Creating Balance Through Work-life Integration

 Global business executive Reece Tomlinson discusses the importance of a work-life balance and how to implement these values in your practice

 According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term ‘work-life balance’ is defined as ‘the division of one’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities’. Achieving balance, based on this empirical separation of work versus family and leisure activities has been a topic that has been widely discussed and pursued. Unfortunately, achieving equilibrium through this notion of work-life balance is both misleading and the term itself is arguably largely antiquated. At best, the term presents an ideal that few can actually achieve, and at worst, it creates an invisible paradigm that states that one’s work-life must come at the expense of one’s personal-life and vice versa. Traditionally, work-life balance has attempted to provide a defined time to which an employee works, which conveniently happens to permit an employee with enough non-working hours remaining to have a ‘life’ and, as a result, achieve supposed ‘balance’. The problem with this notion is that the busy world we all live in does not always allow for this. Whether it’s the rampant use of technology to provide easy access to emails after hours or long commutes to and from the workplace; a myriad of factors contribute to the undeniable reality that, for many, real work-life balance can be difficult to achieve.

Data collected by Investec Private Banking in 2015 indicated that 25% of professionals, including those working in healthcare, are unhappy with their work-life balance.  Another 2015 study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that one in every eight employees across the 35 countries works 50 hours or more each week on a routine basis. When analyzing the statistics, it is clear that a large number of employees are dissatisfied with their work-life balance.

For many, such as aesthetic clinic owners and managers, achieving work-life balance is simply not feasible. This inability to achieve work-life balance, in the traditional sense of the word, is due largely to high levels of work demands, irregular work hours, patient demands, training and education obligations as well as the myriad of challenges associated with running a business. Therefore, how do we as leaders, managers and business owners bridge this gap and reduce the dissatisfaction that so many employees face as a result of this perceived lack of balance in their lives?

 Work-life integration

The solution may be to look at the problem differently. Rather than suggesting that work and life are on opposing plains and are mutually exclusive of one another, ‘work-life integration’ suggests that the key to achieving balance is to integrate the two via the blending of what they do professionally and personally.6 But, some may ask, how can work-life integration be much more effective at actually achieving balance? Primarily, work-life integration allows employees the ability to integrate what they value into their daily lives. Whether it be exercising or spending more time with their families, almost everyone has aspects of their life upon which they place great importance and would otherwise grow dissatisfied if they were not able to perform as a result of their work commitments. When an employee can blend work and leisure, it creates higher levels of satisfaction and overall happiness at the workplace. This can equate to fitting in gym sessions during the work day, taking breaks to meet a friend for lunch or attend important family events, leaving early to have dinner with the family and working in the evening to make up for the time lost during the day. Regardless of how this blend is achieved, the concept is significantly more fluid than the traditional concept of work-life balance and is one that allows employees to feel more satisfied with both the professional and personal elements of their lives.6 As a clinic owner or manager, providing an atmosphere conducive to work-life integration can be simple to implement and the benefits will far exceed the costs. A 2014 study by Gallop indicated that companies with high levels of employee engagement are 22% more profitable and experience 65% lower employee turnover.5 In economic times like these, where finding suitable employees is nothing short of a challenge, this is a statistic that clinic owners and managers need to take note of.

  The four concepts

I’ve led and managed companies that promote work-life integration and others that indivertibly promoted the opposite. However, from these experiences, I’ve concluded that there are four simple but effective concepts that can be relatively easily implemented in order to provide an atmosphere more conducive to work-life integration.

1.      Be flexible about working outside of the office

Providing flexibility as to when and where the employee chooses to work can be powerful because it can change the dynamic of the employee-employer relationship to one that becomes both more performance-focused and simultaneously mutually beneficial. For example, providing flexibility could mean the difference between an employee having dinner with their children and completing the remainder of their work at home after they put the children to bed, versus regularly missing such an important daily event, which may eventually lead to resentment and dissatisfaction at work. Not only are these factors important to employees, they are equally as important to the clinic owner and managers themselves. All factors being considered equal, the long-term impact of providing flexibility can be a dramatic increase in job satisfaction.

