Creating Work-Life Harmony

mother kissing her child on the cheek

Our understanding of the role leaders must play in ensuring the delicate balance of work and
life has evolved alongside our understanding of this balance itself. We have became smarter
about mental health, more compassionate about personal circumstances and more aware
of conflicting needs...we even changed the words to describe it...from balance to harmony

Work-life is the ebb and flow of time and energy between work and lifestyle that change over one’s lifetime as professional pursuits and personal priorities flow and integrate. It provides programs, policies, referrals and education that support employees to be effective at work, school and home, enabling them to bring their best selves to work. It encompasses supporting people's identities including dependent care, personal/professional growth, employee engagement, finding meaning in work, recognition, and that crucial workplace flexibility to make it all happen. 

Traditionally called “worklife balance” the industry has moved away from that term as it creates a sense of competition between the two elements rather than a whole-life harmonization of the two main places people live their lives…work and home. This shift has been driven by globalization, advancements in technology, a more competitive workforce, Covid, and a renewed focus on the science of human and organizational behavior. People have a natural drive to create an easy harmony and meaningful engagement between the interconnected roles, relationships and responsibilities that make up their lives. 

As a manager/supervisor you are in a unique position to either foster that harmony or impede it. Keep in mind that a content employee, with meaning connected to their work and effective fit between their responsibilities, is a superior employee from which you, UC Davis, and our customers can reap the benefits. Plus, basic human kindness is always a good thing.

Environment of Support

We’ve all heard it, “People don’t leave companies; they leave managers.” Sadly, there is quite a lot of truth to support that idea. Research from the Gallup, 2022 State of the American Workplace Employee Engagement Study, found that 50% of employees leave their job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.” 

Gallup identified four traits of successful managers:

  1. They are honest and transparent.
  2. They are supportive.
  3. They recognize the talents and strengths of their tribe.
  4. They display empathy.

Notice that the biggest human capital gains come not from reports, meetings or quotas, but on a humanistic managerial style, which is essentially work-life in action. This support and empathy can come in the form of providing resources to the expectant parent or returning breastfeeding mom, creating flex around lunch for an employee who wants to attend a campus support group for caregivers, providing financial education to your staff to extend their paycheck, encouraging people to utilize their earned vacation time or simply a genuine inquiry about the picture of that cat on your employee’s desk. All small, no-cost things with exponential positive results.

Additionally, we must examine the stated culture of the organization.. Is our campus a family-friendly organization? Is that statement reflected in each manager and supervisor’s actions? Can we, as a business culture, expect that people do not have conditions and responsibilities that may affect their work? People are not Artificial Intelligence...humans come with complex rich lives with responsibilities and stressors which cannot be “switched off” for eight hours each day. The same aspects of "humanness" that make us irreplaceable, are exactly what make us complex beings with feelings, imaginings and behaviors who experience work-life conflict and well-being challenges.  It is unrealistic to assume or require that people will not experience the normal trials and tribulations of a normal lifetime experience, and organizations must adapt to the evolving views of work and life priorities in today's workforce.  An “Environment of Support” and “Culture Change” are intertwined concepts. A subtle shifting of transparent cultural expectations and fostering an environment of support can immensely affect the work experience for the entire organization.


Employees are 13x more likely to be satisfied with managers helping combat burnout and 3x more likely to quit without. (Boston College Center for Work and Family)


  • Ask your team about their challenges and ability to manager them. Make time for 1:1 meetings and explicitly ask about overwork, workload and burnout and come up with solutions together.  
  • Muhammad Ali said, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” As leaders, if we’re challenging our teams to climb metaphorical mountains higher, faster, and steeper than ever before, then we should be doing everything we can to remove the metaphorical pebbles from their shoes. We should continuously be looking for ways to remove any obstacles and small irritations inherent in the work they do.  Pebbles can accumulate and debilitate.  
  • Share context. Ensure employees know how their work relates to team and company goals, so they can, with knowledge and autonomy, prioritize their work.
  • Prioritize impact. Encourage team members to decline or delegate low-impact meetings and work in favor of priority projects.
  • Lead by example. Model work/life balance by declining additional work, prioritize prioritizing, delegating, taking time off, and sending messages and requests inside normal working hours.


