Why Employees say they are "Working to Live"

5 min. read

More employees — especially younger ones — are rethinking why they work. It's up to employers to meet their expectations.

Workers increasingly want opportunities to prioritize their personal lives, a movement sometimes described by the expression "working to live, not living to work."

According to a 2024 survey from Ford Motor Company, 51% of the U.S. workforce would accept a 20% pay cut in exchange for meaningful improvements to the way work prioritizes their lives. Younger employees in particular reported this preference, with about 58% of employees under 42 stating that they would make this trade.

Amazing Workplace has since its founding been focused on understanding workers' needs and wants around balance. In fact, our core survey to measure happiness examines what we call "balance" as one of the key drivers of employee happiness. We've often seen that balance can have a more dramatic effect on overall happiness than pay.

All that to say, we're not surprised to hear the results from the Ford survey show that employees want balance. So what is "balance"?

Balance is simply defined as a feeling of well-being at work and in life. Balance is measured by looking at how happy a person feels about:

  1. The amount of time and support they have at work,
  2. The amount of time and support they have for things outside of work (life), and
  3. The amount of stress (unhappiness) they experience at work and in life.

Stress is simply defined as a feeling of frustration, anger, upset, or confusion because of something or someone. Stress commonly includes a feeling like nothing can be done about it. Leaders, coworkers, and workplaces can positively impact balance by making time to understand and support what is important to people at work and in life.

Here are three actions that workplaces can take to address and improve balance.

Explain balance and why it is important

Everyone at a workplace comes to work to get things done in pursuit of a shared workplace purpose. That said, we also come to work to be able to live life and it is important that we make time for life outside of work. Balance is a tough subject because everyone is different. There will always be times when the demands at work are high and the time available to get work done is limited. There are also times when each of us just needs a break to do the things we love in life.

One way to deliver this message is to communicate that "A balance between work and life is something we want everyone to have. Please remember that your happiness is a priority. We want you to feel safe making time for life and we trust you to manage your life. Please remember that we want to support you, at work and outside of work."

Explain what paid time off is supposed to be used for

For employees that get paid time off, encourage them to take time off to celebrate life, not to sit at home sick. It may seem a bit silly, but openly communicating that you want your employees to celebrate life really means something to them. Make it a priority to ensure that employees use their time off for enjoyment.

Get rid of "screen minimization" culture

Have you ever been in a workplace and seen employees hurriedly minimize their computer windows when leaders or even co-workers walk past? This happens when employees are taking time to look at things of personal interest, perhaps just to take a break or to keep up with their favorite interests, but they do not feel safe to do it. They are worried about getting in trouble for relaxing and taking a break at the desk. This makes employees build a habit of hiding from their leaders and coworkers.

Screen minimizing is just one symptom of what happens when employees do not feel safe to be themselves at work. Do not let this feeling take over the workplace. Communicate to all employees that they should feel comfortable using their work computers to visit their favorite news, video, or social sites during the workday (as long as security requirements are met.) Openly tell employees that they do not have to minimize their windows when someone walks by. We all like to take a little time for ourselves to pursue our interests or just relax and take a break. There is no shame in that.

Join us on our happiness journey.

If improving balance and employee happiness is important to your workplace, reach out to us. Let us empower you to understand your workplace happiness and make your workplace even more amazing. Contact us today!