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Emily Weissang

What Causes Poor Work Life Balance?

Understanding what causes poor work life balance is the first step to making the changes that you (and your team) need. You can win the balance back!

Canceled dinner plans with loved ones. Ruminating over to-do lists. Responding to emails while on vacation. All signs point to a poor work life balance.

When the boundaries between your employees’ work and personal lives begin to blur, you’ve got a problem on your hands. And not only because their well-being will suffer - an imbalance between these competing priorities can spell trouble for a business, too, impacting productivity and employee engagement.

But if you’re hearing alarm bells, don’t worry. Work life imbalance is a problem that can be fixed, with the right strategies and workplace culture shift. In this article, we'll explore the factors that can lead to work life imbalance, the consequences, and how employers can restore harmony.

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What causes poor work life balance?

Whether you’ve experienced the breakdown of boundaries between your professional and personal life, or manage a team currently struggling with this issue, you'll know that no one factor leads to work-life imbalance.

Typically, a myriad of professional challenges and personal struggles lead employees to prioritize their work over their personal time. Here are the most common causes of negative work life balance.

Overutilization and long hours

Overutilization is a major issue in service-based organizations. Overutilization is when employees are assigned more work than their capacity allows and typically occurs due to poor project planning. Whether a project manager underestimates the time needed to complete each task or an urgent client request is granted at the last minute, the end result is an employee working overtime to meet deadlines.

While there are days when working an extra hour or two may be necessary to get a key project over the line, this should never become the norm. Contracted hours are laid out for two reasons: because those are the hours the employee is being paid to work, and to protect people’s critical recuperation time. 

Employers need to be realistic with the workloads they assign their teams. There are limited hours in a day, and managers should plan workloads accordingly based on project priorities and capacity. In situations where there are numerous competing demands, it is important to review the workload across the entire team and reallocate projects and tasks as needed.

Concerned about your team's utilization? Learn how to build and read a utilization report ➡️

Use Runn to better understand your utilization rates and avoid burnout


There is often an expectation that teams will ‘band together’ to get projects over the line when businesses are understaffed. However, it isn’t fair to expect workers to miss personal commitments to pick up additional work caused by understaffing; instead, it is on employers to deal with understaffing before it backfires.

Lack of flexible working arrangements

In a post-COVID world, there is no excuse for not offering flexibility at work. We now know that flexible location and schedule arrangements can improve employees' mental health, physical health, and work-life balance.

From long commutes that sap precious time and money, to damaged personal relationships caused by missing important events like graduations or weddings, there are many reasons why a lack of inflexible working arrangements can lead to a poor work life balance.

(Sidebar - we're big remote work advocates at Runn because we know that it helps improve work life balance. Check out what remote work means for our team ➡️)

Lack of autonomy and control at work

Autonomy is key to well-being at work. Managers who don’t trust their employees to make the right decisions about their workloads, priorities, and working arrangements set them on the fast track to work-life conflict.

A great example of this is unfairly balanced workloads. When employees lack autonomy, they can feel unable to speak up about when managers have failed to balance workloads fairly and maintain expectations that can’t be realistically completed during working hours

Limited opportunities for development and career growth

If employees feel there are limited opportunities for development and growth within their team, they may put additional pressure on themselves to ‘prove’ their value and worthiness for promotion by overworking.

Financial worries and job insecurity

Similarly, when employees become concerned about finances or career security, they can find it difficult to maintain a healthy work life balance. They will taking on more responsibility to protect their job security and likely ruminate over work issues during their time off.

Company culture that encourages overworking

Company culture has a huge impact on the way employees behave and feel. For example, presenteeism - where employees turn up to work even if they're unwell and unproductive - can suggest managers' expectations are damaging their team's health.

Over time, this pressure to spend long hours at work, even during illness, becomes an unspoken rule that employees feel they need to adhere — or risk their job security.

Let’s face it: no one wants to be the person who gets mocked for being lazy and undedicated because they call in sick with a cold. Likewise, if clocking off on time earns them side-eye from their manager, employees will feel implicit pressure to stay late even when it's not needed.

A lack of clear boundaries between work and personal life

There are many industries where socializing with your colleagues is encouraged. And on the surface, this sounds great. Most people can benefit from having a friend or two at work, and spending time together away from the office can do wonders for camaraderie and team culture.

Yet, you can have too much of a good thing. If your team regularly socializes outside of work, or discusses personal matters during their work hours, the lines between their personal and professional life can begin to blur. This can make it harder for your team members to mentally "leave work at work" during the weekends or when they are on vacation.

Not leading by example

Additionally, if you have found yourself emailing your team outside work hours, your own lack of boundaries may be setting a bad example.

Contacting your team in the evening or on weekends disrupts their free time and breaks down the barrier between work and personal life. It also suggests that it’s OK to email colleagues after 5pm, and could go as far as encouraging them to do the same. As a manager, it is your responsibility to set a good example.

Unless a matter is incredibly urgent, we recommend scheduling your emails to send during contracted working hours.

What are the consequences of poor work life balance?

If you fail to encourage your team to maintain a healthy work life balance, there are very real consequences for both the individual and the organization. Let’s look at these consequences in more detail.

Increased sick leave due to medical conditions

Research has shown that a lack of balance can have physical and mental consequences for employees. Workers putting in 55 hours plus a week increase their risk of developing heart attack by 13%. 

What's more, employees with poor work life balance tend to sleep less, and sleep deprivation can lead to an increased risk of anxiety, a weakened immune system, and even stroke. Unplanned absences can hugely impact businesses, both if sick pay is offered and in terms of productivity.

