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How 'Wellness Wednesdays' and Hobbies Increase Work-Life Balance

November 10, 2020 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Hobbies provide a way for people to take time out of busy schedules and do something they actually enjoy. In a time when workers' daily lives and work-life balance have been disrupted more than usual, encouraging employees to pursue outside interests is a way to step back, relax and appreciate the joys of living. 

But hobbies aren't just about downtime. Outside pursuits also have tremendous benefits for productivity at work. Exercise in particular has been shown to have significant impact on the brain. For instance, psychiatrist, John Ratey, in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, explained how exercise can be shown to lift mood and increase focus. 

Given its benefits, how can employers foster an environment where employees are encouraged to take on new hobbies in the midst of a massive disruption to work routines? 

Adjusting to the Disruption to Work-Life Balance

As more companies shift towards remote work either wholly or partially, it has altered the way many people view work-life balance. This change in work routines upended the model many people used to manage the often delicate balance between their work and home lives.

“For some people, the separate physical space and commute time was a welcome compartmentalization," said Natalie Morgan, director of HR at Austin, Texas-based hiring software company CareerPlug. "Some people have trouble knowing when to stop working when they are already home."

The key is to re-balance the two while working and focus on keeping your mind free and clear, said Zohar Gilad, CEO and co-founder at e-commerce optimization company InstantSearch+.

“Working from home allows us to stay in touch with our lives at all times but it also makes it harder for us to separate the two and maintain a healthy work-life balance," Gilad said. "We tend to develop the ugly habit of thinking about the work even when we should just be enjoying our free time."

Exercise can certainly help, he said. And while the disruption of recent months has forced some workers to experience short-term pain, in the end it creates a long-term gain for many.

"But I’ve found that on the whole people have had better work-life balance since we transitioned to a remote first company,” Morgan said. 

Related Article: 3 Tips to Create a More Resilient and Productive Workforce

How to Encourage and Promote Outside Interests

Taking time outside of work to pursue outside interests and hobbies is beneficial, especially for those who have built their lives around work. “There is plenty of research that happy employees make more productive, creative, impactful employees and I’ve seen that play out with my team and with my own work habits," she said. "There was a time when I’d work late most days, go into the office on weekends, and generally put work above my health and other interests.”

Hobbies and non-work related pursuits meant an increase in productivity. “When I made a decision to change that, setting boundaries and creating more space to pursue passions outside of work, my work productivity increased as well. I became more focused and energized with the time I put into working hours,” Morgan added. 

Inherently, people understand taking time away from work is beneficial for them. But that doesn't mean they'll always do it. For employers looking to get their team on board, Dan Anastas, senior director of total rewards at UiPath, a robotic process automation company, has advice on what worked for his company.

UiPath rolled out Wellness Wednesday, a once-a-week initiative that brought people together to talk about topics such as emotional wellness, physical well-being and how to cope with what's happening in the world. The aim was to encourage employees to disconnect and get in touch with their feelings and mental health, he said.

Initiatives like Wellness Wednesday show employees that their bosses care. They can go further by setting a positive example in other ways as well.

“If you want employees to take up hobbies and demonstrate a healthy work-life balance you have to lead by example,” Morgan said. “Don’t send emails or Slack messages outside of working hours. Talk about interests and activities outside of work and give your team room to do the same. Don’t just ask about career goals. Ask about personal goals as well and what you can do as a company or as a manager to support them." 

It's important that leaders share their own experience and tell employees about the benefits of their own outside interests and hobbies, Gilad said. "I got a high-energy dog that needs my attention daily and it’s a great way to stay on schedule," he said.

"Employees may be hesitant to take up a hobby that could interfere with their work but perhaps that’s why they need it the most. It’s a great way to refresh and do better work for the rest of the day," Gilad said. 

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