How a better work-life balance transforms culture change
24 Nov 2023
As organizations implement new processes and ways of working, a key 'soft' element that aids culture change is improving employees’ work-life balance – and here, leaders have to set the example. When teams work more sustainably and have time for non-work passions, they bring renewed energy to adopt transformations.
In my recent consulting projects, clients have shared how culture change initiatives have boosted their work-life balance, and in turn helped retain and attract talent.
For instance, one team member who previously worked until 1.30 am before important meetings can now get his work done during regular hours. With a more efficient process like Integrated Business Planning (IBP) in place, last-minute heroics become less necessary. Information is available sooner, so decisions can be made confidently without endless additional data requests.
Another client reported their employees now better grasp what activities truly drive results in their roles. They waste less time on non-essential tasks and avoid unnecessary perfectionism. Managers also ask smarter questions, rather than demanding reporting for its own sake. This workflow optimization lets people prioritize what matters and gain free evening and weekend time.
Additionally, clients tell me their teams display greater openness in continually discussing how to improve processes. There is more shared ownership of outcomes rather than finger-pointing between departments. This collaborative culture shift reduces inefficiencies that previously led to long hours and weekend work to compensate.
Retaining and attracting talent
These examples demonstrate how even small decreases in extra work hours, enabled by organizational changes, renew employees' energy. When people feel empowered to work smarter and gain personal time, their engagement and willingness to adopt new behaviors increases. Moreover, their loyalty also grows, reducing employee turnover. This point is important, given that, according to Glassdoor research from 2019, the average employer spends £3,335 ($4,000) and 24 days per new hire – before the training costs. Job churn is bad, and in a tight labor market, access to top talent is restricted.
The pandemic’s remote work revolution placed further emphasis on work-life balance. Employees increasingly expect flexibility in when and where they work. Managers must enable this while also taking care to avoid burnout. For instance, establishing clear guidelines around email response time expectations and avoiding meetings over lunchtime fosters healthy boundaries.
Additionally, hybrid and remote employees require more intentionality from leaders to design interactions that build culture, especially for newer team members. Shared virtual coffee breaks, informal videoconferences, and recognition of achievements at in-person meetings all help. Work-life balance improves when teams bond around their humanity, not just tasks.
Some argue difficult economic conditions demand pulling long hours and making work the primary focus. However, research suggests that companies perform better when employees work reasonable hours and have downtime to refresh. Some studies show productivity steeply declines after 50-60 hours per week. Fatigued, disengaged teams deliver poorer results.
Likewise, cultures overly fixated on work performance above people lead to unhealthy trade-offs. Employees begin to think, “As long as I deliver, my leaders don’t care how much I sacrifice personally.” Yet such cultures eventually implode under the weight of burnout and turnover.
Leading by example
Leaders who encourage work-life integration and role model this policy themselves drive culture change that sticks. They focus on results achieved through deliberate workflows and engaged, empowered teams. People feel their wholeness as human beings is valued alongside their contributions as workers.
This reflects my personal experience. Since joining Oliver Wight, I’ve improved my work-life balance as my efficiency has increased. Initially, each client meeting required extensive preparation. Now, with greater experience, I can deliver quality while spending more time biking, exercising, and recharging.
Likewise, I aim to help clients build cultures where people don’t stay late out of obligation but from genuine engagement. Renewed enthusiasm follows organizational changes that lift burdens from teams’ shoulders. Purpose-driven contribution then arises joyfully, aligned with living a full life beyond office walls.
The path toward such holistic, humanistic culture lies in improving work-life integration. Initiatives like Integrated Business Planning make overwhelmed, clock-watching teams a thing of the past.
New ways of working should help people gain time for their passions. Leaders must check whether new processes burden employees further or lighten their load. When organizations help employees live and work well, culture change efforts gain unstoppable momentum.