Why it’s So Hard to Achieve Work-Life Balance in a Remote Environment

October 6, 2020



Written by Carling Sternbach

In recent years, work-life balance has become increasingly important to candidates as they job search. As such, employers who have an organizational culture that prioritizes work-life balance have begun to promote that balance as a part of their recruitment marketing. The concept of, and inherent value in achieving work-life balance varies from employee to employee. For the most part, work-life balance is predicated on the premise that one should achieve an ideal balance between working life and private life. For many employees, maximizing happiness is the principal incentive for productive and fulfilling work, for which both the employer and employee are responsible.

Many employees struggle with work-life balance in general, mostly because there is no universal standard for what constitutes an optimal allocation formula between time in and out of the office. It suffices to say that most studies have shown that when calculating working hours as time spent physically in the office plus commuting time, most people spend more time working than living.

Unless employers and employees set boundaries, the COVID-19 pandemic could be making many worker’s existing lack of work-life balance even worse. With a rapid, and quasi-reluctant transition by employers to fully remote work environments to slow the spread of COVID-19, many employers are finding there can be a steep learning curve to setting boundaries and promoting a healthy work-life balance than there is when employees are working in an office setting.

At first (and understandably so), work-life balance in a remote environment wasn’t a priority for most employers and employees. Employers were scrambling to figure out how to adapt to stay in business, while employees were elated to be able to continue to do their job and receive a paycheck. Employees had an added bonus of eliminating stress related to commuting to and from work, most saving an average of 1.5 – 2 hours per day not sitting in rush hour traffic or having to deal with the corresponding frustration and costs of commuting.

As time has gone on however, many newly remote workers are discovering that they are, in fact, working longer days than ever before. But, how is that possible? Many employees report that the lack of boundaries between work and home life when working at home, makes it challenging to stop working at what used to be the end of their normal workday. In some instances, the lack of boundaries that leads to long work hours is self-inflicted, but in other areas, the pressure is coming directly from employers.

Prior to the pandemic, it was much easier to shut down your computer and pack up after a long work day. In addition, before COVID-19, other obligations outside of working hours, such as dinner plans, appointments, or children’s extracurricular activities gave employees a logical “hard stop” to their working hours. For many employees, this leads to self-inflicted pressure to work more, especially for those employees who were used to long commutes, who now may feel guilty working only 9-5, when they used to “work” 7am – 7pm when they factored in their commute.

Now that a large portion of employee’s after work commitments aren’t possible, or have moved to a virtual format, some employers have been leveraging this to push employees to work harder, and for longer hours than ever before.  Mindsets like, “there is no excuse to stop working at 5pm because there is no rush hour traffic to beat,” are a dangerous gateway that could lead to serious employee burnout and a more gradual, but no less alarming, shift in a company’s culture.

So how can you, as an HR professional, help?

First, remember that we’re all going through this pandemic together and that COVID-19 has dramatically changed our work and personal environments. Change of any kind is hard, and 2020 has forced major change upon us all. Next, think about how your employer is encouraging employees to prioritize work-life balance as they work from home. If you find that your employer could communicate its expectations of employees more frequently, or in a more effective way, volunteer to help with that! For those employees who are self-inflicting long work hours, they may just need to hear from an authority figure at their company that it’s ok to not work 12 hour days every day. In fact, you might need to say that you actively encourage NOT doing that.

To learn some tips from our remote team check out this blog post from Samantha Colby:

Pro WFH Tips from HRchitect’s Remote Team


Carling Sternbach is an HCM Implementation Consultant at HRchitect. Carling brings several years of professional Human Resources experience, with a focus on payroll and accounts payable to the HRchitect team. Carling’s expertise spans a wide variety of industries including consumer packaged goods (CPG), hospitality, and professional services. This functional and technical expertise, along with experience gained working as an HR system administrator at a prominent CPG company, provides Carling with a unique perspective on how HR organizations work, allowing her to design and operate highly effective HCM systems for her clients.