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  • Writer's pictureSusan Wakelin

How You Can Spot a Poor Work / Life Balance, and What to Do About It?

If you’re managing a multigenerational workforce, you might find that identifying divergence in their wellbeing tricky. We all know that having a positive working atmosphere is important for employees, as it impacts so many other facets of their lives – and it’s this additional dimension of their situation that might be overlooked when you only ever see them in the office.

Curating and maintaining a work/life balance is so inherently personal, you might feel it’s rude to question their situation or that it’s beyond the average manager to always be on the lookout for key differences in behaviour which might indicate they need additional support. But did you know that nearly 30% of employees described themselves as unhappy at work? According to research by ‘Small Business.co.uk’ in 2022.


Whilst we recommend you contacting us at SWan HR, we’ve got some advice below for you to begin with – especially in spotting poor work/life balances in your staff. As an HR consultancy, we pride ourselves on a professional and personable approach to these situations, so this advice is curated with that in mind, and we appreciate that not every instance will be as visible or adaptable as you’d like.


What should you see in the office?


When it comes to a happy and healthy work/life balance, there are a few key indicators. Your employee or colleague should:

  • Be able to stay on top of their workload, and meet deadlines, without having to extend beyond their contracted working hours. (We appreciate that some jobs require a higher level of work and time to maintain, but this should not be a stressor, and work should be managed to a reasonable level by both the employee and those managing them.)

  • Maintain social relationships with friends and family, without work getting in the way.

  • Clear boundaries between work and non-work life, for example – turning your emails off after 6pm.

  • Maintain emotional and physical wellbeing – this will look different for everyone, but eating well, exercising or taking up hobbies are simple examples to look for.

  • Sleeping well, uninterrupted.


What should you be on the lookout for?


These things might manifest themselves in a variety of ways, and as we said above, with training we can make it easier for you to spot. But generally, you should be on the lookout for:

  • Unsustainable Working Hours Whether it’s because an employee is struggling with the type of work, or the amount of work, systematically working unsustainable hours is a key sign that their work/life balance is unstable. If you find that an employee is staying later and later to complete tasks they should have completed during their standard working day, this is something that will need investigation.

  • Increased Stress Addressing unspoken expectations with your employees can be a great way to avoid increased stress, but if the amount on their plate is unrealistic or beyond their self-management capabilities you may find their stress causes burnout. Burnout is the last stage of chronic stress, which has a collection of behaviours which signals its arrival whilst also compounding the stress they’re experiencing. If you have an employee who seems to be making rash decisions, or mistakes regardless of their experience, withdrawing socially or antagonising other members of staff – you might find they’re on the brink of burnout. This level of stress can go on to have drastic medical implications such as depression and heart attacks, and strokes.

  • Retention Issues 40% of employees surveyed (Work to Live, 2023) cited high stress and unfair work expectations as their reason for leaving their previous job. Companies have lost some of their top performers time and again to the negative repercussions of a poor work/life balance. Work to Live (2023) explained that more commonly personnel leave their job when it conflicts with their home life, especially parents who view their commitments to their family as the most important. They went on to say that the companies that provided additional support with family-friendly policies found that their retention issues became practically negligible. “These policies decrease the haemorrhaging that occurs when parents feel guilty they aren’t doing enough work when they’re at home, and enough parenting when they’re at work.”

  • Absenteeism As we’ve seen above, a poor work/life balance can have real medical consequences – so if you notice that a particular employee is having regular absences related to their health, this is a key indicator that they’re struggling. Be aware that it might not be themselves that appears to be sick, but could also be a family member they’re taking care of. This is a delicate situation, so if you’d rather this was handled by a caring and professional HR consultant, contact SWan HR.

  • Shrinking Productivity Stress and excessive workloads can impact thinking and impulse control – which in turn creates a more overwhelming situation for your employees. If you’re noticing that jobs that used to be completed within a certain time frame no longer are, or that the difference in work output between your top and bottom performers is overwhelming, this is a sign of a poor work/life balance. The ideal team is one actively engaged in their work and the company they work for – but if they’re struggling, it won’t just impact an individual employee, but the whole team.

  • Increase in Petty Colleague Disputes As a continuation of the ‘good working team’ system in the above paragraph, if you’re finding that tensions seem to be running higher than usual within a specific team then you could be seeing a symptom of a poor work/life balance. Again, the ideal team is one engaged in their task, and in supporting their coworkers.

If you recognise any of these symptoms in your staff, or you’d like support, contacgt SWan HR.


SWan HR Consultancy (London and Kent)


SWan HR is an HR consultancy that specialises in HR support for small to medium sized businesses in the South East.

"Where HR Succeeds, the Business Achieves"

SWan HR was founded by Susan Wakelin, MCIPD, who is a qualified HR professional with over thirty years' experience, from setting up, auditing and improving HR functions to management coaching and supporting organisations through difficult situations, transformation and change.


SWan HR provides a broad range of tailored HR services including an HR audit, HR advice, HR outsourcing, HR coaching and project work for all businesses.


Free HR consultation


Contact Susan Wakelin now to take advantage of a free half-hour consultation to talk through your initial HR concerns and how you can manage these going forward.


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