Work-life balance is a concept that many organizations proudly claim to value.

But do they walk the talk? The stats point to more talking than walking.

So why the disconnect? Why are so few Americans using their hard-earned time off?

According to Al Gorriaran, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, lead faculty with the Master of Science in Human Resource Management online degree program at Capella University, it is because too few companies see the business imperative of work-life balance. They may proclaim to value it, but until they appreciate the impact on the bottom line, they are unlikely to make it a priority.

“It’s all about resiliency, and without true resiliency in your workforce, employees will not perform at their best,” Gorriaran explains. “You can’t be resilient if you don’t refresh yourself. That is why work-life balance is so critical for business.”

Take the Shame Away From Taking Time Off

Core to refreshing yourself is taking time off. Yet, far too many employees don’t do it. Gorriaran believes it is because too many organizations have a culture of shame when it comes to employees taking time off. They aren’t loyal enough. They aren’t dedicated. He says that is nonsense.

“This idea that high performers don’t take a vacation is ludicrous and self-destructive,” Gorriaran says. “The opposite is, in fact, the truth. Those who re-invigorate themselves by taking time off are the ones best equipped to come back with renewed energy and ideas.”

So how do you get them out of the office? Like so many things, it needs to come from the top. Management at all levels needs to proudly take time away from the office themselves and let it be known when they do so.

“If your boss takes all of the vacation allotted to them, then so will you,” Gorriaran explains. “It takes away the stigma. It makes it OK. Only then will everyone else do it.”

De-stress and Unplug
Gorriaran adds that taking time off can has the potential to have other benefits, including contributing to employees’ overall wellbeing.

Even when employees do take time off, that precious time is often sabotaged by constantly responding to work phone calls and emails. Once again, management should lead by example and encourage employees to unplug as much as possible. They should remind co-workers that the vast majority of emails, texts, and voicemails are not mission-critical and can wait until an employee is back at work.

Don’t Judge Employee Choices

Another obstacle to employees taking time off is the idea in many organizations that not all time off is created equal. In other words, there are lingering prejudices when it comes to employee choices regarding time off. It might be seen as acceptable for one employee to go on vacation with his wife and kids to Disney World. For his single co-worker who wants to go by herself to Burning Man? Not so much.

“That is just not right and is unfairly judgmental,” Gorriaran says. “Workplaces are more diverse than ever, and we need to embrace employees’ choices in taking time off. Better yet, we need to celebrate them.”

Part of celebrating is to talk about it. Gorriaran is a big supporter of employees sharing the experiences of their time off, whatever that may look like, with co-workers as a way to further reduce the stigma of taking time off and inspire other employees to do the same.

“Make a big deal out of it, and tell everyone how wonderful it was,” Gorriaran says. “Take pride in it. Let it be known how much it meant to you and how renewed you feel. Whether you went on a yoga retreat or took part in a Civil War re-enactment, it doesn’t matter. Make it OK by talking about it.”

Evolve the Work-From-Home Concept

The work-life balance used to include the option to work from home. It was a binary equation: either work from home or work in the traditional office. Gorriaran says that is quickly becoming an antiquated concept.

“It’s about working wherever, whenever, and however allows employees to be most productive while still meeting the needs of their families,” Gorriaran says. “This sort of maximum flexibility is something organizations really should explore. Employees, particularly younger generations of employees, will increasingly demand it. In our hyper-connected digital world, employers have more options than ever to make this possible.”

Gorriaran is quick to add that not every employer can offer employees the option to work whenever and wherever they would like, as there are professions that require employees to be on-site at specific times. But even within those professions, there is typically some degree of fluidity that can be explored.

“More often than not there are options—some sort of in-between,” Gorriaran emphasizes. “Allowing workers to act upon fluidity in the workplace can be incredibly refreshing. Even if it’s just getting away from the traditional concept of a compartmentalized office in favor of a more open-office environment where employees don’t feel locked down to a specific spot to do their work. We have to think in terms of outcomes over physical space. The fewer constraints employers put on workers, the more productive and satisfied they will be.”

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