Work-life Harmony & Disability

It is important to note that people with disabilities often have particular needs that can easily be addressed through healthy work-life integration.  Managers should be attuned to meeting the work-life needs of those who, with a few tweaks to their work or schedule, can benefit from work-life programs and practices.  A good website for information and perspective is

Workplace Flexibility

Workplace Flexibility is a crucial driver of employee well-being and performance and is responsive to the changing professional and personal demographics of the multi-generational workforce. Workplace Flexibility is achieved through Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA). Flexible work is an effective business strategy with benefits for both the organization and the employee.  For those that cannot flex place due to job tasks, prioritize finding ways for those employees to have some control by exploring flex time, flex process, or flex prioritization.

When properly managed, FWAs reduce turnover, lower absenteeism and increase job satisfaction. They promote diversity and inclusion, cross-training, and have a positive impact on workplace culture, morale, and employee recruitment, engagement and retention. 

Forms and Guidelines 

well-designed, formal flex policy, supported by trained managers and implemented with motivated workers, may be one of the best productivity-enhancing tools around.

Dependent Care

All employees have a family. A family caregiving unit can look very different for different families. Some "important others" may include spouses, partners, parents, chosen family, children, extended family and even those with fur and feathers. It is unrealistic for organizations to assume that what happens outside of work-time will not affect what happens inside of work-time.

Temporary or semi-permanent life-responsibilities, such as caring for children, adults with special needs or elders with medical concerns, can make it difficult to manage the day-to-day responsibilities of both work and home changing over one’s lifetime and career. Highlighting existing resources, policy and flexibility to employees as they navigate this ebb and flow of time and energy leads to significant employee engagement, retention and long-term loyalty.

Family Supportive Supervisor Behaviors (FSSB) 

Business research has demonstrated the importance of Family Supportive Supervisor Behaviors (FSSB), defined as behaviors exhibited by supervisors that are supportive of employees’ family roles, in relation to health, well-being, and organizational outcomes.

Extensive changes have come about in employee and family roles and in the relationship between work and family domains. Evidence of these changes includes the increasing percentage of families supported by dual incomes, growing numbers of single parents in the workforce, and greater gender integration into organizations (e.g., Hammer & Zimmerman, 2011). More recently, Odle-Dusseau, Britt, and Greene-Shortridge (2012) found significant relationships over time between employee perceptions of FSSB and reduced turnover intentions, increased job satisfaction, and increased supervisor ratings of employee job performance. The role of supervisor support has been documented in the workplace/organizational literature and more specifically, the role of work-family specific supervisor support has been demonstrated above and beyond general levels of supervisor support in reducing work-family conflict and improving well-being (e.g., Hammer et al., 2009Kossek et al., 2011).

Lactation Support

UC Davis policy can be found on the Lactation Support Program “Policies and Benefits page”  It is the manager/supervisor’s responsibility to identify an available appropriate space and determine a break schedule for those mothers wishing to continue breastfeeding upon returning to work. UC Davis encourages early planning, a managerial/supervisory case by case approach, and encourages flexible scheduling to accommodate these breaks.

Mangers and supervisors should be aware of the resources available at their campus and communicate these resources to their employee as soon as they are notified of pregnancy.  At UC Davis and UC Davis Heath, we have a robust Lactation Support Program with classes, monthly support groups and free individual IBCLC consultations. Bringing this information of established services to your employee requires little effort yet has a significant positive effect on your staff member, their health, their family, their ability to return to work and their overall satisfaction of working for the University of California. It’s an easy way to care at a critical life-work junction for people.

Creating a Healthy Environment >