What if we rewarded the employees and co-workers with the best work-life balance instead of those who work the longest hours, dedicating themselves wholly to their jobs?

We all look up to managers and directors and CEOs who are already working by the time we arrive at the office and, later, are still tapping away on their computers when we leave. To reach their level of “success” requires tireless dedication, we think. We start staying later to get ahead on projects and impress our bosses. We apologize to our friends for not being able to make a Friday happy hour because we have an important report that just can’t wait until Monday morning. We want to be first in line for the next promotion.

Rewarding unhealthy working habits like sitting for hours on end in front of a computer or in meetings, working on weekends, and piling projects with tight deadlines on someone because they’re capable breeds unsustainable work cultures. Eventually, someone will quit for a less stressful, more flexible position that offers a better work-life balance elsewhere, and someone else will request leave due to a nervous breakdown. I know—I’ve seen this happen at nearly every place I ever worked.

Work stress is killing us

In Japan, there’s a term for “death by overwork”: Karoshi. Work cultures and the pressure that comes with them can be so overwhelming that 20 and 30-somethings are dying of heart failure and committing suicide. Companies had to resort to shaming techniques to get employees to work less. 

A study published in 2012 found a correlation between working overtime and developing depression. Overworking can fuel alcoholism and contribute to an increased risk for a heart attack or stroke. While we feel good about looking good—dedicated to our jobs—under the surface we’re crumbling. 

It gets even more stressful for those of us with family obligations. Parents feel guilt towards their employers and clients when they can’t attend a meeting because they need to attend Cub Scouts with their kids. Alternatively, I’ve worked with a few parents who felt guilty because they were missing their toddler’s first sentences or couldn’t find time to help coach sports.

Shifting to a healthier work culture

When I started working remotely, my attitude towards work did a 180-degree shift. Removed from an in-office culture of go-go-go, I was able to fit work into my life instead of the other way around. I was happier working and experienced very few resentful or stressful days. If I need a break, I take one. I spend way more time in the outdoors and doing things I enjoy. This newfound flexibility makes me feel better, and in turn, I treat myself and other people better. And I’m more productive. Whether you want to call this work-life balance or work-life blend—it works. 

I want to work with people who spend lots of quality time with their families, take ski vacations, go hiking in the afternoon, and then bring all the inspiration that generates to their work. I don’t want to work with people who brag about working on Sundays or who respond to my emails with half-answers because they’re too rushed and exhausted to reply with their full attention. 

We need to shift the paradigm. Boston College found 40.6% of their study participants felt they would experience negative career impacts by embracing flexible work. Women in business, law, and health, in particular, are penalized financially for taking time off for caregiving. We need to create workplaces that not only create flexible work policies but feel comfortable and empowered in following them. They need to become more than a strategy for attracting talent.

Flexibility is better for the bottom line (and people)

But the loss in productivity! Countless studies point to the fact that companies that offer more flexible work policies that enable a better work-life balance retain employees and retain healthier employees:

Remote work is not just a fad—70% of professionals are working remotely now in the USA (some of the time)—it’s a response to the need for more flexibility at work. It’s a response to the exhausting go-go-go attitude of some work cultures. It’s a response to the need for more focused, productive time, family time, and time looking after our health and wellness. And it’s all been made possible through technology.

The next step is to reward people for prioritizing the important things in life. Instead of receiving pay cuts and being ignored by their employers, remote workers should receive equal treatment. It’s not business as usual and things get more complicated when you’re working with people who choose their own hours instead of working 9-5, but that’s just a new challenge to accept and overcome. 

If a company truly cares about its people and wants its best people to stick around, it’s time to look at how they reward performance. While it seems like those who work from dawn ’til dusk are delivering the best results (and therefore deserve the rewards), data shows those working on flexible schedules are the most productive, satisfied, and loyal. 

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