Culturebie asked about your experiences with work-life balance as employees in the Midwest, and here’s what we found.
A lot has been written about how to achieve work-life balance. But, what do employees actually want? In June 2023, Culturebie created and distributed a short survey to Purpose Jobs’ readers and other employees living in the Midwest.
More than 70 employees in our region answered questions about their perspectives on and experiences with work-life balance, and what they told us reveals things not often mentioned by corporate leaders and consultants.
59% of the employees who participated in the survey said they have good work-life balance. What are their companies doing well? And what are the other 41% unhappy about?
Three Best Practices for Company Leadership to Value Work-Life Balance in the Workplace
Here’s what we learned, distilled into three best practices:
1. There should be an explicit limit on work hours.
Companies that seem to value work-life balance have clear expectations about how much time employees should be spending at work each week. Those expectations can be implicit or explicit, and probably either can work, if the signal is clear enough. Implicit expectations are expressed through informal norms and culture, without necessarily being written down anywhere.
Some comments from participating employees explain what implicit expectations feel like:
“My company respects how many hours a week we work and don’t expect unpaid overtime.”
“Flexible work hours coupled with a relatively meeting-free culture. Saying your work time is flexible is worthless if every hour of the day is booked with a meeting.”
But, explicit expectations are probably more reliable. In our survey, quite a few participants who are happy with their work-life balance indicated that their companies make explicit nudges not to work too many hours. Most often, that came from manager support…
2. Employees need to be proactively supported.
Everyone knows that managers play a key role in driving work-life balance. Through the survey, we found that proactive manager support is what counts.
Lots of workplaces have passive support — where your manager says it's OK for you to have flexible work and nods absent-mindedly when you say you're not going to be in the office tomorrow. Proactive support is when your manager checks in regularly that you're not working more than the expected hours on a consistent basis. Or, insists that you use your vacation days and flexible work benefits. Or, asks if you feel comfortable approaching them to raise concerns about work-life balance.
Comments from survey participants reveal what proactive manager support looks like:
“I am encouraged to take vacation time - at least a couple days each month . . . managers help encourage this.”
“It is actually my manager that is the person pushing for the balance. She is always checking in and making sure we are not burning out.”
3. Trust is what makes flexibility work
Flexibility is routinely touted as key to work-life balance, but flexibility is worthless if managers are secretly resentful of people leaving the office in the middle of the day, or if they only promote the workers who are always around. Real flexibility means that managers assess their employees primarily on the quantity and quality of the work delivered, and not on when or how much they’re physically in the office. Managers who have deeply internalized that concept tend to be the ones who completely trust their employees to manage their own time. Without that trust, real flexibility doesn’t materialize – employees might be free not to be in the office, only to be dinged for it on their performance evaluations.
Comments from survey participants describe what trust and flexibility look like:
“Allowing me to set my own hours. I am responsible for outcomes, and not the # of hours I work.”
“I feel no guilt in scheduling a doctor’s appt. during work hours. There is trust in me that I’ll get my work done.”
Difference between employees with the best and worst work-life balance experience
Besides the qualitative feedback, the numerical scores show a stark difference in the experience of employees who have the best and worst employee satisfaction related to work-life balance.
Compared to employees with poor work-life balance, a higher percentage of employees with good work-life balance said:
- Their workplace expects them to work a reasonable number of hours (33% higher).
- They have manager support (43% higher) in achieving balance.
- They feel comfortable in raising work-life balance concerns (42% higher).
- They have flexibility (26% higher) in where they work.
Comparing employee groups with high and low work-life balance satisfaction
Compared to employees who said they have poor work-life balance, employees who said they have good work-life balance report higher satisfaction with a) Number of hours they are expected to work; b) Manager support; c) Comfort in raising work-life balance concerns, and d) Flexibility in where they work. Scores shown in percentage.
Moving away from the 1-Day, 2-Day, 3-Day conversation
While companies are currently embroiled in conversations about 1-Day, 2-Day, 3-Day in-office work, this approach is not sustainable in the long-term.
A sustainable solution to both high productivity and high work-life balance requires cultural transformation where people are truly valued. How to achieve that? Put an explicit limit on hours worked. Encourage managers to proactively check in about work-life balance. And, ensure that flex-work policies are backed by trust in employees.
About the Author
Jasmit Kaur is CEO of Culturebie, a people analytics company that specializes in understanding employee experience and workplace culture. She brings her experience as a former HR executive at Microsoft to her work as an entrepreneur, data scientist, and mom. (Management skills are handy with children!) Jasmit applies her endless curiosity and tireless energy toward advising leaders on HR and business strategy.