[Written for Replicon co-founder & CEO for Entrepreneur.com]
The term “work-life balance” has been so frequently tossed around in the past decade that it has almost become meaningless — a vague, distant goal that most claim to strive for but no one seems to wholly attain. In Silicon Valley especially, where your lack of sleep is a bragging right and the 40-hour workweek feels like a thing of the past, it’s easy to lose sight of the value of a meaningful life outside work, and some even view it as an impediment to professional success.
As the CEO of a Silicon Valley-based business for the past 20 years, I intend to make the case for true work-life balance, and offer some advice for making a genuine effort to improve this aspect of your company.
In defense of life outside of work
Rejuvenated, energized employees are productive employees. There is an incredible amount of research dedicated to the effects of overworking, work-related stress and the numerous detriments associated with both (a few of which are listed below). Being able to truly check out of work (both physically and mentally) at a decent hour and spend time on something completely unrelated is critical to reducing stress levels.
According to data accrued by the recently launched Happiness App experiment (where 10,000 users logged in to record their various levels of happiness each hour of the day), the sharpest overall peak in happiness on any given day is around 7 p.m., presumably a time when people are at home, spending time with loved ones, socializing or decompressing from the day. Similarly, a 75-year study on happiness and adult development concluded that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period.” Employees deserve the chance to cultivate relationships outside of work — the results will benefit employee and employer alike.
When being overworked starts to seem like the national pastime, employees are going to feel pressure to put in longer hours at work. Add a burgeoning mobile workforce to the mix, and we get employees working a 50- to 60-hour workweek, who feel additional pressure to be available in their few off-hours via email, cell, Slack, etc. It should come as no surprise that one in three full-time employees cite work-life balance as increasingly difficult to achieve in the past five years, according to an Ernst & Young survey.
There are several reasons why this is bad for you, and bad for business:
1. You aren’t as productive as you think you are
Workers report spending an average of 50 minutes each workday on non-work activities, and it’s likely this self-reported figure is significantly less than the actual one. Further research shows that employee productivity significantly drops off after a 50-hour workweek — so much so that someone who works a 70-hour workweek is equally productive as someone who works a 55-hour workweek, and ultimately produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.
2. You’re putting your health at risk
According to the American Institute of Stress, the correlation between job-related stress and heart attacks is so widely acknowledged that in Los Angeles, New York City and several other districts, any police officer who has a heart attack on or off the job is presumed to have a work-related injury and is compensated accordingly. Work-related stress is a well-documented detriment to employee health, and costs businesses an estimated $200 to $300 billion annually in lost productivity.
3. This is a gendered issue
Full-time female employees with families still shoulder a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare at home (often called the “double shift”) compared to their male counterparts. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that 60 percent of male executives have spouses who don’t work full-time outside the house that can take the reins on family-related work, compared to just 10 percent of female executives.
Bottom line: Are you looking to save money on insurance costs, decrease absenteeism and turnover, maximize productivity and have overall happier, healthier and energized employees? Commit to a culture of work-life balance.
There are a variety of ways to foster a culture that encourages work-life balance:
1. Consider a “use it or lose it” vacation policy
While unlimited PTO policies are gaining recent traction, studies have shown that the “use it or lose it” approach (a policy that doesn’t allow accumulated vacation days to rollover to the next year) is far more effective in incentivizing employees to actually take a vacation. As a bonus, this approach relieves your company of any potential unused vacation liability.
2. Try flex time or work-from-home days
A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that home-based employees were 13 percent more productive than their office-based counterparts. Flex time has proved similarly beneficial, with a recent report demonstrating how flex-time options improve employee retention. Of course, the ability to work from home or schedule your own non-traditional weekly hours hinges heavily on an employee’s particular role, and isn’t a feasible option for everyone. Still, even minor schedule tweaks (allowing employees with long commutes to come in early and leave early to avoid rush hour, for example) can result in drastic changes in employee satisfaction.
3. Structure your culture thoughtfully
Do your late meeting times prevent people from getting home at a decent hour? Are your office social functions not particularly family-friendly? Do you encourage staying late by catering dinner? These are subtle ways you could be barring your employees from a healthy work-life balance. While catered meals and work-sponsored happy hours are much-loved perks, consider catering just breakfast and lunch, and hosting happy hour at a Lucky Strike from time to time. These small changes can do a lot to alleviate the tension employees (particularly parents) might feel between work and home.
4. Educate your employees
Implement an education initiative to inform your employees about the importance of work-life balance and to equip them with various tools to achieve it. This could be a seminar, webinar, lunch series or even a talk from a hired professional. This is also a good way to “walk the walk” by demonstrating your commitment to supporting your employees in this endeavor.
Ultimately, the most universal piece of advice I can give is to lead by example, because no policy is effective unless your company leadership supports it. If execs and managers consistently work late, spurn vacation time and answer emails off-hours, then that establishes the norm for the people that work for them. Of course, there will be days where you have no choice but to work late, work on the weekend or spend time answering emails after dinner — the important part is to make this the exception, not the norm.
At Replicon, we adhere to a true nine-to-five workday. It’s not unusual to see only a few people left in the office after 6 p.m. If you email someone in the off-hours, it’s not unusual for them to wait until the next morning to respond. For the most part, this is true for Replicon employees of all levels, including our executive team, and in no way has this impeded our success or progress as a company. We closed a series A in 2013 and have been growing ever since — thanks, in part, to our commitment to relaxing and rejuvenating in our time spent outside of work.