Alyssa Rhoda | Jul 18, 2022

Performance discussions at work don’t always have to be about job-related goals. During culture-building platform Confetti’s triannual reviews, employees have the opportunity to share any personal goals they want to achieve, in addition to their on-the-job ambitions.

This practice started by accident at Confetti when one employee revealed a personal aspiration during a conversation about upcoming goals — she wanted to be more physically active and walk more steps each day. 

“She thought that the question was referring to personal goals, not professional goals,” said Lee Rubin, CEO and co-founder of Confetti. “Because of that, we were like, oh my gosh, we want to help you achieve these goals, too. We want to make sure that you’re achieving the things that you want to achieve.”

That led to monthly accountability check-ins, and the company gave her a fitness tracking device to help measure her steps. The topic is also a part of her performance review discussions, where her manager makes sure to check in about how she feels regarding her progress.

Providing employees with an optional opportunity to talk about their personal goals is one way that Confetti promotes work-life balance for its staff. If employees aren’t achieving their goals — personal or professional — a manager can help strategize.   

“Maybe we need to block off time within your calendar. Maybe we need to hire another person, so you don’t feel super pressured. Maybe we need to review how you’re prioritizing,” Rubin said. “As a company you shouldn’t rely on your team members working 12 to 16 hours a day to function. Something is inherently wrong, either with a person’s perception of how much work or the perception of prioritization. Or on the other side, maybe the company is overburdening their team, and it’s time to make some changes.”


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What Is Work-Life Balance?

“For me I think work-life balance is creating the right kind of environment that enables your team members to feel like they can do a good job and still be able to prioritize important things in their personal life,” said Joe Du Bey, CEO and co-founder at Eden Workplace, a workplace management platform for hybrid teams. “I think inherent in work-life balance is creating space for people to live their own lives, and in practice, to follow their own schedules.”

Work-Life Balance Definition

People with work-life balance typically feel positive about the time they spend working and the personal time they spend outside of work like enjoying time with family and friends or pursuing hobbies. When the time spent at work or work-related stress becomes too overwhelming, that impedes on peoples’ personal lives and can make their work-life balance feel out of whack.

Flexibility to take care of both personal and professional responsibilities is key to work-life balance for Kane Carpenter, practice lead for employer branding and growth strategies at Daggerfinn, a growth strategies consultancy. For instance, one component of work-life balance for him is the opportunity to occasionally go to the grocery store at 3 p.m. when it’s less crowded, but then he works a little later in the evening to make up time. “To me, work-life balance, fundamentally, it means flexibility,” Carpenter said. 


Why Does Work-Life Balance Matter?

For a company to truly have work-life balance, there needs to be thoughtful, strategic consideration around how to support the health of employees and not have work negatively impede on their personal lives.

“This is not something where you can throw up a yoga class and give everybody a meditation app and expect transformed outcomes,” said Susan Hunt Stevens, CEO and founder of WeSpire. “For you to have better outcomes related to wellbeing, you need to have a much more systematic approach to understanding what is dragging down wellbeing in my specific company and my specific industry and my specific region.”

Employee well-being has broad implications for the success of a company — from employee retention to the work that’s produced.

“It shows up in all these invisible ways from the quality of the product you ship, to the reputation that you hold, and frankly, to how easy it is to retain team members,” Du Bey said.

Happier employees are 13 percent more productive, according to research from Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.

“Even if you look at it from a purely economic perspective, instead of from a humanitarian perspective, unhappy employees aren’t going to make a company successful or profitable,” said Heather Shoemaker, CEO of Language I/O. “If you’re an unhappy person, you’re going to jump at the first opportunity that comes along to work at a nontoxic company.”

Especially as companies struggle to find talent, offering work-life balance is a differentiator that talent will value when considering where to make their next career moves.


Different Ways of Defining Work-Life Balance

Some people don’t like the term “work-life balance” because it could imply that work and life are separate things, and that they need to have equal weight at all times like a scale. 

“If you think about work-life balance, it means that I have work, and I have life, and I have to make them balance each other out,” said Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and cofounder of Casted, an audio and video content marketing platform. “That’s just silly to me because I’m a whole human. If something happens at home, of course, I’m going to bring it with me to work, and if something happens at work, of course, I’m going to bring it home. I love my home life, and I love my work life. How and why could I possibly separate the two?”

