It seems hard to believe, but less than a century ago, the average American workweek was fifty hours. A mere thirty years before that, if you were a worker in the manufacturing or building industry, you could expect to work one hundred hours a week on average.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the idea of working eight-hour days and forty-hour weeks was gaining steam, and it was famously championed and then adopted by Henry Ford in the 1920s. In 1940, Congress made the forty-hour workweek official.

However, the term should perhaps come with air quotes today. The very real reality is that, thanks to the internet, social media, and email, many workers feel like they must be available 24/7—something that companies may implicitly or explicitly encourage. The end result can be devastating to both workers and businesses.

A balance of power

For ages, supply and demand—namely, more job seekers than jobs available—tended to give the upper hand to employers, who could (and did) generally dictate all the terms of employment, including requiring hires to regularly work long hours to keep their jobs or move up in their respective companies. However, as the recent Great Resignation has demonstrated through its impact on employee retention, that dynamic has shifted. Today’s American worker has more of a say in their need for a balanced life, and they are vocal about it. Most people work to live, after all, not live to work—in fact, a 2022 Gallup survey found that 61 percent of workers consider work-life balance, and the well-being associated with it, to be very important.

So when it comes to attracting and keeping top talent, a key strategy is acknowledging that an employee’s home life is often just as or even more important to them than their job and company—and then acting on it. By offering tools to foster a good work-life balance, such as the ones that follow, you can not only increase employee satisfaction and retention but also create raving fans within your business.

The why

Simply put, COVID-19 created a paradigm shift when it came to work. Longtime cornerstones of the corporate world, from a rigid nine-to-five schedule to mandatory in-office work, quickly gave way as companies were forced to reassess the most efficient ways to be productive and efficient in a changing world. Millions of people embraced the work-from-home experience, and white-collar business owners, many kicking and screaming, were forced to admit that, yes, it could work from a business perspective and even help their businesses thrive.

The cost analyses bear this out. Harvard Business School estimated that work-related stress and burnout result in upward of $190 billion in annual healthcare costs—and that was in 2017, three years before COVID-19 struck. Stressed-out, overworked employees are also consistently found to be less productive, less interested in their jobs, sicker, and more likely to leave—but research shows that these ills can be reversed by instituting a work-from-home environment.

The how

There are various work-life options you can implement to make your employees happy. Here are just a few to consider; you can always brainstorm more, knowing what would realistically work best for your specific team members and organization.

Work-from-home options
Allowing employees to work from home has some distinct advantages. Your team members can save money and stress without the daily commute, and they get to spend much more time at home. Plus, as an organization, it’s possible to save big on overhead costs. Keep in mind this caveat, though: some employees will prefer the face-to-face interaction of the office, so if you can offer a choice, it may work out best overall for your company.

Here are some other options you may want to consider offering to improve your workers’ work-life balance:

  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Between their work life and home life, people sometimes can’t find time to pursue their favorite altruistic endeavors. Show that you understand how important this is by allowing an extra day off every six to twelve months that’s dedicated to helping others.
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Instead of boxing in the number of days team members have off for sickness and time off, combine each into a paid time off bucket so each employee can use their days as needed. Unlimited PTO can strengthen the employer-employee bond to its max because you show how much you trust that they’ll get the job done. In fact, research shows that unlimited PTO can result in employees taking fewer days off.
  • Workday cutoffs
  • Nothing quite says you care about an employee’s home life like ensuring they are available for dinner, so you could encourage nonmanagers to clock out by 5:00 or 5:30. For in-office employees, you could also set this cutoff at 4:30 so they can beat the traffic home.
  • Flex time
  • This may be the ultimate tool in your employee-satisfaction toolbelt. Eliminating the rigidity of a nine-to-five schedule or other standard shift times can make a world of difference to hardworking employees who can benefit from making their own daily schedule based on their home needs, whether that’s being able to go to an important afternoon doctor’s appointment, pick up their kids from daycare, or not even having to use daycare.

Health options
There are many ways you can show your employees how much you care about their physical and mental well-being and how much it matters to their productivity. For example, you can offer to improve their out-of-office experience by helping them get standing desks for their home office, gym memberships, or even free or discounted access to an app like Calm, which helps with sleep and meditation. You can also provide virtual 24/7 access to physicians or counselors through your insurance.

Office options
It’s not realistic for some industries to have their employees work from home, so do what you can to foster a family atmosphere at work. If possible, encourage employees to bring their pets in as office companions, or allow them to occasionally bring their children to work. You could even consider creating a daycare space at work or helping offset employees’ daycare costs.

Prioritizing work-life balance is the new normal for modern businesses, and taking creative steps to encourage it for your team can give you a competitive advantage in your industry.

Take Action: Implement at least one organizational change that will improve your employees’ work-life balance.