Why Too Much Work-Life Balance Is Killing Your Employee Engagement

2 min read
Feb 1, 2015

How Work-Life Balance Can Hurt Your Employee EngagementIf you want happy employees, you need to support their work-life balance, right? But what does that mean? The traditional approach might say the goal should be a 40-hour work week with generous PTO to allow workers plenty of time outside of the office. But that’s actually looking at the issue from the wrong direction.

Engagement And The Pursuit Of Happiness

A Gallup survey found that personal well-being is strongly connected to employee engagement. Over 47,000 workers were polled worldwide, and here are the results:

  • 25% have a level of well-being that puts them in the “thriving” group
  • Among engaged employees, 45% are thriving


    Among actively disengaged employees, only 13% are thriving

The secret to thriving isn’t how much (or how little) these employees work. In fact, another Gallup study found that engaged employees had 25% higher overall well-being than their actively disengaged counterparts, even if the disengaged employees took six times as much vacation time.

It’s pretty easy to guess why. Engaged employees may differ from one another in how many hours per day or days per year they work, but there are some things they share: They do fulfilling work. They have camaraderie with their coworkers. They get appreciation and support from leadership. They have clear development opportunities.

A manager who prioritizes these aspects of the job is engaging their employees. A manager who focuses on 40 hours of work per week and two weeks of vacation per year is nothing more than a bean counter.

Making The Hours Count

In fact, scrupulously reminding your workers to clock out at 5:00 every day could actually make them feel like their efforts don’t matter. After all, if your boss only count your hours instead of paying attention to the significance of your task, it’s easy to assume that your work isn’t impactful and end up feeling disengaged.

Similarly, lavishing employees with PTO can’t make up for unhappiness on the job. Gallup’s findings indicate that “fewer hours with more vacation days and flextime cannot fully offset the negative effects of a disengaging workplace.” What’s important is what happens in the workday, not how quickly it ends.

Of course, it’s still important to keep your workers from getting burnt out. A study by the Families and Work Institute found that over half of U.S. employees feel overworked or overwhelmed at least sometimes. However, what’s especially interesting is this set of numbers:

  • 28% often or very often feel overworked
  • 28% often or very often feel overwhelmed by their jobs
  • 29% often or very often feel they have no time to reflect on their work

So perhaps feeling overwhelmed and overworked is tied with not having time to reflect on it. This could be fixed by giving employees time to discuss their work with their managers, particularly how their work connects with the company’s overall goals and their own individual career development. In other words, work becomes more fulfilling and less overwhelming when workers believe their efforts are valuable for themselves and their organization—which is what employee engagement is all about.



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