Tjepkema likes to reframe the concept as “work-life boundaries” — both putting them up and tearing them down. For instance, she is comfortable sharing a bit about her family with her employees, and as a founder, her family has witnessed first-hand the effort it takes to build a company.

“For me it’s all about, am I spending my time each day in a way that enables me to thrive financially, emotionally, socially, personally?” Stevens said.

“I don’t try to hide it and put it in a box,” Tjepkema said. “My kids, I want them to know their whole mom, and I want my team and my investors, my customers, to an extent, to know who I am — not just the sterilized work version, but that I’m a whole human, and I care about them as a whole human.” 

Rubin prefers the term “work-life integration” instead of work-life balance.

“The reality is that we know that work is a part of life, and they really should be much more closely integrated,” Rubin said. “For us, it’s really taking steps to see how do both of them work together so life doesn’t feel like it’s being sacrificed. At the same time, how do we produce the best work that we can during the hours that we should be actively working for a company?”

Stevens of WeSpire, also prefers “work-life integration.” WeSpire, an employee experience technology that supports companies with their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, offers a module that helps companies with their workplace resilience and wellbeing for their employees.

“For me it’s all about, am I spending my time each day in a way that enables me to thrive financially, emotionally, socially, personally?” Stevens said.

Read on to hear from tech leaders about 20 different ways to promote work-life balance at your company or how to ask for it from your employer.


1. Offer Generous Paid Time Off 

Allowing employees paid time away from work to enjoy their personal life is one of the most standard ways to help people have work-life balance.

Eden Workplace decided to keep Summer Fridays year round, allowing employees to have every Friday afternoon off. Even with people working half days on Fridays, the company still released four new software products and revenue grew around 11 times last year, Du Bey said.

“We discovered that during the summer, people felt really well rested and really motivated, and we decided to roll out Summer Fridays for the other three seasons as well,” Du Bey said. “That’s been a thing that our teams really received well, and we still are really productive in terms of how our hours are spent.”

Eden also offers unlimited vacation, but Du Bey acknowledges that “unlimited” time off doesn’t really exist in the working world. 

“I think that’s a bit of a misnomer because it’s one of those policies where a lot of startups do it, and you don’t really mean someone can disappear for the next three years and come back and still have a job,” Du Bey said. “But what it really means is we’re not watching the clock, and we want you to take vacations. People will routinely take trips that could be two to three weeks long.”

Make expectations around taking time off clear if you do have unlimited PTO. At Casted, Tjepkema said they offer guidelines around their unlimited PTO, encouraging employees to take off a week every quarter or at least take off one to two days per month.  

Rubin agrees that unlimited PTO is a bit of “false marketing” — that’s why her company calls it a “take what you need” policy.  

“One size fits all doesn’t work with vacation policy anymore,” Carpenter said. He calls himself a workaholic, so one way his company encourages him to take time off is to have him tack on a couple vacation days when he’s on a client trip, he said.

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2. Provide Paid Leaves 

Offering employees paid time off for life events like welcoming a child or grieving the loss of a loved one can help people with work-life balance, especially during times when an employee’s personal life requires more of their time and attention.

“When those moments happen like your dog passing away, you don’t want your vacation days allocated to you mourning for your dog,” Rubin said. “Your vacation should be your vacation and any other things that happen in life should be the things that are happening in your life.”

Speaking of mourning the loss of your dog, bereavement leave doesn’t just have to be for people. Language I/O, a SaaS company that allows companies to provide e-support in any language, offers its employees pet bereavement leave. 

“A lot of our employees have pets who are very important to them and are basically their children,” said Shoemaker. “When your pet dies, you’re going to be sad for a while, and we recognize that people need some time to mourn their pets.” 

Leave can also include sabbaticals where companies offer employees extended time off from work. At Eden Workplace, employees receive a five-week paid sabbatical and a bonus check after five years of continuous employment. 


3. Consider Offering Recharge Days or Synchronous Breaks

At companies where they offer synchronous vacations, meaning the whole company is closed and employees are off at the same time, everyone comes back to work feeling much more relaxed and recharged after those breaks, Stevens said.