In the long term, consistently overworked employees risk burnout, which comes with a whole host of risks including depression-like symptoms. Additionally, employees who say they experience burnout regularly are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.

(And if you don't think burnout is a serious problem, we've got some more examples for you that might challenge your perceptions - check out these concerning burnout statistics ➡️).

Reduced productivity

Not only can a poor work life balance lead staff to miss work due to illness, but overworking can cause employees to experience brain fog while at work. This can manifest as headaches, confusion, or even mental fatigue, significantly reducing productivity rates.

Increased stress and mental health difficulties

When employees have a good work life balance, they have enough time to do everything they need to fill their cups. They can spend quality time with friends, nurture relationships with their family, spend time on their hobbies, invest in self-care, get enough sleep, and make sure they’re staying active — all essential activities for keeping their minds and bodies healthy.

When time spent at work starts creeping away from 9-5 and closer to 5-9, the time they have for these activities is reduced to close to zero. Instead of having time to recharge and rest, they power through their to-do list. This can lead to feelings of overwhelm and high stress levels, going on to contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression over time.

Poor morale and staff engagement

According to Gallup, only 21% of employees are engaged at work, and only 33% of employees say that they are "thriving" in their overall well-being.

Yes, these low figures could be caused by a myriad of factors, including a lack of meaningful work and bad relationships with managers - but overworking is a significant factor in low employee engagement.

Years of long working hours, missed important life events, and strain on family life will lead workers to experience dissatisfaction and resentment at work. This can trigger a lack of motivation and quiet quitting behavior, which employees engage in to regain control of their work lives.

High turnover

Today, employees view a good work-life balance not as a perk but as a right. This is especially true for millennial and Gen Z workers, who look for jobs that match their lifestyles rather than adapting their lives to fit around their careers.

As the Great Resignation showed, people aren’t afraid to leave their jobs if they feel dissatisfied, and burnout is an increasingly common reason for resignation. Research by UKG and Future Workplace revealed that 46% of leaders in HR stated burnout is responsible for up to 50% of workforce turnover each year.

If you want to keep turnover low, it’s time to invest in helping your team find a better work life balance.

Strategies for combating poor work life balance

If you’ve identified that your team is struggling with work life imbalance, it’s time to take action. Here are six strategies for combating poor work life balance to achieve harmony.

1. Offer flexible working arrangements

After the COVID pandemic forced us all to reconsider our priorities in life, many realized that they could no longer prioritize work over their family, home life, and self-care.

Offering flexible working arrangements will allow your team to manage their work around their personal lives, helping them reduce their stress levels and increase their job satisfaction.

Flexible working arrangements can include:

  • Allowing employees to work from home part of the week, if not full time
  • Compressed hours, such as 4-day weeks or 9-day fortnights
  • Flexitime, allowing employees to adjust their working hours around their schedules

2. Invest in capacity planning

Overutilization is one of the biggest contributing factors to poor work-life balance. So, what’s the remedy? Capacity planning.

With capacity planning, managers allocate resources to projects based on what is coming up in the pipeline; they review the workload of every team member and assign tasks that will fit their capacity.

Resource management tools like Runn can take the pain out of capacity planning, using existing data and patterns to simplify forecasting and help you plan capacity more efficiently.

New to the concept of capacity planning? We've got you covered. Start here with the Beginner's Guide to Capacity Planning ➡️

Spot overload on Runn's capacity charts to re-allocate the work

3. Focus on output, not input

In the corporate world, many people confuse working 60-plus hours a week with commitment. Not only is this unhealthy, but there’s no guarantee workers are using those hours productively.

Managers would do well to shift their mindset from being input to output-focused. When you focus on output, you judge your team on their accomplishments - not how many hours they’ve worked.

With effective workload management, you can maximize the time your team has available, increasing their productivity without compromising the quality of outputs.

4. Make sure staff take their PTO (all of it!)

Time away from work is critical for mental and physical recovery. Without time off, work-related stress will continue to build up, potentially leading to burnout or worse.

Encouraging employees to take their full allowance of paid time off is just one of many employee retention strategies that go a long way to maintaining a healthier work life balance across teams. Just make sure to emphasize that doing so won't harm their career or professional reputation.

5. Create personalized wellbeing plans

Every employee is different, and what they need from you won’t always be exactly the same. We recommend taking the time to talk to each employee separately about what they’re struggling with, what support they’d like to receive, and how you can help them manage stress and build healthy habits.

They may mention workplace cultural issues or request flexibility in working hours and location. These are great insights to apply to the team at large and will allow you to create a personalized well-being plan to support each team member.

Check out some more, actionable tips on how to support employee wellbeing.

6. Lead by example and address your negative culture

While poor work-life balance is often caused by poor resource management, this isn’t always the case. Some businesses struggle with a culture that either rewards people for overworking or puts so much pressure on workers that they feel they must always be ‘on.’

Addressing a toxic work culture is no easy task. The best way to tackle this issue is to lead by example. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Avoid responding to emails out of work hours; if you are working flexible hours that see you responding to emails in the evening or on the weekend, schedule these to send during standard business hours
  • Take all your paid time off — and keep away from your emails!
  • Praise your team for the work they produce, not the extra hours they put in
  • Set boundaries for what can be discussed at work
  • Say no to requests when you don’t have the capacity to take on additional work

Final thoughts on work life imbalance

It’s never too late to focus on improving your team’s (or your own) work life balance. With the right tools in your arsenal and a change-focused mindset, you can make sure everyone is achieving work life balance.

Want to know more about how Runn’s intelligent capacity planning features can help you balance your team’s workload, schedule projects efficiently, and improve work-life balance? Our expert team is on-hand to share our secrets with a short demo tailored to your needs.

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