According to Howard Markman, psychology professor at the University of Denver and co-author of the study that showed marital distress costs companies $6.8 billion in lost productivity, employers who choose to help employees maintain healthy relationships can easily recoup the costs of their investment. "For every dollar invested in relationship-building efforts," he explains, "companies can reap $5 to $20 in return through decreased health-care costs and increased productivity."
Here are a few ways companies might be able to help employees maintain healthy relationships:
- Offer relationship enrichment courses. Because people aren't taught how to have healthy relationships in this culture, companies would be doing their employees a huge favor simply by helping them develop the communication and problem-solving skills needed to maintain loving relationships. Brown-bag seminars on this topic would be a good start.
Jaine and James Carter, married co-authors of the book, "He Works/ She Works: Successful Strategies for Working Couples," (© 1995, Amacom Books, New York City) have started to give corporate seminars on balancing careers and relationships. As they explain: "Companies shouldn't play big brother to employees, but they can help provide employees with the skills needed to withstand relationship stress."
- Educate managers and hold them accountable. When family-friendly policies fail, it's usually because individual managers aren't supportive of family concerns. Educating managers about the economic reasons for acknowledging an employee's personal needs and holding those managers accountable for adhering to family-friendly policies will help employees feel more comfortable in taking advantage of those policies.
- Make flextime truly flexible. Recognize that employees may occasionally need to leave work a couple of hours early for personal reasons-including celebrating an anniversary or attending marriage counseling. A little bit of scheduling flexibility will go a long way.
- Make sure professional staffing levels are adequate. Managers often don't realize the amount of overtime contributed by salaried workers because unlike nonexempt workers, their overtime hours aren't tracked. Furthermore, it's culturally taboo for professionals to complain about overwork. This doesn't mean, however, that these workers aren't being overworked to the point of exhaustion-and/or divorce. Regularly survey your professional staff members to make sure staffing levels are adequate for their current projects.
- Discourage workaholism. What are your company's expectations regarding e-mail, voicemail and pager response time? In the absence of any formal policy, many employees assume they're expected to stay linked to the office at all hours, regardless of the stress it may cause on their relationships.
- Encourage vacations. The IRS ruled in December that companies can now give employees the option to, instead of taking their allotted vacation days, have a percentage of their vacation pay placed into a tax-deferred 401(k) retirement account. Don't let employees do this. (As one cynical corporate employee commented: "Just think of what a nice funeral that fund will provide when I drop dead from exhaustion at age 45.) Instead, encourage employees to use vacation time to regenerate and be with their loved ones.
- Provide spousal/partner travel benefits. Make arrangements that allow employees who travel frequently for business to occasionally have their partners accompany them.
- Include spouses and partners in corporate relocation decisions. Because unhappy spouses and partners of relocated employees is one of the biggest factors in failed relocation assignments, it pays to accommodate workers and their significant others from the outset.
- Respect employees' personal time. How? By reducing the number of meetings and conferences that require employees to travel or be away from home on weekends.
- Make the workplace a more humane place to be. Perhaps the best way for companies to be supportive of their employees' primary relationships is simply to show more sensitivity to the fact that a majority of workers have someone special with whom they're sharing their lives.
Workforce, September 1997, Vol. 76, No. 9, p. 69.