Checking your smartphone at night from the comfort of your couch? You may feel like you’re being productive, but you might need a “work/balance” intervention, says Dr. Carmella Sebastian.
Also known as The Wellness Whisperer, Dr. Sebastian believes that creating a healthy work/life balance is the employers’ responsibility in many ways. A company’s bottom line wins when you take steps to help your workers separate their personal and professional lives.
“As an employer, you’re in the best position to help employees turn the chaos in their lives into balance,” says Dr. Sebastian, a Wellness Council of America-certified expert in workplace wellness. “You’re the one who will benefit from their increased productivity—and frankly, you may be the main reason their lives are out of balance in the first place.”
Here, Dr. Sebastian shares five win-win strategies to help your employees separate their work lives from their personal lives and enhance both in the process:
1. First, walk the walk yourself. If you’re serious about helping your employees achieve a healthier work/life balance, you have to be willing to set the example. This isn’t negotiable.“If you want your people to unplug from their devices, take time for themselves, de-stress, and more, you can’t be sending them emails at 10 p.m., frantically making requests of others on their way out the door, and constantly calling in while you’re on vacation,” says Dr. Sebastian. “They’ll follow your lead, not your suggestions. And have you ever considered that maybe improving your own work/life balance might make you a better leader?”
2. Encourage employees to take those unused vacation days. According to Expedia’s 2013 Vacation Deprivation study, on average, Americans were given 14 vacation days but used only 10 of them. (That’s twice as many unused vacation days as the previous year.) And let’s not forget—this is paid time off we’re talking about. So why do employees leave those four—or sometimes more—days on the table? In some cases, they’re too busy. In others, they may feel that company culture discourages “too much” absence, or they may want to prove themselves indispensable. And, of course, some people are workaholics or simply forget to plan.
“As an employer, let your people know that it’s okay—and even encouraged—to take the full amount of vacation,” advises Dr. Sebastian. “Tell them explicitly that you believe rest, relaxation, and outside adventures make them better workers. To put your money where your mouth is, you may even want to build ‘extra’ vacation days that aren’t calendar holidays into your schedule. Either the whole company could close, or different departments could rotate having three-day weekends, for instance. You’ll be surprised by the effect this has on morale and productivity.
3. Specify that the beach is not a sandy office. No, you may not go as far as France, which recently passed a law specifying that workers in the digital and consulting industries must avoid email and switch off work phones before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. But it’s still a good idea to encourage your people to back away from their devices when they’re not at work. Fair warning: This might be an uphill battle. According to Expedia, 67 percent of Americans stay connected to the office (checking voicemail and email) while on vacation.
“Tell your people to enjoy their evenings, weekends, and especially vacations,” Dr. Sebastian suggests. “You can use many of the tactics I share to ensure that as much work as possible is completed within the workday, and you can help individuals work ahead prior to taking vacation days. But as I’ve already mentioned, unplugging is a part of your organization’s culture that will need to start at the top. If you don’t practice what you preach, you can’t fault your employees for feeling that they, too, need to stay connected outside of work hours.”
4. Teach time management. Often, employees remain tethered to their devices in the evenings and on weekends because they’re worried about unfinished tasks and loose ends that might require their attention. While you might not be able to guarantee that your people can leave work at work every single day, you can help them gain the skills that will reduce their amount of “homework.”
“Training on time management, prioritization, organization, the effective use of lists, and so forth can be surprisingly effective,” Dr. Sebastian says. “I can almost guarantee that all of your employees have unproductive work habits. By addressing them, you can help your team manage their workloads and be in a more comfortable place when it’s time to go home each evening.”
5. Teach stress management techniques, too. Unless you oversee an organization of ice cream tasters or mattress testers, there’s no such thing as a stress-free workplace. That’s not a bad thing; a small amount of anxiety keeps us alert and motivated. But too often, employees feel an unhealthy amount of stress that bleeds into and affects their personal lives, too. Believe it or not, stress costs American businesses around $300 billion each year!
“Work-related stress contributes to health problems, absenteeism, burnout, and turnover,” Dr. Sebastian points out. “If you offer a short workshop that teaches stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga, for instance, your employees will reap the benefits. And just knowing that you’re concerned about their mental health will also lift a weight from their shoulders.
“Also, educate your employees on the benefits of getting enough sleep,” she adds. “Let them know that you want them to get an adequate amount of rest, which is seven to nine hours a night for adults. Point out that sleep is essential for focus, creativity, a positive attitude, and general health. This may discourage workaholism; after all, people can’t work till 7 or 8 p.m., take care of all of their personal obligations, and get eight hours of sleep. It’s just not possible.”