How to improve employee retention – Part 3 – Work-Life Harmony

5th October 2023

This article is part of a series of articles on how to improve employee wellbeing and employee retention. The structure is based on the The US Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well‑Being, and each week we are looking at each “essential” in the framework. 

The full list of articles is:

  1. An introduction to the US Surgeon General’s framework
  2. Protection From Harm
  3. Connection & Community
  4. Work-Life Harmony – you’re reading it 🙂
  5. Mattering at Work – coming soon
  6. Opportunity for Growth – coming soon

This week, we are exploring “Work-Life Harmony” and the research that shows that, in order to feel happy at work, employees need to be able to integrate work and non-work demands. This requirement is rooted in the human needs of autonomy and flexibility.

In this article, we will examine four things that companies should aim to do to fulfill this requirement:

  • Provide more autonomy over how work is done
  • Make schedules as flexible and predictable as possible
  • Increase access to paid leave
  • Respect boundaries between work and non-work time
work-life harmony

1. Provide more autonomy over how work is done

Employees who don’t feel trusted and feel they are micromanaged have lower morale, lower productivity and ultimately a higher turnover rate 1 . The severity of the adverse effects of micromanagement is significant, making it one of the leading three causes of employee departures.

So, how can you give your team more autonomy over how they do their work and more ownership of their role? 

Letting go is difficult; trusting someone to do a job as well as you do is hard, but it is necessary if you want to extract the full potential from your team. 

Stop Micromanaging

In this article we wrote on micromanaging we outlined the 3 steps you can take:

  1. Time your help so it comes when people are ready for it

Don’t wade in at the start; wait until your team has got a grip on the task at hand and then let them know you are there to help.

  1. Clarify that your role is to be a helper

Make sure it is clear you are there in the role of a helper and not as a manager or observer. People will only feel safe if they understand that.

  1. Align the rhythm of your involvement – its intensity and frequency – with people’s specific needs

According to HBR research this can be done in two ways: “intensive guidance in the short term or intermittent path clearing over a prolonged period.”

Create a no blame culture

If a team member feels they will be blamed for any mistakes, they will be more interested in self preservation rather than the mutual development of the team. Consequently, the team will feel less safe, and there will be less collaboration and innovation.

So, how can you create a culture of no blame? The most important thing you can do is to lead by example; the team can never witness anyone being blamed, and they need to learn it is ok to make mistakes. After all, the best teams make the most mistakes.

If teams are still struggling, a useful tool is the Prime Directive. In our office it is displayed on the wall and read out before any retrospective.

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

It is a simple way of setting the tone in a meeting and establishing a no blame culture.

2. Make schedules as flexible and predictable as possible

For many workers, those with childcare caring responsibilities or transportation difficulties,  a rigid, unpredictable schedule can have a seriously detrimental effect on their lives which can lead to stress and burnout 2.  Even those employees without such responsibilities are affected. It can significantly affect their feeling of wellbeing at work by limiting the activities they can do outside the office and their family time. So what can you do?

1. When deciding the working hours of the company, consider the employees’ needs alongside those of the company itself.

Pre-COVID, the idea that an employee could start and finish when they wanted was entirely alien to the majority of businesses. Now, many have realised that employees only need to be together for a few hours a day. So why make employees work a schedule they don’t need?

There are many solutions to providing your team with the flexibility they require, and the solutions will largely depend on the requirements of the company itself. However if you follow these two guidelines, it’s a good start.

Firstly, only require your team to work at specific times when it is actually necessary. If the first team meeting is at 11am each day, don’t require your team to start at 9am.

Secondly, help your team feel safe working flexibly. If someone wants to take their child to swimming lessons at 3pm, they should feel safe doing that, as long as it doesn’t affect their team, and they complete their work at another time more suitable to them.

Many companies think that flexibility means working 8 hours a day, starting between 0800 and 0830 and finishing between 1600 and 1630. That is not flexibility; it’s a gesture, and a very weak one at that. Just consider when you actually need the employees to work and then trust them to organise their lives around it. Once you start trusting your team, you’ll be surprised how much you’ll get back in return.

2. Adapt the working location rules to benefit both the company and the employee

For longer tasks that need extreme focus, I work better at home, but for collaborative tasks, I work better in an office with my colleagues. But, that’s just me. Everyone is different! Some feel safer on a Zoom call and will contribute more working from home than in a loud, boisterous meeting room. 

Research shows that people are more productive working from home, but it also shows they are less collaborative and less innovative and junior employees do not benefit from remote working; they need support. The jury is still out on whether remote, in-office or hybrid work is the best approach.

My thoughts here? Don’t make people work from the office just for the sake of it, and don’t make people work remotely if they don’t want to. Create a practical policy that works for everyone and respects as many people’s needs as possible.

Increase access to paid leave

Europe is pretty good at this. In Spain, we have paid sick leave, good maternity and paternity leave, you even get paid time off to move house. However this section is about more than just your statutory rights.

If employees feel safe asking for time off when they are sick, to care for a child or to attend a doctor’s appointment and they also know it will not negatively affect their next pay packet it will positively affect their mental and physical wellbeing, improve retention, and reduce the costs associated with turnover.

Now, I want to clarify I am not advocating for employees to take unlimited time off; it would seriously harm many small businesses. The point here is that employees need to feel safe asking for time off when they really need it and feel safe knowing that they won’t be penalised for it, even though they may have to catch up the work at another time.

Respect boundaries between work and non-work time

Workers experience an enhanced sense of well-being when leaders and supervisors establish, adhere to, and exemplify distinct boundaries between work and personal time, without imposing penalties on employees for requiring such flexibility.3

What does this mean? It means not expecting employees to answer messages outside work hours; it means not expecting employees to check work accounts when they’re at home; it means allowing your employees to enjoy their home time without having to worry about work. 

As a company, our employees should not have Slack or their company email on their phone or personal devices. We only contact people outside of work in emergencies and holidays are sacred. But there are companies that are even stricter than us!

At Daimler, staff can set their emails to automatically delete when they are on vacation.

At Lidl in Belgium all internal emails were banned between 6pm and 7am.

Whilst I personally believe that an employee should be given a choice and ownership of when to check their work messages, the company culture should make it very clear that working outside office hours is not expected and is even frowned upon.

“Work-Life harmony” is the third essential in workplace wellbeing. When employees feel they have autonomy to do their work in the way they want to, at the time and location which suits them best it will positively affect their wellbeing and ultimately make them happier at work, improving employee retention.

If you are struggling with employee retention in your IT team and want to share your experiences and get some practical advice, feel free to get in touch. It’s our mission to share our knowledge, and we love to help – just email our CEO at [email protected].

Alternatively, if you are looking to augment your existing team or outsource some of your development, contact us via the form below, or just book an appointment with our account manager, Sarah, at

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    1. Collins, S.K. and Collins, K.S. (2002). Micromanagement–a costly management style. Radiology Management, [online] 24(6), pp.32–35. Available at: ↩︎
    2. 163. Schneider, D., & Harknett, K. (2019). Consequences of routine work-schedule instability for worker health and well-being. American Sociological Review, 84(1), 82–114. ↩︎
    3. Pluut, H., & Wonders, J. (2020). Not Able to Lead a Healthy Life When You Need It the Most: Dual Role of Lifestyle Behaviors in the Association of Blurred WorkLife Boundaries with Well-Being. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 607294. https://doi. org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.607294 ↩︎