Father working from home while kids play on the floor.
Providing employees with an effective work-life balance often entails you reaching out to them to ask what they need, and you setting the example yourself. — Getty Images/NoSystem images

Before the pandemic, the American Psychological Association estimated that workplace stress costs the U.S. economy over $500 billion a year, with 550 million workdays lost annually due to burnout. Since COVID-19, the problem has only gotten worse.

No one benefits from workplace stress. Here’s how business owners can create a workplace that can offer a healthier work-life balance.

[Read more: 5 Small Businesses Reveal the Secret to a Powerful Company Culture]

Understand the root of the problem

Intuitively, achieving work-life balance must mean simply working less — right?

Actually, according to Gallup, it’s not simply over-work that’s the problem. Burnout is rooted in how people experience their workload. “When people feel inspired, motivated and supported in their work, they do more work — and that work is significantly less stressful on their overall health and wellbeing,” wrote the consulting firm.

A second study found that employees expect employers to be more supportive and provide a greater sense of belonging, connection, well-being and flexibility at work. There are different ways to meet this expectation, but it’s also worthwhile to think about how our work paradigm has shifted over the last year.

The current global pandemic and the resulting need for remote work have blurred the boundary between work and life even further. Employees who may struggle with their personal life now can’t escape those problems in an office. It’s up to you and your management team to brainstorm if it’s necessary — and possible — to support employees with benefits like therapy, mental healthcare and family care/daycare.

Ask your employees what they need

Work-life balance can mean different things to different people. If you’re unsure what your employees value the most or how best to set up any new policies, ask your team. That way, you don’t waste time and resources on policies that make no difference. Don’t forget to review your policies from time to time to ensure your team maintains a healthy work-life balance.

When your employees feel supported, your whole team will benefit from a much healthier work environment.

Create flexible work schedules

Many business owners can’t afford to make big benefits changes at this time. Start with something attainable that also makes a significant difference to the lives of your team — like flexible work schedules.

Increased flexibility and freedom allow employees to gain more control over their schedules, leading to a better balance between their personal and private lives and greater job satisfaction. While some roles may need to adhere to firmly set time schedules (for instance, customer support), you can identify the roles and tasks that are not reliant on the standard 9-to-5 grind. By prioritizing productivity over hours worked, you can offer greater flexibility to your workers. Basecamp, a completely remote company with just over 30 team members, has always embraced this approach.

Allow optional long-term remote work

Although COVID-19 has disrupted the world, it has been an excellent experiment for remote work, proving that it’s a viable option for companies and a huge benefit for many employees. For some team members, remote work offers a way to better juggle career and family. For others, remote work has been nothing but a nightmare. Create a remote work policy that allows for both perspectives to thrive.

Make your benefits inclusive

Perks like free pizza Fridays are fun, but consider offering benefits that make a more significant difference to your employees’ lives and result in better job satisfaction. Think of how you can help your team not only reduce life stress but also feel like they belong in an inclusive workplace.

[Read more: How to Build a More Inclusive Small Business]

There are a range of benefits you can offer that aim to improve work-life balance and promote inclusivity. Some options could include:

  • Covering the cost of private health insurance.
  • Offering on-site daycare or extending paid parental leave.
  • Offering an allowance for a home-office setup or coworking space membership.
  • Organizing access to an employee assistance program.
  • Scheduling exercise classes during work hours.
  • Sponsoring ERGs.

Alternatively, you could allocate your ‘benefits’ budget towards a cash bonus instead.

Set an example

When your employees feel supported, your whole team will benefit from a much healthier work environment. Therefore, your employees will feel more comfortable embracing new policies if they see you modeling the behavior and encouraging them to do the same. After all, achieving greater employee engagement and satisfaction leads to happier employees and, therefore, a more successful business.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published May 26, 2021