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Finding Balance: Evidence-Based Strategies for Employers

 “[W]ork needs to have a balance that I have rarely lived. It’s a balance that lets us offer our gifts to the world but not at the cost of self and family.[i]”—J. R Storment, President @ FinOps Foundation, reflecting on work and life after the loss of his 8-year-old son.

The vast majority of American workers say that work–life balance is a problem, with 54% calling it a “significant problem.[ii]” Technology has fueled 24/7/365 work connectivity, and 57% of employees say it has ruined the family dinner, viewed as an important ingredient to balance. More than half (57%) of employees think their employer is not doing enough to solve work–life balance problems, and 60% blame their boss.[iii] These statistics highlight that attaining work–life balance is a challenge and employees want their companies to do more to help. The goal of this article is to answer three questions to help leaders address these problems:

  1. What is balance?
  2. Why should companies care about employees’ balance? And
  3. What are evidence-based strategies to promote better balance?

What is balance? Although balance has been a watercooler and popular press topic for a long time, scholars have only recently begun to examine the meaning of balance. The term “balance” implies equilibrium such as having equality between time and energy at work with one’s personal life. However, scholarly consensus is that balance is not about equality. Instead, balance captures a person’s appraisal of how satisfied and effective they are in combining or integrating valued work and nonwork roles, which is unique for each person.[iv]

Why should companies care about employees’ balance? Perhaps rooted in the equilibrium notion, a common but antiquated assumption is that to get more balance, employees take time from work and, in doing so, harm individual and organizational performance. The evidence, however, speaks to the contrary. 

Research shows that having family-friendly policies or culture creates a competitive advantage by attracting workers, especially younger job seekers. Employees with greater balance are more satisfied with their jobs, more committed to their organizations, have better physical health, and their supervisors rate them as performing their jobs better and engaging in more citizenship behaviors. They also have fewer intentions to quit and are less likely to suffer from burnout and depression.[v] In other words, having more balance means better attitudes, well-being, and performance, not worse. At the firm level, work-life initiatives relate to increased productivity (1-3% increase in output per employee for each 10% increase in a “family friendly” index). Taken together, there is compelling evidence that efforts to promote employee balance positively impact the bottom line.

What are evidence-based strategies to promote better employee balance5[vi]?

  • Focus on family-friendly culture > policies. Though formal policies may offer a recruiting advantage, they are not related to greater employee balance. If policies are available, employees should believe they are fair and can be used without negative repercussions. As one employee stated, “While the formal policies are in place… there are also endless meetings, tasks, expectations…which feel mandatory or you will be seen as less than committed, and at risk of job loss.”  More important than policies, firms should create a culture where employees perceive informal support for family roles such as providing time off for family and allowing them to address personal matters at work. Top management should examine its values, assumptions, and norms about what it means to be a “great” employee, “great” parent, and to have a “great” career. When managers focus on the results of work rather than “face time,” it benefits balance and reduces turnover. Challenge assumptions about linear career paths and that committed workers don’t attend to personal matters. In the words of another employee, “It is important for people at [the firm] to not assume that…because you are a single-mother/parent, you are not a driven and focused employee. It is important to not pass up people with high family needs just because of this. They desire to be successful and grow professionally too.” Another said that if family situations arise, “it’s almost like you are looked down on when you need to leave work to deal with it.” Addressing balance-hindering cultural perceptions is key.
  • Management should “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk.” Closely linked to culture is the importance of top management role modeling work–life balance by talking about their personal lives, leaving work at a reasonable time for personal pursuits, taking vacation time, and not sending emails on weekends. People do what is rewarded, so it is essential to align formal and informal rewards with behaviors that are supportive of family while also meeting work expectations. Communicate and celebrate employees’, particularly managers’, strategies for and success in work–family balance. This starts at the top and employees notice what you do, not what you say: “There needs to be a shift in the firm's culture at the very top tiers. It is hard to regard these [work–life discussions] as anything more than lip service when the trend within the successful leaders is one rampant with high divorce rates, excessive work hours and little to no work life balance…This is a firm that culturally says all the right things, but really… we quietly applaud and promote the activities that denigrate work life balance and promote the individuals who are willing to lay it all on the line.”
  • Train supervisors to be family supportive. One of the most important ways to improve balance is by supervisors providing emotional support and day-to-day resources or services to assist employees in managing work and family roles. In one of the few intervention studies, self-paced computer training on how to provide family-supportive supervision and a behavioral self-monitoring exercise reduced work–family conflict and promoted employee physical health, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions. Such training can also help ensure consistency across supervisors within the same organization across departments or locations. For more information, see https://workfamilyhealthnetwork.org/.
  • Provide schedule control and flexibility. Another key predictor of balance is schedule flexibility. Self-scheduling initiatives improve balance. Companies like Procter & Gamble, Texas Instruments, Cisco Systems, and many others offer flexible work arrangements, telework, job sharing, and other opportunities for employees to deliver business results while having flexibility in when, where, and how they work. Other informal arrangements between managers and employees might include a later arrival time, shorter lunch, letting the employee take work home, and so forth to help foster balance.
  • Consider job design and workload management. Don’t overlook the job itself as a potential source for balance. Having too much to do in too little time, less job security, and less autonomy = less balance. Talking with employees about whether they feel overloaded and how to prioritize their work, delegating to others, and empowering employees to make decisions about their job will all help with balance.
  • Provide training and/or employee assistance programs that focus on individual and family aspects of attaining balance. Individual characteristics, including neuroticism, extraversion, psychological capital, and mindfulness, are associated with balance. Firms should offer programs to help people become aware of their characteristics and to better self-regulate their interpretation of work–family events, use of technology, being present in the moment, and so on. Workplace trends of boundarylessness, technology, and globalization will continue to require self-regulation and organizational support of work–life boundaries.

In conclusion, an employee posed the following question to his employer: “It’s clear that family friendliness is a competitive edge if you look at the research. Well, why wouldn't we want that edge?”

This #SmarterWorkplace post was contributed by Dr. Julie Wayne. A professor at Wake Forest University, Julie is a trailblazer in the study of work–family interface, whose impactful, rigorous research has been repeatedly highlighted in the media.  

September is Smarter Workplace Awareness Month! Smarter Workplace Awareness Month is dedicated to celebrating and promoting the science and practice of I-O psychology and how I-O psychology can help improve the workplace. This year, we are focusing on the Top Ten Workplace Trends for 2019. Smarter Workplace Awareness Month and the SIOP Top 10 Trends are initiatives of the SIOP Visibility Committee. Watch the 2019 Top 10 Trends Overview Video and visit Top 10 Trends web page for more historical context on the trends.



[i] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/its-later-than-you-think-j-r-storment/

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/worklifeoffkilter.aspx

[iii] https://smallbiztrends.com/2018/02/work-life-balance-statistics.html

[iv] Wayne, J. H., Butts, M. B., Casper, W. J., & Allen, T. A. (2017). In search of balance: A conceptual and empirical integration of multiple meanings of work-family balance. Personnel Psychology, 70, 167-210. 

[v] Amirkamali, F., Vaziri, H., Casper, W., DeHauw, S., Wayne, J., & Greenhaus, J. (2016). Work-life balance, its antecedents and outcomes: A meta-analysis. Work-Family Researchers Network Conference.

[vi] Amirkamali, F., Vaziri, H., Casper, W., DeHauw, S., Wayne, J., & Greenhaus, J. (2016). Work-life balance, its antecedents and outcomes: A meta-analysis. Work-Family Researchers Network Conference.

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