Some days work can seem all-consuming, but there comes a point when employees and managers need to make sure their personal lives are not suffering as a result.

Sean Valentine, a management professor at UND, said striking a work-life balance can be difficult with today's technology.

“We just don’t have a real traditional work day like we used to in the past,” Valentine said.

With email on smartphones, employees often feel they have to respond on their personal time, he said.

“We’re such a technology driven workforce today; we’re all on the go, go cell phones, iPads, laptops,” Valentine said. “So it's very common for people to take work with them on the go. It’s very hard for people to switch off. I see it in my job, too. I’ll get emails from students at midnight with a question.”

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Valentine said that company policy can help with work-life balance.

“Managers can make it mandatory that people only work 40 hours a week, or let employees know it's OK to only work 40 hours,” Valentine said.

Workplace policy

Employers can keep employees happy by doing things to encourage a healthy work-life balance. Companies need to develop a culture that signals that working more reasonable hours is acceptable, Valentine said.

“Some companies, if you take time off or if you’re not working really long hours, they kind of look down on that or make you feel like you’re not committed,” Valentine said. “So you may have PTO and sick time, but employees are reluctant to use them, or lose faith in the policy because its not consistent from employee to employee or they are discouraged from taking any time off.”

Some such policies are flexible work opportunities, such as telecommuting or “flex time,” or allowing employees to come and go as they need.

“Employers need to develop policies that signal it's OK to balance your work and family,” Valentine said. “Actually allowing employees to do that would have a big effect on the culture.”

Telecommuting, or working from home, saves employees time otherwise spent getting to and from work. This can be especially helpful in a place such as Grand Forks in the winter, when extreme weather can shut down major highways.

It also can make employees more productive because their morale is up, Valentine said.

Employees might not enjoy working from home after a certain number of hours, however, because they can feel isolated, Valentine said. Employees also could experience role conflict because they are working from home around their children or other loved ones, who may want them to play or spend time with them.

Another strategy for a better work-life balance is working a compressed work week, Valentine said. Instead of working five eight-hour days, employees can work four 10 hour days and have more family time with that extra day off.

Offering on-site daycare services or fitness centers also can help employees balance their work life and life at home, Valentine said.

“Any kind of policy to help people manage their families better can help with work-life balance,” Valentine said. “People have a lot of different roles and responsibilities they’re trying to take care of at work and at home.”