“When people are on vacation on their own, but everyone else is working, it’s actually hard to be on vacation in a modern day and era,” Stevens said. “The expectation is you’ll at least check in some, nothing will fall apart while you’re gone, and you have to keep up with everything that happened.”

WeSpire typically offers a recharge break where the whole company is off between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, along with sometimes adding additional days off around the Fourth of July holiday.


4. Be Flexible With Schedules

Since its founding in 2019, Casted has always allowed its employees a flexible “work from anywhere, anytime” policy. 

“We’re not going to go with the trend of the four-day work week because that’s me putting my idea of healthy boundaries on you,” Tjepkema said. “Not everyone can take a Friday off because of work life and because of personal life.”

“That’s flexibility. That’s establishing your own boundaries. That is taking ownership of your role with the company and bringing your whole self, and that’s that blend of work life and personal life,” Tjepkema said.

If employees want to work a four-day work week with Fridays off, that’s great, Tjepkema said, but that’s not possible for every employee, so the company chooses not to mandate that type of schedule. For others, flexibility might look like taking off Tuesday afternoons, or it’s working seven shorter days a week. For someone else, it’s adjusting working hours in order to teach a yoga class in the middle of the day a couple times a week, she said.

“That’s flexibility. That’s establishing your own boundaries. That is taking ownership of your role with the company and bringing your whole self, and that’s that blend of work life and personal life,” Tjepkema said.


5. Give Employees the Work Environment Flexibility They Want 

Owl Labs’s 2021 State of Remote Work report revealed that only 29 percent of employees want to be in the office full-time, and one in four respondents would quit their job if they could no longer work remotely after the pandemic.

When founding Language I/O, Shoemaker decided that her employees would be allowed to work from home, which was especially important to her as a mother who struggled with less-than-ideal circumstances when pumping at her former employer’s office.

“I decided then and there if I ever run my own company, moms get to be at home with their babies. Pay them enough money to hire a nanny, or somebody who could watch the baby at home, so if you have to breastfeed, your baby’s there. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable,” Shoemaker said. “Maybe you still want to take your baby to daycare, but if you’re pumping, at least you’re going to do it in the comfort of your own home. You’re not in some nasty bathroom stall with this equipment and not enough space.”


6. Get to Know Employees’ Personal Situations

Does your employee have children they need to pick up from school? Are they taking care of a parent? Do they have weekly lessons they like to attend? Getting to know your employees’ needs and personal circumstances can allow an employer to offer more flexibility to help an employee meet both their work and personal needs.

“Don’t assume that your version of whole wholeheartedness and boundaries and flexibility are how everybody else in your team would define it,” Tjepkema said. 

The onboarding process is an opportunity to get to know employees’ personal situations. For example, one customer support employee at Confetti has tennis on Wednesdays, so the team works to make sure they are done with work to make it on time. Another employee has language study lessons.

“A company should mentally red flag to themselves that if they’re not able to build a successful company while having your team members go to the doctor’s office or go play tennis, something is inherently wrong with the way that the company’s operationally built,” Rubin said. 


7. Help Employees Meet Personal Goals 

Like the employee who wanted to walk more, Confetti said many employees have fitness-related goals. Another common goal is to take more time off — sometimes employees will realize a year has gone by, and they haven’t used their PTO.

“People don’t have to share their personal goals by any means, but we do like to build the relationship with our employees and make them feel comfortable,” Rubin said. “If they feel comfortable enough to share those with us, we want to be a part of their journey and uplift them along the way.”


8. Help Employees Prioritize Work 

Not every project needs to get done today. Helping employees prioritize their work can relieve some of the daily stress some employees may feel.

“We have a very active conversation on time sensitivity like what really needs to be done today versus what actually has more flexibility,” Rubin said. “There needs to be a balance in terms of what is truly time sensitive, and we give our team members that flexibility.”

Conversations around prioritization can help employees avoid working extra long hours and feeling burnt out if every project isn’t treated like a fire drill. This will hopefully allow employees to not cut into their personal hours or be thinking about work so much during their personal time. 

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9. Encourage People to Ask for Help

If prioritization conversations show that someone does indeed have many urgent projects on their plate, or they can’t meet pressing deadlines without working overtime, it might be time to look into hiring another team member or having another employee with more bandwidth step in.

