Work-life balance

In today’s hectic world, employees are drawn to — and stay with — organizations that help them find work-life balance. Nonprofits are no exception. While passion may draw people to an organization and/or its mission, they may experience a drop in morale, become less productive and/or burn out without work-life balance.

According to Linda Duxbury and Chris Higgins, authors of Work-Life Conflict in Canada in the New Millennium (PDF, 1.6MB), work-life balance is about the challenge for employees to balance their work roles and their desire to have a meaningful life outside of work.

Work-life balance initiatives, as defined by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safetyopens in new tab (CCOHS), are any benefits, policies, or programs that help create a better balance between the demands of the job and the healthy management (and enjoyment) of life outside work.

According to CCOHS, investing in work-life balance initiatives:

  • Reduces absenteeism.
  • Increases productivity.
  • Improves morale and working relationships.
  • Decreases employee stress.
  • Attracts new employees.
  • Helps retain current employees.

Examples of work-life balance initiatives

Work-life balance initiatives range in scale, from changes you can make in the way you manage employees on a daily basis to organization-wide options and decisions.

Your organization can help promote work-life balance by:

  • Eliminating unnecessary meetings or reports.
  • Communicating expectations clearly to your staff.
  • Encouraging information sharing amongst staff and between management and employees.
  • Supporting autonomy in the workplace and giving staff the freedom to prioritize their work.
  • Promoting employee participation in decision-making.
  • Reducing unnecessary work-related travel.
  • Identifying people that will promote work/life balance initiative.
  • Hosting “lunch-and-learns” or workshops on topics such as nutrition, stress management, financial literacy.
  • Scheduling blocks of time in the calendar to focus on a set of tasks, where meetings cannot be scheduled and interruptions are avoided.

More formal work-life balance initiatives include:

Flexible work arrangements

Ongoing societal and technological shifts have accelerated the number of organizations and employees seeking alternative working arrangements. Flexible work is when employees have varied arrangements or schedules from the traditional working day and week (Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm).

Remote work is specifically where employees work away from the office, usually offsite, at home. There is a growing interest to adopt a hybrid model, where there is more flexibility around when and where to work.

Employees may choose flexible and/or remote work to meet their personal and family needs. Employers can also initiate these flexible work arrangements to meet organizational needs, such as working events in the evenings or on weekends, or to reduce the cost of physical office space.

Dependent care

Dependent care is not just about childcare. Many mid-life employees are part of the "sandwich generation," which means that they take care of their children and parents. In Caregivers in Canada, 2018opens in new tab, Statistics Canada states that 25 percent of Canadians over the age of 15 report that they had cared for or helped someone who had a long-term health condition, a physical or mental disability, or problems related to ageing.

Many organizations are finding ways to accommodate dependent care needs for their staff. If possible, dependent care support options can include:

  • Planning projects and deadlines around seasonal childcare needs, such as holidays and school closures.
  • Allowing employees to take personal days instead of vacation days to deal with appointments or unexpected dependent care issues.
  • Having on-site dependent care.
  • Promoting resources for dependent care services.
  • Having an arrangement with a community child care or elder care centre to provide emergency care.
  • Having financial assistance towards dependent care.

Important: Consult a lawyer and/or refer to your jurisdiction’s legislation for guidance regarding family status and the duty to accommodate.

Wellness education and training opportunities

You can give employees opportunities to learn and access resources and tools to support their wellness. Some possible opportunities include:

Fitness and healthy living

It’s important for your organization to ensure its fitness and healthy living programming and activities are accessible and inclusive. Your organization can put a commitment to healthy living into action by:

  • Ensuring good workplace ergonomics.
  • Providing lunch-time physical activity programming.
  • Offering fitness facilities, fitness membership assistance or having a fitness instructor come to your workplace.
  • Offering smoking cessation programs.
  • Offering secure bicycle parking.
  • Offering access to shower facilities for those who walk, cycle, and/or run to work or during lunch hours.
  • Serving healthy alternatives when catering meetings or workshops.
  • Hosting on-site flu immunization or blood donor clinics.

Religious observances

Religious observances need to be factored into work-life balance initiatives, including but not limited to:

  • Alternative days off for holy days (for example, trading the Good Friday holiday for one that is religiously significant to the employee).
  • Not scheduling meetings, conferences, or other significant initiatives during important cultural and religious events.
  • Providing quiet room(s) for prayer.

There is a distinction between accommodating religious observance and accommodating a culturally significant observance. Employers are not required to accommodate culturally significant events (for example, Pride Month); however, it may be important to accommodate these requests as part of a work-life balance initiative.

