Thursday, June 12, 2014

Work-life balance is an issue employers can't afford to get wrong

I have to admit I used to loathe the term “work-life balance” while working through college. Being a young motivated professional without children, work-life balance to me meant that I had to do double the work and take extra hours because I was in an office filled with married professionals with children. I felt like every time I turned around one or more of my more co-workers with a spouse or child would get the opportunity to come in later or miss work completely due to child sickness, school related function, family vacation, etc. In turn, I felt like I was inconveniencing my co-workers if I asked for time off for finals or to spend time with my husband prior to any type of deployment or military leave.

Work-life balance to me was a joke – that was until I grew up.

Businesses today are faced with a workplace revolution. Long gone are the "Leave It to Beaver" days of employees unwilling to leave their post from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for any reason other than an occasional break or lunch.

Now we have employees striving to find a careful balance in between juggling and enjoying the pulls of personal lives during their traditional hours and shifts. The fact of the matter is today’s workforce understands and embraces that personal and professional lives intersect and it’s important to figure out how to achieve the right “fit” for both.

According to a recent survey by the Corporate Executive Board, which represents 80 percent of the Fortune 500 companies, compensation is the most important thing to employees. However, workplace balance falls right behind compensation, which means employees in these companies are looking to be paid fairly but also value the programs in place that help them balance both their personal and professional lives.

The survey also reported that employees who feel they have a good work-life balance are 21 percent more productive than those who don’t. This is all based on employee perception, which means it goes above and beyond what you pay your employees.

Companies like Colgate-Palmolive, Google, Coldwell Banker, Disney, and countless others global in scope not only have implemented programs and services to allow work-life balance. They strategically plan and embrace corporate cultures that encourage work-life balance.

Let’s take Google as the most unique example of work-life balance. Google actually has created a scientific approach to work-life balance at their corporate headquarters using the results from semi-annual surveys provided to 4,000 Google employees. Google has consistently found through these surveys that a majority of their employee base has difficulty switching off from work. So Google has
also tried to create programs to help them do this.

One great example: In March 2014 the company asked all Dublin, Ireland, employees to leave company-provided electronic devices at the front desk for the evening. The experiment called Google Goes Dark has reportedly been extremely successful for the employees who have participated.
Participating employees have reported getting better sleep at night, reduced stress levels, better productivity during office hours, and less absenteeism. This exercise was simple yet effective for Google and has required no out-of pocket cost, but has resulted in immeasurable cost savings to the company.

Google’s example and dedication shows us that work-life balance efforts work and in turn are important to today’s workforce.

Now before all of my friends in management start wanting to print this blog off and use it as a stapler target, hear me out on a few things. Work-life balance is a very flexible effort by businesses, and it can be catered to meet business needs. It can be as simple as implementing a fair and reasonable PTO policy, allowing telecommuting, flex-time hours, or even discounted gym memberships. Some
of these options may involve financial commitment, but others may be little to no cost and have huge returns with more productive, efficient, and effective employees.

So, how the heck can you even decide on what to do for work-life balance with your employees? It’s pretty simple. Ask them what is most important to them. Start at the source and create programs and strategies that are based on what they value most. Engaging employees creates a buy-in, especially from the standpoint that employees feel their employers care.

On a cautionary note though, all work-life programs and offerings should be carefully designed to integrate into a company’s employment policies. Additionally, these programs and offerings have to be offered in a streamlined fashion for all eligible employees.

Businesses that choose not to implement any work-life balance programs or offerings are and will continue to trudge behind businesses that do. Not only are these businesses at risk for high employee turnover (which in turn has a high price when it comes to continued efforts to recruit, hire, and train individuals), but they are also at risk for the high cost of continuing to have employees with increased absenteeism rates, low productivity, and high likelihood of health issues. This last part can lead to higher healthcare costs and/or workers’ compensation claims.

Take the time and effort to create or invigorate your work-life balance strategies. The returns to the programs are high and costs are low. Keep this in mind this summer when your administrative assistant asks to take off work a little early on Friday afternoon to enjoy some fun in the sun. It’s well worth the couple hours he or she isn’t glued to a computer and telephone.
Monica Bitrick is the CEO of Bitrick Consulting Group in Idaho Falls.