Rubin said Confetti doesn’t glorify workers who work 12-plus-hour days in order to get everything done. The company has a culture that values people who speak up about needing help when there are too many high priority projects happening at once, or when someone is open about when a personal situation is affecting their ability to meet goals. In that situation, contractor help can be a way to give an employee relief.

“We glorify the people that get their work done within a reasonable timeframe, that communicate to their managers and their team members when they have something personal going on, that they’re not going to be able to give their full effort,” Rubin said. 


10. Set Asynchronous Communication Standards 

When employees work asynchronously, it’s important that employees know they don’t need to respond to messages at all hours. At Casted, employees have communication standards for Slack that indicate I’m completely offline; I’m available, but I’m in flex (like running errands); or I’m fully available (I’m literally at my computer), Tjepkema said. 

At Eden Workplace, Du Bey said employees in the past wouldn’t know what to do when they’d receive a Slack message at 10 p.m. or 2 a.m. in their local time zone. 

“People struggle with knowing what it meant when you got a message at different times today. What are the norms around that?” he said.

Until the company addressed this, many people felt the need to reply at all hours, which modeled the behavior to other employees and created a loop of colleagues feeling they needed to reply too. That prompted the company to set a standard that employees are not required to reply to messages outside their working hours.  


11. Don’t Glorify Overworking 

To avoid burnout, Tjepkema said employees need to understand it’s OK to step away — whether it’s taking breaks during the day or taking time off.

“We talk about everything that’s opposite of the hustle and grind culture. We celebrate sleeping and caring for yourself and spending time with people that you love that make you happy,” Tjepkema said. 

Rubin said Confetti doesn’t want employees bragging about working well beyond eight hours or working late into the night, so they sent out an internal announcement to spell out that’s not how the company operates.

“We talk about everything that’s opposite of the hustle and grind culture. We celebrate sleeping and caring for yourself and spending time with people that you love that make you happy.”

“What we did internally is just make an announcement and say, hey, this kind of behavior isn’t glorified here. I feel honored that you care about the work so much that you are dedicating so many hours of your day, but I don’t want this to compromise your health or your happiness,” Rubin said. “We have to look at it through your best interest as a human being first and foremost. I think that’s a huge responsibility to pay attention to.”

She added that she doesn’t want employees to skip working out, miss meals or not have enough time to take breaks. “I want you to do those things that are necessary for you to live your life in a healthy and happy way,” she said. 


12. Include Breaks in the Day

Employees shouldn’t just sit at their desks for eight hours straight. That’s not good for physical or emotional health, and companies should encourage employees to take lunch breaks, bathroom breaks and just step away from their work for a few minutes. Taking a walk can be reenergizing too.

“During the day we actually promote 15 minutes of dedicated break time because people like myself book back-to-back meetings,” said Amy Kim, president and CEO of Jugo, a virtual meeting and events platform. “We’re prone to doing that because we think we’re being effective with our time, but what we end up doing is counterproductive by running late and being late to meetings, but also just not having a break to think and process.”


13. Support the Physical and Mental Health of Your Employees

Encourage employees to take care of themselves physically and emotionally by providing time and resources to support healthy eating, exercise, medical care and mental health care. Stevens adds that financial wellness is important to employee wellbeing too, and companies can provide resources to help employees manage their finances.

“We’re a really vocal team about respecting your mental health and caring for others. Step away when you need to, whether that’s for a few minutes or for a few days,” Tjepkema said. “You can’t give what you don’t have, and so you’ve got to fill yourself back up. You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

Eden offers a stipend that employees can use for physical or mental health services like seeing a therapist or a gym membership. Language I/O allows employees to expense physical and mental health purchases like health-related subscriptions, meditation app subscriptions, books that are helpful to them and gym fees. “We want everybody to be as healthy as you possibly can,” Shoemaker said.


14. Communicate Your Expectations Around Wellness and Work-Life Balance

Leaders can’t expect employees to just know what work-life balance standards are at a company, so communication is key, Kim said.

“Employees actually need more communication from their employers and their bosses than ever before. Write it out and state it rather than just expect employees to know how to create that work-life balance,” Kim said. 

