Do Your Managers Know How to Improve Work-Life Balance?

Work-life balance matters to your employees.

In the U.S., women and millennials in particular say that they seek companies with flexible policies when looking for a new job because work-life balance is so important to them. Many organizations have responded by offering flexible work arrangements, alternative work schedules and remote work options.

However, not every job can be flexible — you can’t tend to a hospital patient remotely or run a manufacturing line from a coffee shop — and maintaining a culture that supports flexible work arrangements isn’t always easy.

The good news: Gallup’s data show that having realistic performance goals is actually a better predictor of work-life balance than having flexible work arrangements. Further, among full-time U.S. employees, workers who strongly agree that they have realistic performance goals are 2.4 times more likely to also strongly agree that they have a healthy work-life balance.

Setting realistic performance goals is something that every manager can achieve. Regardless of the industry, all managers can create a better sense of work-life balance by establishing clear and realistic goals.

Two Things Every Manager Can Do to Set Clear Goals

1. Include employees in setting their performance goals. Gallup research shows that employees who say their manager includes them in goal setting are 2.3 times more likely to say their performance goals are realistic than employees whose manager does not.

Having a conversation with employees before goals are set also helps to clear up potential misunderstandings about role expectations. Gallup finds that nearly half of all U.S. employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work. This reduces engagement and hinders the organization’s ability to successfully cascade companywide initiatives to individuals and teams.

When employees are not included in setting their goals, less than half (47%) strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. When they are included in establishing their goals, more than three-fourths (76%) strongly agree that they know what is expected of them.

Including individuals in their goal setting gives them a greater sense of ownership over their work and control over their performance metrics. That creates autonomy, which is related to improved engagement, performance — and even physical wellbeing.

Employees who say their manager includes them in goal setting are 2.3 times more likely to say their performance goals are realistic.


2. Explain the consequences of not meeting goals. Gallup workplace research finds that employees who know the consequences of not meeting performance goals are more than twice as likely to say their performance goals are realistic.

Consequences, of course, can be positive (rewards, bonuses, recognition, promotions) or negative (demotions, reprimands, termination). Employees should be aware of both the positive and negative outcomes of their actions at work. Managers should take the time to clearly explain the outcomes related to performance — for example, “X promotion or bonus will only result from Y goals being accomplished.”

Conversations like those give employees targets to hit. They also allow managers and workers to identify and address potential barriers to performance before they impact success. This process provides workers with greater ownership, gives managers more perspective, and results in more practical solutions and fewer surprises down the road.

The Benefits of Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals with employees can also help prevent some negative behaviors that may affect the organization’s bottom line and brand reputation.

Too much pressure, unclear expectations and unfair consequences can incentivize unethical behavior — lying and cheating, for example. In fact, an Academy of Management Perspectives article, Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Overprescribing Goal Setting, states that “managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects and close supervision.”

Caution and supervision are natural byproducts of setting realistic goals together. In addition, Gallup finds that employees who strongly agree their performance goals are realistic are 1.6 times as likely to say they plan to stay at their organization for at least another year (compared with those who do not strongly agree their goals are realistic).

In addition, employees who strongly agree their performance goals are realistic are three times as likely to recommend their organization as a great place to work.

Setting realistic goals with employees can lead to a wealth of advantages for companies. But it can offer individuals some valuable rewards as well — in particular, feelings of autonomy and living a balanced life.

That’s hard to come by in industries that simply can’t allow flexible hours or remote work. Gallup’s findings show that work-life balance isn’t just about having permission to work from a coffee shop or to leave early on Fridays. It’s about feeling some control and ownership over the work you do. And those qualities come entirely from within the workplace.

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