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Remote working taking a toll on work-life balance; here's what employers can do

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The overuse of tech due to remote working or a hybrid set-up has led to digital exhaustion and loss of creativity, says a study by Microsoft, published in the Harvard Business Review. Non-stop video calls, emails, and chats were impacting the mental well-being of employees. Employees who were better satisfied with their work-life balance were sending 36 percent fewer emails after working hours, showed the study.

Remote working taking a toll on work-life balance; here's what employers can do

Even after almost two years of the global outbreak of the COVID pandemic, it is still difficult for people to maintain a work-life balance. The overuse of tech due to remote working or a hybrid set-up has led to digital exhaustion and loss of creativity.

The work-life balance

A Microsoft study, published in the Harvard Business Review, has found that factors like always-on collaboration, a lack of focus time, and unused vacation and time away add to employees' misery.

Company research in this area revealed that employees' satisfaction with work-life balance has dropped by 13 percentage points between April and November 2020. Highlighting a similar concern, another data set collected between October and November of 2020 showed that 81 percent of employees were dissatisfied and 42 percent were not feeling as productive as they were prior to the COVID pandemic.

Therefore, in an effort to help employees, the tech giant compiled data to get to the root cause. According to the findings, time spent on meetings had more than doubled and the average person sent 42 percent more chats after work hours. The non-stop video calls, emails, and chats were impacting the mental well-being of employees.

The employees who were attending 25 percent fewer meetings and spending six hours less on collaboration in comparison to unhappy employees were better satisfied with their work-life balance.

Also, the employees who were better satisfied with their work-life balance were sending 36 percent fewer emails after working hours and 29 percent fewer emails in general.

Another crucial factor impacting employees’ perception of a work-life balance was a significant drop in vacation time. The Microsoft study revealed that the average amount of vacation time recorded by its US-based employees had dropped by up to 83 percent.

Ways to improve work-life balance

Breaks between meetings: On the basis of its findings of brain research, Microsoft offered breaks to employees between two meetings. Company research showed that a 5-to-10-minute buffer between collaborations not only reduces stress levels for employees but also enables better focus and engagement.

Free weekends: The next crucial step in the direction of improving work-life balance was avoiding key meetings on Monday mornings and Friday evenings. It was found that an early Monday meeting kept the employees under pressure on weekends. Similarly, Friday evening meetings put down employees before they unplug for the weekend.

Shorter meetings: Keeping meetings brief and to the point was another major step taken by the company to address employee woes as long online discussions would lead to low engagement and increased stress. The study disclosed that employees frequently multitask during meetings they find irrelevant or have a lack of interest or engagement in.

No work emails in non-office hours: Managers at Microsoft also stopped sending work emails to employees after work hours. In fact, employees were encouraged to mute notifications in order to remove the pressure to check emails and chats after work hours.

Encouraging time away from work: Microsoft offered five well-being off days to its employees globally in addition to their regularly allotted vacation. The step was aimed at encouraging employees to spend more time away from work.

Largely, the idea is to empower employees to be able to say "no" to tasks that are not "mission critical". This freedom gives them a better sense of work-life balance. The study asks managers to realise that there will always be some work on the table and that's okay.

The key lesson of it all was to tell managers to prioritise their team members to improve their work-life balance. To truly combat this digital overburden and keep workloads sustainable, the status quo can't go on for long. A few small steps to improve work-life balance would bring stability even in the face of chaos.

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