Company Culture

How a Culture of Overwork Is Hurting Your Work-Life Balance

August 24, 2021
November 7, 2023
Dean Mathews, founder of OnTheClock
Lattice Team

The following is a guest contribution from OnTheClock, an employee time tracking app that helps over 15,000 companies worldwide track time.

Engaged employees are critical for an organization’s success. Many employers, however, believe that employees who frequently work overtime are the most engaged workers. In reality, being engaged at work is significantly different from being a workaholic. Being overworked can result in employees making mistakes and rash decisions that can ultimately lead to poor performance and even health issues.

A Gallup survey showed that only 39% of US workers are engaged while 14% are actively disengaged. So how can organizations promote engagement? By advocating work-life balance.

Why Work-Life Balance Is Important

A healthy work environment emphasizes work-life balance. Not only is it critical for improving productivity and performance among workers, but it’s also good for talent retention. Businesses with a good reputation for encouraging work-life balance are attractive to smart workers.

A healthy work attitude also ensures that absenteeism does not become an issue in the workplace. Overworked employees often miss work because of chronic stress, resulting in physical ailments like low back pain, hypertension, and fatigue.

Image Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This is bad news for employers. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), frequent absences can cost organizations up to $225.8 billion per year. Some of the costs go to wages for absent employees, overtime for temporary employees, and administrative costs.

How Can Employers Encourage Work-Life Balance?

Ditching the culture of overwork in a workplace benefits employers. Here’s how they can get started:

1. Encourage flexible work hours.

Each employee is different, with their own working styles and strategies for accomplishing tasks. Some are more productive early in the morning, while others are more creative at night. Allowing workers to choose hours when they are most productive can help to optimize their work time. Empowering employees to work anytime and anywhere—as long as they meet expectations—can improve work-life balance and satisfaction ratings.

In a competitive job market, employers must improve their methods of attracting top talent. One survey found that 80% of job seekers would not work for a company that didn’t offer flexible work hours, with 35% of them saying flexible hours are a more important factor than a better position or job title.

2. Offer paid time off.

Overworked employees rarely take time off if it means they won’t get paid. The no-work, no-pay policy discourages employees from taking time off, which can add to their burden. Encouraging employees to take time off (and paying them for it) motivates them to consider their mental and physical health.

Employers may worry about their best employees being absent for an extended period and having no one to take over their responsibilities while away. Offering paid time off (PTO) instead of allotting specific days for vacation or illness can help organizations decrease unscheduled absences and develop high morale among their workers.

3. Focus on productivity rather than hours.

Managers often praise their employees for working extra hours because they think these workers are more committed to accomplishing their tasks. However, extra hours do not necessarily equal increased productivity. The accomplishments of a workday aren’t measured in hours but by performance, efficacy, and efficiency. Employees working longer hours often suffer from workplace burnout.

4. Support remote work

Remote work is here to stay, and organizations must consider supporting remote or hybrid work for their employees. Many employees still have uncertainties about childcare and schools reopening. Allowing staff to work from home and set their own hours gives them the opportunity to address personal challenges so they can focus on tasks, improve productivity, and be engaged.

5. Respect working hours.

Efforts to improve company culture through improved work-life balance are futile if managers aren’t on board. Managers set the tone for the engagement of employees who report to them. For employees with a set work schedule, managers should refrain from sending messages outside working hours. The same applies to employees taking a break. Never ask employees to stay online while they are on leave. This defeats the purpose of taking time off. Allow them to re-energize and refocus by unplugging from work.

Organizations with engaged managers are more likely to have engaged employees, which is critical for performance. Improved engagement comes with a host of critical business outcomes, including resiliency during unprecedented times and even improved personal well-being. Trends in management may continue to evolve, but one thing that should remain is the focus on employee health and wellness.