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Focusing on Quality of Life Improves the Quality of Business

It may be more important than ever for employers to help workers unplug.

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Have you ever snapped at a loved one after a long day at work? Or been distracted on the job because you were worried about a family member? As much as we might want them to, our “work” and “home” lives don’t stay neatly contained in separate boxes.  

Research has shown the importance of taking a holistic approach to employee well-being. The Latin phrase “cura personalis,” or “care of the entire person,” captures the need to attend to one’s mind, body, spirit and emotions. That’s why savvy leaders are trying to help workers improve their overall quality of life.

Doing so may be more important than ever, as advances in technology, globalization and economic pressures have increasingly blurred the line between work and personal time, particularly for knowledge workers. Many people today find it hard to disconnect from work and are often encouraged—implicitly or explicitly—to put in additional hours on evenings or weekends.

The idea that work can be done anywhere, anytime has burgeoned over the past two decades. The Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) 2017 Employee Benefits survey report indicates that 62 percent of organizations offer telework options, compared with 20 percent 20 years ago. At the same time, 51 percent of employees work on job-related e-mails outside of their work hours, the 2016 SHRM National Study of the Changing Workforce revealed.

Moreover, a 2016 study by Merideth Thompson and associates at Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business found that a person’s use of a mobile device for work during family time negatively impacted employees and their spouses. Workers experienced greater conflict at home, higher instances of burnout and a decreased commitment to their employers. In turn, spouses felt more resentful and less committed to their spouse’s companies. This increased the likelihood that employees would quit.

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But the relationship between organizations and their workers may be shifting, as leaders become aware that their workers need time to unplug in order to be effective. Some companies—even entire countries, such as France—are implementing policies or laws that permit workers to ignore after-hours e-mails or even forbidding them from responding. The 2016 SHRM National Study of Employers found that companies are providing more flexibility regarding where and when people can work and when they can take time off.

Most HR professionals recognize the importance of workflex and family-friendly policies. But they also noted in SHRM’s 2017 Strategic Benefits survey report that their companies lag the market in those areas, and their organizations generally aren’t changing their policies. This is too bad given that there’s evidence to suggest that companies that offer better quality of life, by giving workers a high level of flexibility and permission to unplug, have employees who are more engaged, more satisfied with their jobs, less likely to leave, and in better physical and mental health.

Given the tight recruiting market and low unemployment rate, policies that promote quality of life can give companies a leg up in the labor market. As it turns out, workers with a high quality of life generally turn out high-quality work.  

Shonna Waters is vice president of research at SHRM.

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