This includes explaining rules around time off, working time expectations and communication standards plus articulating any benefits available to employees to promote work-life balance (e.g., wellness days, stipends for physical and mental health, half-day Fridays).


15. Lead by Example

Leaders need to practice what they preach.

“It’s really just the job of the manager or the leaders to set the tone of how to create that work-life balance and support it and endorse it,” Kim said.

That goes for how managers model taking time off or when they do work. If a manager has a practice of replying to emails on the weekend or after hours, and that’s not the expectation of their team members, they should be sure to communicate that. 

“One of the things that we encourage all of our managers to do is set a good example,” Shoemaker said. “Don’t try to power through when you’re deathly ill because when your employees see that you’re not taking time off for yourself, they’re not going to feel comfortable doing it either.”


16. Compensate Well and Engage Your Employees

A key part of employee happiness is to compensate them well and equitably. If employees feel they are treated well by their employer, that influences their overall outlook on work and their personal life. If employees find out colleagues with the same roles and experience are getting paid more than them, resentment will build because the company isn’t treating them fairly.

“Because I have visibility into what everybody is getting paid, there’s no way in heck I’m going to let a woman who’s at the same level as a man get paid less than the guy, or people of color get paid less than white people for the same level.”

“Because I have visibility into what everybody is getting paid, there’s no way in heck I’m going to let a woman who’s at the same level as a man get paid less than the guy, or people of color get paid less than white people for the same level,” Shoemaker said. “It’s really important to me that we have equity there, even when the employees don’t know about it, because people talk. They’re gonna find out.”

Employee engagement is another influence on employees’ overall happiness. Carpenter said one of Daggerfinn’s clients uses Bonusly to offer micro rewards to engage its staff.

“Over the last two years, we’ve seen companies work a lot harder on engagement, and maybe that factors into what work-life balance is for some people. If they’re more engaged during the time that they are working, then that helps,” Carpenter said. 


17. Set Guidelines and Accountability

Managers should set clear expectations around what work outputs they expect from their employees. If companies offer employees flexible work hours, clear expectations will help employees plan how to get everything done within their schedules and allow managers to measure performance.

“When companies say we want to add as much work-life balance into our culture as possible, if it isn’t built on a level of accountability, then it kind of falls apart,” Carpenter said. 

There should be a clear understanding on both the employee and manager side about the amount of hours they are expected to work and the outcomes required for success in the role.


18. But Trust Your Employees

All that said though, there must be a certain level of trust in employees to get their work done. Research from Claremont Graduate University shows that employees who feel trusted by their employers are happier, less stressed, more productive, more loyal and more collaborative. 

“I just brought that idea of ultimate trust and flexibility — that we hire adults. We set goals, and we trust you to deliver against your goals and to work the time that best fits your life, whatever that is,” Stevens said. 


19. Ask Employees What They Want 

Want to know what would improve employees’ wellness? What does work-life balance actually feel like to your staff? Ask them.

“The thing that we’ve been telling clients is that you can build work-life balance into somebody’s work life, and it can be individualized because employees have different preferences,” Carpenter said. “If you want to be competitive in this labor shortage and this type of competitive world, you have to do things like that. The better the companies can read individuals, the better I think it works.”

Du Bey conducts employee sentiment surveys no less than quarterly — usually monthly. During the height of the pandemic, one survey question asked if employees felt overworked. About 50 percent of staff felt they were overworked at least some of the time or more. By creating an employee action group, staff at Eden came up with ideas to make employees happier and less stressed like the half-day Fridays and competitive parental leave. In a recent survey, that same question showed only 5 percent of employees felt overworked. 

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20. Get Rid of Toxic Employees

Working in a toxic environment will take a toll on someone’s work experience and likely bleed into their personal life and overall outlook as well. That’s why Shoemaker said Language I/O won’t keep toxic employees around long.

“We have a really fair way of determining who’s toxic and who isn’t. This can’t be a subjective decision,” Shoemaker said. “It’s also really important that even if a person is really talented, but they’re terrifying everybody around them and making life suck for their reports — even talented people should not be kept on staff because the bigger picture, the happiness of the larger employee base, is the most important aspect.


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