Q: How Do We Help Employees Achieve Better Work-Life Balance?
Dear Worried About Burnout:
Corporate culture is the most critical driver of successful work/life balance. Some cultural issues, as well as personal life issues, might differ from country to country. But there is some common ground that typically transcends global boundaries. For example, employees often need work schedule options that give them the flexibility to accommodate their personal and family needs, whether it's child care, unexpected family emergencies, doctor appointments, personal time for school events and so on. So a flexible policy on work arrangements becomes the centerpiece of a work/life balance strategy.
But any flexibility policy your company puts in place will only be words on paper if the culture doesn't exist to endorse and support the policy. When you have the right culture for flexibility, you know it right away, and so do your employees. Flexibility becomes a normal part of the way people work, rather than an enforced policy.
The type of work, the level of trust with employees and uniform guidelines are critical factors for granting any form of flexibility. In addition, it should be standard procedure to have a formal collaboration between manager and employee: a request proposal, for example. The proposals must be weighed on the basis of both professional needs and personal needs.
To gain managers' support, it is important to develop a "what's in it for me" business case for work/life balance. This will differ from manager to manager. For one manager, it might be a recruitment or retention issue. For another, it might be the additional productivity from enabling employees to work at their most productive times—early starters/finishers versus late starters/finishers, for example—or from their most productive work environment (office versus remote location). For another manager, it might be the reduction in unscheduled absences—it's often easier to take the whole day off than to ask for a couple of hours to deal with a personal or family issue. In the end, managers have to see some return on investment, such as enhanced productivity.
The employer's primary responsibility is to train managers to be sensitive to their employees' personal needs and to break down traditional "face time" mentality: the attitude that employees can be trusted only when they're within their manager's line of sight. Employees' primary responsibility is to maintain the productivity standards that are expected of them. A joint responsibility is to communicate with one another on these issues in an open and trusting environment. This concept of shared responsibility becomes a win-win by valuing both business success and personal fulfillment.
A culture of trust, combined with effective training and communication, provides the perfect environment for flexibility—and the work/life balance that comes with it.
SOURCE: Richard Federico, Workplace Innovation, Bridgeport, Connecticut, January 12, 2007. This response originally appeared in Dear Workforce on February 15, 2007.
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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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