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Work-Life Balance

I want to start this blog with a personal story.

When I managed a small, combined Employment Relations and Health and Safety team at a large government department, I was astounded by some of the expectations of my fellow HR managers. These managers expected their team members to work whatever hours were needed to get the job done and looked at my team as not being under pressure because we were gone by 4:30pm, if not 5:00pm, most days.

When I look back on this scenario the following comes to mind. All employees across our HR team were employed for 40 hours a week and were all salaried employees. Their IEA stipulated that their salary compensated them for any extra hours that were required to be worked to get a job completed (or words that affect). My team did get things done. Why my team didn't work past 5:00pm very often, if at all, was because I didn't require them to, and their work did not require them to.

The way I looked at my team's work was: if the world wasn't going to end; if people weren't going to die; and if the sky wasn't going to fall down; then if they didn't finish what they were working on in any given day, the work could wait, they should go home and they could (and did) finish the work the next working day. Now, this may have made others envious of my team or even question our work ethic but, as I said, we did get things done. And more importantly my team’s satisfaction scores were often high, and they were generally happy in their work.

So why am I telling you this?

In our current environment employers are facing increasing pressures. Media, and commentators in general, are talking about “the great resignation.” Business costs are increasing through rents, rates, etc. all increasing. People’s spending power is changing due to higher costs of living, petrol increases, and what seems like a relentless inflationary trajectory. I believe that there is a lesson in my story for employers to look differently at how they approach work with their staff.

Yes, pay is important, and employers should pay an appropriate wage for the work their employees do. However, pay alone does not bring, or buy, satisfaction. Today’s employer and/or manager needs to think about how to make the “employee experience” in their workplace a “great experience.” This is where work-life balance can play a part in improving employee satisfaction and morale. Work-life balance will mean different things for different people.

My personal take on it is; if you look after your staff and make it easier for them to care for themselves then they will pay that back in the workplace through higher productivity.

Jack Welch (former Chairman and CEO of General Electric) says, “There is no such thing as work-life balance. There are work life choices and you make them, and they have consequences.”

I agree choices do have consequences. If employers expect too much from their employees, the consequence can be burnout leading to higher turnover, loss of productivity, and greater costs to the organisation. Equally if the employee expects or takes too much this could result in a greater workload for their colleagues who have to pick up the slack, poorer customer experience, lost business, and in the extreme cases loss of job for the employee. However, none of this is a reason for not considering doing something “out of the box” for your employees. Just be aware of and consider how to minimize and/or mitigate the consequences.

I personally like Lori Deschene’s (Founder of Tiny Buddha) view of work life balance. Lori says, “Life is all about balance. You don't always need to be getting stuff done. Sometimes it is perfectly okay, and absolutely necessary, to shut down, kick back, and do nothing.

Don’t misinterpret this as quitting your job or being negligent in your duties as an employer or employee. I see this as stopping what you’re doing, from time to time, to smell the roses. Or, as I said to my staff, how important is it that you finish what you’re doing today? What will happen if you stop work now and finish the job tomorrow?

Sometimes the bravest, and scariest thing to do in the workplace, is knowing when to stop what you’re doing. Pushing on into the late hours might look good, but in all reality who really thanks you for doing that? At what cost does that come to your energy levels, your attention to detail, your productivity? More importantly what impact does that have to your personal life? Your family?

Employers have an obligation to ensure work is done in a safe and healthy environment. Working late for the sake of working late is, in my view, neither healthy nor safe.

Consider how you, as a responsible employer or manager, might be able to structure the way work is done so that your employees get more satisfaction, that they get the right balance between work and personal life without creating unintended consequences. Do you need all your employees at work by 9am? What impact would a four-day week or a nine-day fortnight have on your business? Do any of the jobs your employees perform lend themselves to being done from home? What would the benefits of working from home have for you as well as your employees?

I’ll finish with a couple of quotes off the internet. The first is from singer Dolly Parton - Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life. This is something that employers should think about just as much as employees. The second is an unattributed quote – Make time to enjoy life. If you’re not obsessed with your life, change it. Don’t forget to play.

If you want to have a discussion about what you could do in your workplace to improve the work-life choices for yourself and your employees, email McKone Consultancy a call today.

Photo by Dillon Shook on

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