Why Work-Life Balance Matters

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Thanks to evolving technology and an unforgiving economy, the line between “work” and “personal life” has become incredibly blurred. Even when we’re not at our desks, we’re tethered to our devices. While we’re helping kids with homework, we’re also thinking about how to fine-tune that proposal, and while we’re watching TV, we’re checking our email. Unplugging from the work day is key to not only our physical health, but our mental health, as well.

Presumably, most employers would love this, but apparently that’s not the case. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, smart leaders know that when people have a healthy work/life balance, they are better employees, period. And, the smartest employers don’t just pay lip service to this idea; they actually take steps to make it happen.

Here are 11 win-win strategies to help your employees separate their work lives from their personal lives and enhance both in the process:

1. First, walk the walk yourself.

If you’re serious about helping your employees achieve a healthier work/life balance, you have to be willing to set the example. This isn’t negotiable.

2. Encourage employees to take those unused vacation days.

According to Expedia’s 2013 Vacation Deprivation study, on average, Americans were given 14 vacation days but used only 10 of them. (That’s twice as many unused vacation days as the previous year.) And let’s not forget—this is paid time off we’re talking about. So why do employees leave those four—or sometimes more—days on the table? In some cases, they’re too busy. In others, they may feel that company culture discourages “too much” absence or they may want to prove themselves indispensable. And, of course, some people are workaholics or simply forget to plan.

3. Specify that the beach is not a sandy office.

No, you may not go as far as France, which recently passed a law specifying that workers in the digital and consulting industries must avoid email and switch off work phones before 9 a.m.and after 6 p.m. But, it’s still a good idea to encourage your people to back away from their devices when they’re not at work. Fair warning: This might be an uphill battle. According to Expedia, 67 percent of Americans stay connected to the office (checking voicemail and email) while on vacation.

4. Teach time management.

Often, employees remain tethered to their devices in the evenings and on weekends because they’re worried about unfinished tasks and loose ends that might require their attention. While you might not be able to guarantee that your people can leave work at work every single day, you can help them gain the skills that will reduce their amount of “homework.”

5. Teach stress management techniques, too.

Unless you oversee an organization of ice cream tasters or mattress testers, there’s no such thing as a stress-free workplace. That’s not a bad thing; a small amount of anxiety keeps us alert and motivated. But too often, employees feel an unhealthy amount of stress that bleeds into and affects their personal lives, too. And that stress can cost your business big money in lost productivity.

6. Help them understand the business cycle.

As a leader, you know from years of experience that your business goes through (more or less) predictable seasons. For instance, September through December might be crunch time, but you know that, after the New Year, things will be more relaxed. Just don’t take for granted that your employees share this understanding!

7. Include exercise in the workday.

Exercise is one of the most effective stress management tools available. It’s also fantastic at increasing energy, improving focus, and boosting attitudes. And, of course, it’s good for your health. Best of all, exercise can be both easy and inexpensive to integrate into the workday: Think lunchtime walks or even walking meetings (assuming your company has enough land to make it feasible). This is a great solution for employees who just can’t find the time to stop at the gym in the midst of their hectic personal lives.

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