The Chancellor yesterday announced salary sacrifice restrictions likely to impact corporate wellbeing initiatives such as gym memberships and health checkups. Employers looking for a low cost alternative should turn their attention to supporting better work-life balance for all employees.

So what exactly is “work-life balance”?

Australian academics Thomas Kalliath and Paula Brough offer one of the best working definitions of work-life balance saying it “is the individual perception that work and non-work activities are compatible and promote growth in accordance with an individual’s current life priorities”. The key issues to note here are that work-life balance is personal, dynamic and changes as we go through life.

Why is it important?

Quite simply because social science researchers (including psychologists) have now amassed a wealth of evidence which demonstrates that good work-life balance leads to good physical and mental well-being, increased employee engagement and increased productivity. Not only is the converse also true, but poor work-life balance is apparently contagious. If your co-workers are suffering it’s likely you will catch their mood with a resultant negative spiral.

Much more than just flexible working

One thing “work-life balance” definitely is not, is a synonym for “flexible working” although over the years many employers have conflated the two. More recently, leading edge employers have begun to step beyond policies and procedures and consider how they can generate a culture that’s fully supportive of work-life balance for all employees.

What can help me improve my employees' balance?

Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek is a leading American academic who’s developed a self-assessment tool designed to identify balancing styles; and Dr Christine Grant who is based at Coventry University in the UK has developed a diagnostic for e-workers.

From an individual point of view, one of the most effective tools for enhancing work-life balance is Dr Kossek’s Work-Life Indicator. The assessment is completed online, no certification is needed and the resultant report includes a development guide.

 Those wishing to explore her ideas in greater depth will also find Dr Kossek’s book “CEO of Me” an interesting read.

Ultimately, it’s about where personal preference meets corporate culture

Identifying your work-life style is only half the equation – the challenges arise when preferred styles hit company cultures. Employers looking for radical ideas to shake up working practices will find them in the notion of ROWE – the Results Only Work Environment. Developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson at Best Buy and rolled out to a number of other employers in the US; the concept has been nicely summarised in their book “Work sucks and how to fix it.”


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