Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Office workers in masks

WORKLIFE BALANCE 2.0 Part 3 Finding Flexibility AND Balance during a Pandemic and Beyond

by James Porter August 31, 2021

 In this three-part series we will look at work-life balance during the pandemic and beyond. In Part 1 we looked at how to create boundaries where there are none. In Part 2 we explored 5 steps for creating work-life balance. And in part 3 we’ll look at how to provide employees a sense of balance after they return to the workplace.

In last week’s blog we outlined the five steps necessary to create what I call, Work-life Balance 2.0

  1. Setting up virtual boundaries where there aren’t any actual
  2. Integrating work-life and home life.
  3. Creating balance from within.
  4. Managing stress on the fly, while your stress is happening.
  5. Living life in accordance with your highest values.

As we learned in part 1 of this blog, for much of the pandemic, employees working from home were putting in more hours than before the pandemic. (On average about 3 more hours per day.) There was also a significant increase in employee stress which was accompanied by increased levels of smoking, drinking and recreational drug use. Emotional eating led to putting on pandemic pounds and for me the biggest surprise of all is that practically no one was converting the extra time that they might have spent commuting into time spent exercising, doing yoga or engaging in any sort of self-care. During the first 12 months of the pandemic, self-care went right out the window.

Work-life balance, has always been about creating boundaries between work and home. But with the advent of remote work, where do employees begin to establish boundaries? Also employers need to realize that any and all change is stressful. So now that employees have gotten use to working from home, a return to the workplace is going to be seen as a major change and thus a major stressor. This transition, whenever it happens, is going to have to be handled with the utmost care. (BTW: Younger, single employees reportedly can’t wait to return.)

 For those who do return, including that younger group, a vast amount of scheduling flexibility will be lost: Employees will no longer be able to take care of certain personal needs as easily (like all the things one can multi-task while working from home, including doing a round of laundry, cooking a pot of soup, or caring for sick children).

That’s why scheduling flexibility has always been a VERY desirable job attribute and one that employers are going to have embrace more fully once the pandemic is over. According to Ipsos, a poll-taking and news gathering organization, “Those who are currently working from home want flexibility (73%) expect their employers to honor that desire (72%) and feel that they are more productive with a flexible work schedule.”

In a study quoted in The Harvard Business Review, a key part of training supervisors to be MORE SUPPORTIVE is to teach them the importance of providing flexible scheduling. “Once employees viewed their managers as being more supportive, these employees reported improvements in general overall health as measured by such factors as pain and psychological problems. This effect was most pronounced among employees who previously had the highest levels of work/life conflict—for example, a frequent need to change their hours to accommodate children’s schedules,” the study found.

So a key to creating work-life balance is creating scheduling flexibility. The Harvard Business Review article goes on to explain: “Our study showed that prior to the training, employees who perceived their managers as unsupportive had significantly worse job attitudes, blood pressure, heart rates, sleep quality, and general overall health, and were less likely to be with the company a year later. After the supervisors went through the training, workers’ perceptions that their supervisors were supportive on work/life issues had improved significantly. This had important additional consequences in employee health, satisfaction, and safety.”

Employees who have become accustomed to working remotely are most likely going to feel hemmed in by returning to the office unless there is at least a hybrid plan in place that allows them to work from home on certain days. If employers want to retain their best workers, that option, of continuing to work at home when needed – for whatever reason – is going to be a key to creating work-life balance in the future for ALL their employees.

James Porter
James Porter