Management - Offer Employees Work-Life Balance

Tips For Helping Workers Stay Sharp

Work Life BalanceIf business owners want to keep their employees happy and healthy, they should start by looking inward, not outward, according to experts. “My experience with entrepreneurs and small-business owners is, at least for the first 10 to 15 years, they’re very, very bad at modeling the appropriate behavior for their employees,” says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and owner of TechSmith Corporation. “They’re working seven days a week and would never take a break.”

Bosses need to realize, consultants say, that employees often mirror the work habits of their manager. The better example a leader sets, the more likely staffers will achieve the balance they want. Of course, this is just one positive step employers should take. What else can be done? Read on to find out.

Encourage Movement
For the sake of physical health and mental clarity, Jeff Davidson, work-life balance expert at, suggests employees should sit less and move more. “Every 20 minutes someone sits at his or her desk, they at least need to stand up and stretch,” Davidson says. “The third time they get up within an hour, instead of just a five-second stretch, they should walk around for a minute and do anything – meditate, get water, look out a window, breathe deeply, do yoga, whatever.”

Davidson believes the worker who takes 10 one-minute breaks each day will be more productive than the person who plows through assignments and doesn’t move. This is also a simpler and cheaper strategy than providing employee workout rooms or fitness coaches. “Take advantage of the day-to-day opportunities to keep your staff mentally limber,” Davidson says.

Ban Desk Lunches
Davidson spent the first 26 years at his company eating lunch at his desk. It’s a habit he’s since broken and he recommends others do the same. “When you go eat someplace else, even if it’s a park bench or a cafeteria lunchroom in your building, you get mental clearance,” he says. “You come back and you see things differently.”

This doesn’t mean employees have to buy lunch. In fact, going to a restaurant can be expensive and ruin time and energy flow, so Davidson thinks bag lunches make the most sense. “Sometimes you want to eat at 12:00, other times it’s 12:30 or 1:00,” he says. “It varies based on how you feel, what you’re doing, what went well and what didn’t go well.”

Create Wellness Challenges
Heathfield thinks there are easy ways to encourage wellness among employees without spending time and treasure on massive programs. Case in point: a program implemented at her workplace measures the amount of steps that each employee takes each day.

“Every employee who signed up to participate is responsible for logging in daily to input the physical activities they participated in,” she says. “The employees wear pedometers to record their steps at the end of the day.”

Walking to meetings, to the next cubicle or down the block – it all counts. Along with the added exercise they’re encouraged to obtain, everyone who meets the specified walking goal receives a prize, like a logoed tote bag or a pair of sneakers. “The employees love that,” Heathfield says.

TechSmith, Heathfield’s company, also encourages employees to participate in fitness events by footing the bill. “We pay for every 5k race that an employee ever walks or runs,” she says. “I like to see people active. All the research right now on sedentary jobs is people who work at them die sooner. It’s always going back to the culture and environment you’re creating for employees.”

Stop Enabling Overworkers
While it may be tempting to allow especially ambitious employees to put in as many hours on the job as they’d like, Davidson believes this is a mistake. “There are studies in Japan and other places that show that after a certain point, not only does that person begin to decline in productivity, they actually become counterproductive,” he says. “They start undoing the good job they had previously done.”

Heathfield says managers can’t encourage employees’ workaholic behavior. The result will be burnout – something she saw firsthand when she worked for General Motors in the 1980s.

“The plant manager had so much power. I don’t care if the manager had a 6 o’clock meeting – his entire reporting staff would still be sitting there until he was done with that meeting,” Heathfield says. “That was the environment, and it encouraged that kind of behavior, and they were rewarded for it.”

Small-business owners have to think differently and end the 60 to 70 hour workweek. “Longer days don’t necessarily mean employees are doing more or accomplishing goals,” Heathfield says. “They’re just putting in more time.”

Provide Little Perks
Taking a few days off from time to time is important for everyone – but Davidson says giving employees unexpected breaks can be super beneficial, too. “If somebody’s doing a great job and is supposed to get off at 5:00 and it’s 4:44, just go up to them and say, ‘Why don’t you take off early? You’ve done a great job and we’ve done what we need to do for now,’” he says.

Davidson believes little perks show managers understand their employees have lives outside of the office. “Nobody’s going to turn you down, and you’ll see a light going off in their eyes,” he says. “You can give out these little rewards based on what you see, what you hear, what gets turned in, feedback from customers and so on. And the net out-of-pocket expense is really nothing.”

Allow Telecommuting
It’s not an option for all employees, but occasional telecommuting can be a life changer for many staffers. “I’m a firm believer in allowing employees to work at home one or two days a week,” Heathfield says. “The important thing is to have agreed-upon goals and outcomes.”

While many supervisors are used to keeping a close eye on employees, that may not be necessary, especially among workers who have proven their value and self-discipline. “Working from home is a lot about trust,” Heathfield says. “It’s a new way of managing. I think it will work if you go into it carefully and understand the challenges.”

Don’t Ruin Off Time
The end of the workweek should be fun, so don’t send employees off on Fridays by giving them Monday projects. “Don’t give them something to think about over the weekend,” Davidson says. “Let them have complete separation. Most of them don’t want to think about work anyway and are already tuning out.”

Likewise, before employees go on vacation, Heathfield says managers should ease their concerns about an increased workload upon their return. “If you’re gone for two weeks, which is ideally the amount of time you want someone gone, it’s horrible to come back and find that your desk is literally buried because no one caught anything up,” she says. “The manager creates the environment in which others are comfortable in taking the time off. Let there be no penalties for it.”