Dinner is finished and the dishes are done. The dog is walked and the kids are in bed. It’s 8 p.m. Sunday and you and your spouse are looking forward to some quiet time before the work week begins. Then the boss texts with a few quick requests to handle that evening “to get a jump on the week.”
Even as some organizations ponder shorter official workweeks, more and more jobs are coming with the expectation, sometimes unspoken, that employees should be available at any time. Bosses may think they’re squeezing extra productivity out of their direct reports, but it’s that type of pressure that can depress employee engagement. In one recent survey, 80% of working adults say they feel increased job stress on Sunday nights. In one notorious example, the CEO of one firm said she texted prospective job candidates at random times on Sunday and ruled out those who don’t respond promptly.
“Juggling work and personal responsibilities is a continuing concern in sustaining engagement and performance,” says Mark Royal, senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory.
In a recent Korn Ferry survey, 36% of employees surveyed expressed concerns about their large workloads and questioned whether their employers were helping them achieve a reasonable work-life balance. The data has implications for employee retention as well. Among employees committed to staying with their current employers for more than five years, 72% say they are getting support for work-life balance. Among those thinking of leaving in the next year, however, the number falls to just 40%.
Smartphones and apps have made the idea of the 5-day, 9-5 work schedule as antiquated as a rotary telephone. Sure, those tools give workers more freedom to choose where and when they work. But they have also contributed to a rise in anxiety and a feeling that work can invade their personal lives at the push of a send button. In another poll, nearly one quarter of workers said they’re either always or frequently feel burnt out on the job.
The challenge for leaders is to strike a balance between the fast pace of the continuously changing global business cycle and creating a culture that values employee well-being. “Clear norms and expectations are likely to cut through the dread somewhat,” says Royal. If the organizational culture values giving employees time to recharge on the weekend, then leaders and managers need to model accordingly by refraining from sending email messages or issuing work. But, if the nature of the business or role requires employees to be continuously connected, then that expectation can be communicated clearly — perhaps with extra flexibility afforded to employees in handling personal responsibilities during the week, says Royal.
To be sure, the nature of work is much more unpredictable now and taking time to plan and reflect on the week ahead can be beneficial, says Nathan Blain, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global leader for organization strategy and digital transformation. Work is also much more collaborative these days, with employees working across multiple teams often in multiple geographies."For some employees, finding those moments where they can think about what needs to be done can be a valuable driver of engagement," says Blain. For instance, roughly 20% of respondents to a recent Korn Ferry survey said they check in with work at least once a day while on vacation because they "enjoy it."
Long-term solutions to work-life balance issues “need to focus on helping employees work smarter," says Royal. Enabling more efficient work environments can increase engagement and motivation. “Even when workloads are heavy, employees are likely to feel far better about staying late or coming in early if they are working on tasks with a clear and compelling purpose, provided with adequate resources and support from colleagues, and given the authority necessary to make decisions about how best to accomplish their objectives,” he says.