In order to achieve this flexibility, it is important to provide the tools that allow flexible and remote work to be performed. New technologies and computer platforms ranging from communication, data management, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are available and are designed to incorporate remote work programs. These technologies may not be as expensive as you think, but of course, must be budgeted for. The focus should be on employee results, regardless of where the employees complete the work, as long as it is feasible. One of the challenges with providing flexibility is the concept of whether or not it can get abused by employees. The answer is yes it can, however, the easiest way to manage this is to make the employee’s performance the sole measuring tool for whether or not they are doing their job. If the objectives are communicated and measured, an employee will not be able to take advantage of such flexibility and appropriate corrective action by the clinic owner or manager can be taken. Providing flexible working conditions requires trust on behalf of the clinic owner or manager that employees will do their jobs and not abuse the system, those who do should be disciplined appropriately, reprimanded or ‘let go’, as abuse of such flexibility will typically be associated with a lack of performance, which in today’s clinic, cannot be tolerated.

Providing flexibility may not be feasible for all positions, but when it is, it is simple to implement, can be cost-effective and goes a long way for improving balance.

 

2.      Promote healthy activities in the workplace

This one is as simple as it sounds. I’m not suggesting you implement mandatory fitness sessions, but it can be as straightforward as providing the opportunity to join healthy activities such as in-office yoga, walking clubs, and lunchtime sports. Regardless of one’s propensity for physical fitness, exercise can increase employee happiness and well-being. A study completed by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia determined that even small amounts of physical activity increased brain activity and reduced stress hormones.  At the company I run, we provide in-office yoga, juice days – where we bring in freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, and a myriad of office events to help break-up the day and get people moving. It’s amazing what simply getting active, even for short periods of time, can do for how you feel during the day. Moreover, it is a great recruitment tool as it is attractive to potential employees, is relatively cheap and our internal studies tell us that this is deeply valued.

 

3.      Encourage employees to take flexible personal time and vacations

This one may seem quite contradictory to the way the average workplace is structured, however, providing employees with time to take care of personal items without having to take it as part of their annual leave is critical to improving balance.

When I hear of employers refusing to provide personal time to their employees for no apparent reason for things like doctor appointments, having a lunch with a relative who is in town for a short period of time or attending major personal milestone events; it simply astounds me. Refusing to grant time for such activities can create resentment, resentment fuels negative performance, and, from experience, increases employee turnover. Whether it’s managed through a formal program or kept informal, providing your employees with the ability to leave in order to take care of personal items or just to simply get out of the office is something that can be profoundly important. However, as I mentioned in concept 1, such flexibility should be provided solely on the premise that employee performance does not become negatively impacted. In the context of an aesthetic clinic, ensuring successful customer experiences is paramount and therefore not all positions may fit the flexible working model.

When it comes to vacations, we take it a step further and offer our employees the ability to take the time they need or want. Of course, once they have used their paid leave, extra days will be unpaid.

Keep in mind that with such initiatives it must be made very clear that performance cannot suffer, and the day-to-day duties must be completed without issue. Of course, the opportunity for abuse of such a program is there, however, if you hire employees you trust, this should not be an issue.

 

4.      Have some fun

Assuming one works 40 hours per week, approximately 35% of our waking hours are at work. Add the demands of life into the mix and it’s easy to see why it’s important to have some fun at work. Spending 35% of your time at a place that is dry, perhaps boring, and generally not fun, leads to a stale environment that your employees may eventually dread coming into. If we all have to work, which most of us do, why not make it fun? Throw in office games, social activities, birthday parties and celebrate wins as a team. Tie in quarterly incentives and have parties when the objectives are met. You can still incorporate the need to focus on results while having fun, in fact, I would suggest that the entire concept of providing such activities should be based around achieving major milestones. Not only does having fun improve the general office atmosphere, it also builds employee rapport and, in my experience, can build the effectiveness of teams.

Summary

In closing, it is becoming recognized that what is good for employees, is good for their employers. Not only will the above four concepts have a major impact on your employee’s sense of balance, they can also help to significantly improve the corporate culture, improve company performance and help attract top talent.