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Why Your Business Should Invest in Work Life Balance

Date: 17 June 2019

For many employers and HR professionals in financial services, developing work-life balance strategies that bring tangible benefits to the business and their employees can be challenging. In a candidate-led market, employees have more choice than ever, and after salary and job security they state that work-life balance is the most important factor for job satisfaction. To attract and retain fantastic employees, employers must adopt strategies that appeal to a workforce that demands greater work-life balance.

What is work-life balance and how do we measure it?

While the term 'work-life balance' has yet to lose its buzz in recent years, an agreed upon definition remains elusive. The general consensus, as the name suggests, is that work-life balance is the division of a person's time between work, and family or leisure activities. As researchers at Griffith University acknowledge, the 'carry over' from an individual's multiple life roles is bidirectional; the demands from family or other personal matters can negatively influence performance at work and vice versa. The ‘right’ balance of the two is subjective, but recent studies suggest that employees feel work has a disproportionate share; affecting their personal commitments and causing severe stress. For most people, a healthy balance between the two can be incredibly hard to achieve. 

It's no secret that the work hours in financial services are incredibly demanding. 1 in 3 financial analysts regularly spend between 50 and 70 hours a week at work; while those in corporate finance exceed 90 hours. Long hours in a high pressure environment can have a dramatic physiological effect. In 2013, Moritz Erhadt, an intern at Bank of America's London office died after working three straight days. The failure to find a healthy work-life balance as a finance professional means that the industry has a divorce rate of 33.9% according to aggregated data from the US Census Bureau's 5-Year American Community Survey.

Technological advances have enabled new career opportunities. In a survey of 18,000 professionals across 89 international companies, IWG found that 70% of people now work remotely at least once a week, though BNY Mellon recently scrapped the practice for their UK 3,000 employees to enable "better collaboration and quicker decision making". While such technologies have allowed greater freedom of where to work, they've also removed any obstacle for when to work. Work can filter into every moment of our personal lives. Employees are increasingly struggling to switch off from thinking about work when they continue to receive push notification once they've left the office. Globalisation and digitalisation have contributed to a 24 hour work culture, where working from your phone is the norm and every moment in whatever space holds business potential. 

An increasingly integrated 'work-life' suggests that a dichotomy between the two is unsustainable. Is it worth the organisational effort to keep work and non-work separated, and what are the benefits of doing so?  

Work-life balance makes employees happier, healthier and more likely to stay

A good work-life balance is imperative for a healthy working environment and happy, motivated employees. Yet according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, work is overtaking life for more than 40% of employees. As a greater number of professionals continue to work longer than their contracted hours, we are witnessing a dramatic increase in associated mental health issues, including stress and depression, which are costly to employees and employers alike. In the financial services industry, the picture is even worse. A recent survey conducted by Mental Health England identified that financial services jobs are 44 percent more likely to cause a stress-related illness than the average role in the UK. 

Poor work-life balance has a profoundly negative impact on retention. For the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, we conducted a global survey of financial services professionals to ask how they felt about working in the industry and how confident they were in its future. Only 20% said they were happy in finance and had never considered moving to another industry. Almost half were actively searching for a different role and almost half (47%) said they had lost someone in their team to another industry or further education in the last six months. 

Around the world, women are usually still the primary caregivers for their children. Poor maternity leave or childcare initiatives can make it even more difficult for women to find a healthy work-life balance. No wonder that the Mental Health Foundation has found that 42% of female UK employees said they were unhappy at work, compared to 29% of men. A recent study by PwC found that financial services was falling behind in the upwards mobility of women due to poor work-life balance. Sixty percent of working mothers in financial services believe they were overlooked for advancement upon returning to work from parental leave, and more than half said that their companies' flexible work options weren't readily accessible or would negatively impact their careers. 

With this in mind, employers may look to primarily engage their female staff to collaboratively explore work-life solutions that benefit all. For employers that continue to shy away from the necessity of work-life policy, the financial ramifications could be significant. 

Poor work-life balance is not worth the cost

Poor work-life balance costs the global economy billions each year. Research from the Centre for Mental Health revealed that absence from work for employees suffering from mental health issues is costing the UK economy £26 billion each year. Across the pond, the Harvard Business Review also found that problems associated with a poor work-life balance are costing between $125 and $190 billion in healthcare spending each year in the US.

This, of course, means that for organisations that operate internationally the financial penalty for not proactively managing the need for work-life balance fast becomes costly and counter-intuitive.

The financial services industry must reimagine the ways in which it can deliver an effective work-life balance to its employees. Responsibility for identifying work-life initiatives that suit the industry and the professionals working within it must fall to both employer and employee.

For an employee, it is important to voice suggestions and contribute to policy development. Employees should also take steps to manage their own work-life balance by setting boundaries and placing greater focus on ‘clocking off’ when the workday ends. Management should make efforts to become more aware of the pressures experienced by their staff and aim to facilitate the transition towards greater flexibility and work-life innovation. 

Unlike the baby boomers before them, the vast majority of millennials (81%) feel they should set their own working patterns and have the option to work from home on occasion. It may be worth taking note, that 80% of baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1960) are now, later in their careers, reporting moderate to high-stress levels.

Collaboration is the key to success

Any initiatives to improve work-life balance will only be sustainable if approached in a consultative manner. Employers and employers must come together to rethink how they work and how they can define new ways of working. 

A better work-life balance will inevitably lead to better retention, greater longevity within the industry and, most importantly, better well-being for everyone working within it.

From speaking daily to hundreds of clients and candidates, we understand what good work-life balance looks like in different cultures. For personal advice on how to make meaningful changes to attract and retain employees, contact us today