Helping employees achieve a good work-life balance should be a priority for all employers today. At a time of escalating skills shortages, which are forcing employers to work harder than ever to retain their top employees and attract essential talent, it's vital to show appreciation and care for your staff by helping them find a healthy balance between their work and personal lives.

In the latest Randstad Employer Brand Research, work-life balance was identified by our 190,000 global survey respondents as the second most important reason to choose an employer, behind only salary and benefits, and ahead of job security, work atmosphere and career progression.

One of the most important reasons to focus on this issue is to help your employees deal with stress and other mental health issues, which will prove particularly significant in the post-COVID work environment. 

Even before the pandemic, statistics showed that stress was a very common problem in the workplace. The impact of COVID-19, and the various measures put in place to combat the spread of the virus, could have serious long-term mental health effects, experts have warned.

From an employer perspective, focusing on your employees' work/life balance and showing people that their wellbeing is just as important as their performance at work will support good mental health. This will have positive knock-on effects for the business, including:

  • Improved employee loyalty and retention
  • Increased productivity as people feel happier and more supported at work
  • A stronger employer brand
  • More effective talent acquisition

Corporate culture and long-standing practices may impose unnecessary stress on your workforce, so it's important your organization examines ways to encourage change in behavior and potentially in your job requirements. Consider the stress points that are taking a toll on workers and look for ways to alleviate burnout. You should always strive to create an environment that is supportive, positive and encouraging so employees look forward to the workday. To achieve this, consider incorporating these six steps into your talent management strategies. 

1. offer remote and flexible working

There was a sudden and rapid increase in remote working during the pandemic, as public health advice warned of the risks of large numbers of people gathering in indoor environments. While this caused disruption for some, it also showed many companies that they could continue to operate with large portions of their workforce based at home, potentially making cost savings in the process.

A Gartner survey conducted early on in the pandemic showed that nearly three-quarters (74%) of chief financial officers intended to shift some of their previously on-site workers to permanently remote positions. PwC also conducted a CEO study which showed that 78% of respondents viewed remote collaboration as a permanent shift.

As well as giving employees the option to work remotely, you could consider flexible work hours that enable the workday to start earlier or later than 9 am. Working families with childcare responsibilities may achieve a better work-life balance just by adjusting their start or end times.

Flexible arrangements like these can be particularly important for people who don't have the option to work remotely - frontline employees in the manufacturing sector, for example. To ensure you're treating your entire workforce fairly and giving everyone the opportunity to benefit from flexible working, you could consider introducing policies such as adaptable hours, compressed work weeks or a paid time off system that combines vacation days with personal time.

2. create a wellness program that rewards and recognizes.

Another potential long-term consequence of the pandemic is increased emphasis on the issue of health and wellbeing, particularly in enclosed workspaces, which are ideal breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria.

Some wellness programs offer rewards like cash or gift cards, but by combining these with recognition, you can increase participation and the fun factor. Recognize individuals and teams that achieve wellness goals such as using up all of their annual leave days, taking breaks from their desks and devoting time to personal activities. By encouraging workers to leave work behind and get recognized for it, you’ll shift perceptions about work-life balance.

3. protect workers' personal time

One of the most effective ways to encourage employees to de-stress and make time for themselves away from their jobs is to create hard boundaries for working hours. You could consider having a policy in place to prohibit the exchange of emails, calls and texts during home time (from 7 pm to 7 am, for instance). There may be occasional exceptions, but by establishing such hours, you enforce respect for workers’ free time and personal lives.

4. allow 'fun days' to support mental health

Employees often use their paid time off to tend to personal obligations or doctors' appointments, so these days may not actually provide stress relief. Consider offering a day per quarter, or even more often, for 'fun time' when workers can engage in an activity strictly for their wellbeing. This could be anything from a day trip to the beach, to gardening or just sleeping in. One of the potential benefits for the business is a boost in productivity and performance, which will come if you have a well-rested, happy workforce.

5. monthly office parties or outings

Just a few hours of relaxation and socializing in the office can do wonders for promoting morale and engagement. Creating themed gatherings, arranging group meals or scheduling a morning retreat regularly can help employees take their minds off work and bond with each other, which will lay the groundwork for more productive collaboration in their jobs. Companies often do this only when a team has achieved a work goal or milestone, but you don’t necessarily need a reason to celebrate each other’s contributions.

6. offer as much leave as needed

Many employers - such as SquareFoot, a commercial real estate and technology company, and The Bonadio Group, an accounting firm - have made unlimited vacation time a standard offering. While most employees will understand that 'unlimited' doesn't really mean as many days as they want, they will also be reassured that their employer is committed to helping them achieve a good work-life balance. You will have to trust the judgment of your employees and managers to reach a workable arrangement, but in the long run, this strategy could help reduce burnout and productivity loss. 

Achieving a healthy work-life balance can be difficult in today’s always-on work environment, but as an employer interested in reducing burnout and stress, you should examine how you can help workers maintain boundaries between work and their personal lives.

If remote working is a key part of how you function in the 'new normal' created by COVID-19, one issue to be aware of is the risk of employees' work spilling over into their personal time, since their home is also their place of work.

You can find some practical tips and advice on how to manage a remote workforce in a dedicated guide produced by Randstad.