Fifth in a series on the culture of engagement.
Encouraging people in any enterprise, public or private, profit or nonprofit, volunteer or professional, to maintain a healthy balance between their work engagements and personal lives leads to lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction. Making matters more challenging is that there is no perfect work-life balance, according to Business News Daily. Maura Thomas, a contributor to Forbes, says there are four causes of stress and burnout for contemporary workers; “These challenges include expectations of being ‘always on’; time constraints caused by back-to-back meetings all day; the constant distractions of communication technology and open-office floor plans; and the pervasiveness of work given our constant connectedness.”
Balance may be a misnomer. Even limiting the number of hours spent “at work” does not guarantee a “balance.” I have experienced times when turning off work was difficult, regardless of job duties. Even people in task-oriented, regimented work sometimes have difficulty shutting work off when they leave. Flexible working hours, remote work options and understanding personal commitments all sound good, but do not eliminate stress and burnout for all.
Creating reasonable expectations and a healthy respect for people’s lives inside and outside the workplace helps create a positive culture of engagement when people are working. It has nothing to do with “balance.”
Offering flexible working hours or the option to work from home can help people manage their personal and professional responsibilities more effectively and can demonstrate that the enterprise respects people’s time and personal life. But, results are mixed based on the type of work performed. For example, The Economist reports on a study by two Harvard doctoral students that showed workers from call centers experienced productivity increases when working at home. On the other hand, the Harvard Business Review reveals tensions are rising around remote work opportunities. One such challenge in enterprises that build human capital, such as universities, is lost “chance” interactions that occur all day, every day, in teaching and scholarly work, which are intended to serve students individually. Faculty and staff working remotely will not pick up a fair share of these interactions, leaving them ostracized from those working in their offices. A hybridized environment with shared opportunities provides the strongest work culture.
Setting reasonable and achievable goals without requiring people to consistently work long hours can help reduce burnout. Leadership should sustain a culture where taking time off is encouraged and not frowned upon. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, people should feel comfortable taking vacations or personal days to recharge, and management can help create a culture that values the importance of “balance.” Such a commitment will foster a workplace culture where people feel supported both professionally and personally.
We all know the benefits of encouraging a healthy lifestyle by offering wellness programs, gym memberships or organizing health and wellness-related activities. Not every enterprise has the opportunities WT offers, such as access to counseling, fitness activities and employee-supported health initiatives, of which many at the university take advantage. All such benefits would likely bring advantages to any enterprise in any sector of the economy. However, they are profoundly important in universities as the intensity of interaction between faculty and students leads to a first-class educational experience. The work environment, the value of the individual and the relationship between on-campus life and off-campus life all enrich the mix of experiences and provide for excellence in performance and educational opportunities.
Transparent communication channels allow people to voice concerns and offer suggestions. This helps in addressing issues that might be contributing to stress and burnout. Opportunities for professional growth shows concern for individual well-being. Investing in a person’s career development can increase job satisfaction and lead to a culture that values engagement. Rural enterprise offers especially potent opportunities for work and life well-being, according to The Manufacturing Institute. Leadership and management should model ways to lower stress and eliminate burnout. When leaders prioritize their own work and personal life in healthy ways, a precedent is set for others in the organization.
Implementing these strategies requires a commitment from the top levels of management that flows out to every person. According to Harvard Business Review, creating a positive institutional or corporate culture with a good “work-life balance” leads to increased satisfaction, lower turnover rates and ultimately a more successful and sustainable enterprise.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.