“Work-life balance” is one of the biggest buzzwords in corporate culture today—especially for companies trying to win and retain top talent in a tight labor market. Unfortunately, it’s also a term that most people get wrong.
A few decades ago, the terms “work-life balance” and “burnout” were pretty much nonexistent. When people were tired, they went to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. When work-life balance started making its way into corporate jargon, companies started competing by offering perks like gym memberships and better vacation options. Today, they are thinking about work-life balance in increasingly innovative ways. Airbnb, for example, gives employees a stipend to stay at an Airbnb anywhere in the world. Burton employees get free ski passes. REI offers two paid days per year for outdoor activities. Cloud communications platform Twilio gives employees a $30 monthly book stipend (and a Kindle).
But what if work-life balance wasn’t just about helping people better their lives, or gain more hours outside of work? What if it was a mindset that we brought in to work with us each day?
Why work-life balance goes beyond providing perks
For me, I find that when I focus on what I can control (like my attitude and behavior), I become more productive. That’s one of the reasons why I recently took some time to write down who I wanted to be as a person, and what kind of characteristics I wanted to cultivate. I had two critical takeaways. I wanted my employees to feel like they had the time to do a similar exercise; and I wanted them to feel like my company could help make the items on their lists possible. I knew that for that to happen, I’d need to create an environment where employees can nurture “work-life balance” at every hour, not just after 5 p.m.
In addition to giving employees more perks for hours they’re off the clock, leaders should be helping employees incorporate the concept of balance into their working lives. After all, what good is a gym pass if you’re too exhausted to go? And what good is a free vacation if you’re checking your work email the whole time?
What employers can do
Corporate leaders should be showing employees that their lives—not just the work they do or the products they create—matter. Every day should be a meaningful day, and not only “another day at the office.” This means not separating personal growth from professional growth.
I’ll give you an example. Employees who pursue healthy lifestyles are often able to maintain higher energy levels throughout the day. Studies have shown that healthier workers are more productive. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside; UCLA; and Washington University found that participation in a wellness program increased average worker productivity by more than 5%. That’s roughly equivalent to adding one additional day of productive work per month for the average employee. Offering programs like nutrition, yoga, and meditation that employees can choose to engage in during the day—even if it’s just on their lunch hour—can be an important step to encouraging healthier lifestyles.
When companies prioritize work-life balance, everyone benefits
Just as people often have separate accounts for different financial goals—whether it be retirement, college, a new car, or vacations—they have “accounts” for personal growth—education, physical fitness, friendships, or mental health. When people put money into these accounts every month, they feel good, and they feel a sense of accomplishment.
Companies are coming up with innovative ways to create an at-work environment that helps fill these accounts. Pinterest, for example, offers employees with new children two counseling sessions when they reenter the workplace (in addition to a robust parental leave policy). Southwest offers its employees confidential work-life services and legal consultations through its employee assistance program.
Each of us has our unique needs, desires, and activities that contribute to our well-being. When employees feel like they have the time to partake in activities that energize them, they feel more balanced at work and home.
It is crucial for business leaders today to consider their employees’ holistic wellness. It makes these employees better people and better workers. Everyone should be able to say when they go to sleep at night, “That was a good day. I bettered myself. I bettered my company. I took time for my health. What I did today mattered.”
After all, you won’t build a successful company with unhappy and burned-out employees.