A small business owner’s guide to improving work-life balance
By Nicole McDermott
The term “work-life balance” can be elusive since workers have different needs, roles, and ideas of how distanced their work and home lives should be. For the average Canadian worker who logs 37.5 hours on the job per week, it may not be so challenging to find a natural separation between responsibilities at home and in the office. But for entrepreneurs, the waters between those two worlds may look a little muddier. In fact, more than 4 out of 10 Canadian business owners in a 2021 survey by Xero say it’s a big misconception that being your own boss means you have more flexibility than other workers.
So what can small business owners do to improve work-life balance? Keep reading to learn more about the concept, plus helpful strategies to consider.
The demand for more balance
While Canadian workers want the compensation they deserve, a 2021 ADP workplace survey found that work-life balance outweighs pay when it comes to staying at a current job or exploring new options. Perhaps that’s why 32% of respondents said finding an organization that respects work-life balance is most important to them when looking for a new gig.
With that said, it’s important to note that finding harmony between life and work isn’t just about time. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, work-life balance is associated with four categories.
- Role overload: when the total demands on time and energy in any given role are too great to do the job sufficiently or comfortably
- Work-to-family interference: when responsibilities at work make it more difficult to fulfill family-role responsibilities, leading to missed family events and/or increased conflict with family
- Family-to-work-interference: when responsibilities at home make it more difficult to fulfill work responsibilities
- Caregiver strain: when it’s challenging to balance work demands with the need to provide care or assistance to a loved one
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, work-life balance is associated with 4 categories.
- The total demands on time and energy in any given role are too great to do the job sufficiently or comfortably.
- The responsibilities at work make it more difficult to fulfill family-role responsibilities, leading to missed family events and/or increased conflict with your family.
- Responsibilities at home make it more difficult to fulfill work responsibilities.
- It’s challenging to balance work demands with the need to provide care or assistance to a loved one.
What happens when we work too much
Working too much can take a real toll on your health and well-being — especially when you clock in early and leave late day in and day out for weeks, months, or years at a time. In fact, a comprehensive body of research shows that a lack of work-life balance can negatively affect job satisfaction — a major marker of overall well-being and psychological health — and lead to stress, exhaustion, and burnout.
But the effects of overwork can go beyond not liking your job and feeling stretched too thin. A meta-analysis of studies with participants across 13 countries found that long working hours may increase the risk for several diseases and conditions, including hypertension, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety.
Research suggests that a lack of work-life balance can negatively affect job satisfaction and lead to stress, exhaustion, and burnout.
According to a meta-analysis of studies, long working hours may increase the risk for several conditions.
- Sleep disturbances
Long working hours (55 or more per week) contributed to 745,000 premature deaths in 2016, according to the World Health Organization.
- Work–Life Balance: Weighing the Importance of Work–Family and Work–Health Balance (2020, February 1). National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018 (2019, July 13). National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke (2021, May 17). World Health Organization.
Over time, those conditions can lead to serious repercussions. Case in point: A recent study from the World Health Organization estimates that in 2016, long working hours (defined as more than 55 hours per week) contributed to 745,000 premature deaths worldwide from stroke and heart disease.
The bright side of these grim findings? As a small business owner, you have the power to lead by example and move toward a state of work-life equilibrium that allows you (and your employees) to even the scales between work and non-work demands.
How to achieve better work-life balance
Consider implementing some or all of the following strategies to help your employees find a greater harmony between their work and their lives.
When you make a commitment to strive toward better work-life balance, it’s crucial that you create boundaries for yourself. Be realistic about when you need to be available, then let the people who report to you know when and how they can contact you.
If you work from home and you don’t have a commute to separate your home life from the office, set clear physical boundaries by creating a dedicated workspace in your house that you use only for work. And if you feel tempted by your work email or messaging app after hours, schedule downtime or time limits to disconnect.
Lastly, remember it’s one thing to establish boundaries, but another to stick to them. If you disregard your boundaries, you signal to everyone else that they don’t need to respect them either.
Write a strategic plan
Maybe you already drafted a strategic plan to clarify your organization's goals when you first started your business. But things change and so should your written plan. A successful strategic plan saves time and headaches by defining your current mission, values, and capabilities, as well as your goals and how and when you plan to accomplish them. Take the time to revisit your strategic plan and ensure it's clear and actionable, with a list of detailed steps to achieve your company’s objectives.
Review and formalize your business processes
Whether you have a small or large team, document your business processes. Log each step in a clear and repeatable way, on separate workflow docs or playbooks, so you can more easily delegate as you take on higher-level strategic work. Once you write down your processes, you may also reveal inefficiencies and potential areas for automation (more on that in a bit).
Formalizing your business processes is just one piece of the delegation pie. As a small business owner, it can be incredibly challenging to let go, especially when it comes to entrusting others with important tasks you’ve always been responsible for. But once you delegate some of the items on your to-do list, you’ll have more time to focus on what needs your attention most while proving to your employees that you’re confident in their abilities.
Before offloading responsibilities willy-nilly, take the time to record all your work tasks over several weeks. Then determine which tasks are most important to keep under your purview and which you’re ready to let go of. Once you identify the team members you’d like to delegate the work to, set up time to walk through each workflow doc together. And if you don’t have regular one-on-one meetings scheduled with the employees you delegated to, book a weekly call so each team member has your undivided attention to ask questions until they can fully take the reins — and you can reap the benefits of a lightened workload.
When automation complements the work you do (PDF), it can save time, increase productivity, and help your organization grow. While it’s easy to get stuck in the daily grind and you may feel overwhelmed by all the automation tools available, an outside consultant can help identify recurring tasks that you may be able to automate and pinpoint which tools suit each task best. Depending on the makeup of your team and the product or service your company offers, you may decide to automate certain aspects of social media, site traffic tracking, marketing, recruiting, customer support, and more.
While it makes sense to keep certain tasks in-house, you may choose to outsource others to cut costs, solve capacity issues, and improve your team’s focus on your core demands. So how do you know which tasks to dole out to contractors and freelancers? Once you delegate within the company and automate tasks with the help of digital tools, you may find other jobs that don’t quite fit into either bucket but happen to take your time away from more important and impactful responsibilities. For instance, you may opt to outsource routine administrative, accounting, marketing, IT, and human resources tasks.
Implement digital payment solutions
Just like it’s helpful to automate marketing tasks, recruiting efforts, and everything in between, you can also save time and gain peace of mind by digitizing your payments. To simplify your payment processes, you can take advantage of several convenient digital solutions, including online bill pay, ACH and real-time payments, wire transfers, and contactless payment options.
Balancing the scales
Being a small business owner isn’t easy. Working more and asking your team to do the same may feel like the best way to meet your goals. But while logging long hours can help you achieve short-term gains, it can ultimately lead to burnout and long-term losses.
Achieving and maintaining long-lasting work-life balance is a science and an art. It takes time, patience, and tenacity. When you put the effort into setting boundaries and condensing your workload, you can schedule more quality time with your friends and family while improving your health and showing your work family that you care enough about them and the company to take care of yourself. Investing in work-life balance will benefit your company’s leadership and employees, who in turn, will create a better experience for your customers. It’s a win-win-win strategy.