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Perspectives on Work-Life Balance: Insights From GovLoop’s Recent Survey

To better understand how government workers are approaching work-life balance, GovLoop sent its readers a survey about techniques for setting boundaries in their professional and personal lives. People were ready to speak up about this issue that plays a major role in not just employee performance, but also workplace culture and organizational effectiveness.

Government employees face unique challenges when it comes to work-life balance, from long hours and rigid policies to complex regulations and bureaucratic obstacles. The survey asked people to evaluate whether various boundary-setting techniques would be effective and feasible in their day-to-day lives.

Survey participants were most enthusiastic about three work-life balance techniques in particular:

  • Limit notifications outside of work hours. Turning off voice, email and chat notifications was the most popular technique by far, with 77.6% saying this would be effective or very effective, and more than half declaring it very effective. Many people also believe limiting notifications is within the realm of possibility, with 56.5% feeling it’s feasible or very feasible.
  • Establish boundaries at home. This might mean not taking work devices home, and if at home, not using work devices after hours. 74.1% said this would be effective or very effective, and just over half feeling this is feasible or very feasible. This could be because home is a place where people have more independence and control.
  • Time-block tasks. When it comes to blocking off the time needed to complete a task and refusing interruptions, 72.1% said this technique would be effective or very effective. But people weren’t as optimistic about putting this technique into practice, with just 39.0% feeling it’s feasible or very feasible. One reason people may believe they can’t use time-blocking is that they don’t have enough control over setting their own work schedule.

There were two work-life balance techniques that people were the least interested in:

When it came to limiting the communications platforms used for work, such as avoiding text messaging, social media, or apps, 62.3% said the approach would be effective or very effective. However, with less than half feeling it was feasible or very feasible, it’s likely that many people just don’t control which platforms they need to perform their jobs.

The most divisive tactic? Removing work apps from their phone. While 57.1% of respondents said that doing so would be effective or very effective, nearly one-third said it would be ineffective, and about half said it would be unfeasible. Keeping work email and chat off their personal devices doesn’t seem useful or realistic to many participants.

What Employers Can Do Better

The survey results show that many participants already are familiar with and interested in doing more to set healthy boundaries. So, what could be preventing them from using these techniques?

One oft-cited problem by survey participants was managers and co-workers who don’t respect work-life boundaries. These pains are especially felt after hours, on weekends, and during other personal time when employees deserve to be free of work obligations and stress. One survey participant pointed out that, at their workplace, they’re not considered a team player when they try to set boundaries. That kind of punitive attitude toward employees can be a sure sign of a toxic workplace culture.

At many organizations, management sets the tone for whether work-life balance thrives or crumbles. Though there are some roles where people often need to be available outside normal work hours, it’s neither realistic nor reasonable to expect employees to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long. That’s a recipe for staff burnout, loss of productivity, and workforce recruitment and retention problems — all of which can prevent agencies and organizations from being effective.

How Managers Can Support Work-Life Balance

Survey participants were invited to share comments, and many used the opportunity to suggest creative ways for management to help staff set healthy boundaries. While some of these changes would require a change in policy, most are solutions a manager can easily and quickly implement with their own teams.

Survey participants encouraged managers to:

  • Proactively encourage staff to protect time on their calendars and also respect the time their colleagues block.
  • Incorporate work-life balance and respecting boundaries into meeting agendas.
  • Help staff re-prioritize workloads or adjust roles to better leverage their strengths, skills, availability, and other work-life needs.
  • Encourage staff to take time for some personal needs and priorities during the workday, such as parents calling their kids when they get home from school.
  • Allow staff to choose a four-day work week option or other flexible scheduling.
  • Talk to staff about how you create work-life balance for yourself as a manager, so staff can be inspired by seeing leadership embrace healthy boundaries.

Learn more about promoting work-life balance.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, storyteller, and freelance writer based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.

Image by Rosy from Pixabay 

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