Leaves of absence and vacation

Employment standards state your legal obligations regarding leaves of absence and vacation allotments. As an employer, you must follow these standards. In addition, you can support work-life balance by providing:

  • A specific number of annual paid leave days for personal reasons.
  • Community service/day of volunteering leave.
  • Education leave.
  • Paid bereavement leave.
  • Self-funded leaves or sabbaticals.
  • Top-up programs for maternity/parental leave.
  • Continued benefits coverage during a leave of absence.

Flexible benefits

Flexible benefit plans allow employees to build a benefits program that meets their needs and budget. Employees can opt-in or out, fully or partially, by choosing from a menu of benefit options that make sense for their current situation. However, "buffet" style benefits tend to be more costly.

Spending accounts are a fixed amount of money allocated to employees each year to spend on healthcare and/or lifestyle. Healthcare Spending Accounts (HCSA) and Lifestyle Spending Accounts (LSA) can boost benefits plans by providing flexible coverage and choices for employees. Talk to your benefits provider to create a benefits plan that works for you and your employees.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

The Employee Assistance Professionals Associationopens in new tab defines an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as:

A worksite-based program designed to assist in the identification and resolution of productivity problems associated with employees impaired by personal concerns, including, but not limited to, health, marital, family, financial, alcohol, drug, legal, emotional, stress, or other personal concerns which may adversely affect employee job performance.

An external company usually provides EAP services at a cost (traditionally based on utilization). Most offer employees and their family members access to a 24-hour toll-free information line and may then assist the caller in finding the resources they need.

Developing work-life balance initiatives

Set yourself up for success and avoid an overly ambitious plan. Start slowly and modestly.

Gather feedback

Work-life balance initiatives need to be based on your employees’ needs, so find out what initiatives would enhance their sense of work-life balance. This could be a deliberate one-on-one discussion in smaller organizations, while in larger organizations, this could involve a formal survey or focus groups.

Staff consultation provides the chance to talk through any concerns and to understand potential resistance and how you can respond. For any work-life balance initiatives to be successful, they must support employees and fit with your organization's needs.

Sometimes, it might make sense to consult other organizations, clients, board members, and volunteers.

Consider how the options will affect your organization and employees

A good starting point to determine what work-life balance initiatives will be successful in your organization is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What role(s) will managers and executives play?
  • How will you communicate the plan?
  • What resources will be available?
  • Will any training be required? If so, who will provide it?
  • How will you monitor hours, productivity and/or deadlines?
  • How will you handle office coverage if staff are off-site?
  • What cyber security measures do you need for remote work (as applicable)?
  • What impact will the proposed initiatives have on your ability to achieve your mission and/or mandate?
  • What are the benefits for employees and your organization?
  • What time, effort, and money will it take to make the plan successful?
  • Do you want the options to align with other initiatives in your organization?

These questions provide good insight into the quality and detail to develop work-life initiatives that will fit both you and your employees.

Formulate relevant policies and procedures

It's important to have clearly written policies and procedures to administer and consistently support your work-life balance initiatives. It shows that your organization actively supports a healthy lifestyle for your employees, outlines expectations, ensures consistent and equitable access to initiatives, and helps everyone in your organization understand the importance of work-life balance.

Communicate the change

Communicate to your staff, senior management and the board of directors about the rationale for work-life balance initiatives and how they will benefit employees and your organization.

Address concerns and talk openly about challenges and how you will deal with them. Success requires commitment from all staff, managers, executives and the board of directors, so this step cannot be underestimated. Depending on your organization’s culture, changes brought on by work-life balance initiatives may be easier (or more difficult) to handle.

Run a trial, evaluate it, and adapt accordingly

A trial provides an opportunity for your organization to test the feasibility of the initiatives and to learn from successes and challenges that are identified. This will help you collect input from participants, reduce misdirected expenditures, and ultimately develop better programming.

Set a trial period to see how work-life balance initiatives work for your organization. Make sure your trial covers a representative time period to assess if your work-life balance initiatives are achieving their desired outcomes.

At the end of the trial period, ask for recommendations and adjust your initiatives based on feedback to make them work better for everyone. This is another opportunity to deal with challenges or resistance.

Continue to evaluate the program on a regular basis

Solicit feedback from participants, make changes and adapt plans as required.

As part of implementing the program, it's important to establish an evaluation process to make sure that what you set out to do is actually being achieved. The objective isn’t to simply introduce work-life balance initiatives but to embed workplace wellness into your organization to address the ongoing needs of your employees. Some ways to ensure long-term successful initiatives are:

  • Soliciting regular feedback from participants to determine employee satisfaction.
  • Reviewing the program by conducting a gap analysis to identify areas for further development.
  • Researching and adopting new trends and/or best practices in workplace wellness into your program.
  • Making modifications to reflect the work or life changes of your employees
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