your division of labour. Where do the obstacles lie? For example, these may include skills which you do not yet have but would like to develop. However, it is also important to look ahead. If you know that various projects will come up in the same month, it's best to bring this problem up with your boss well in advance so that you can look for a solution together in good time. This will have a much more positive effect on your work/life balance than waiting until it all gets too much and only then raising the alarm.

Finally, it can also help to step back a little and think about what you really want, both at work and in your personal life. What are your goals? What do you want to achieve? And which choices will you make along the way?

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