Work-life Balance It’s About Relationships, Meaning and Skills

May 26, 2005

Marjorie Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager Balances Work and Life, says too many companies define work/life programs as fitness programs satisfied by an on-site exercise room or health fair.

    Instead, companies should think more broadly about what contributes to work/life balance and the well-being of employees, she says.

    "I think that ‘wellness’ is about everything in your job," she says. "I think it’s about, ‘Do you have an idea where you’re heading in your work? Why is your work meaningful?’

    "I think it has to do with getting better, the skills that you’re getting so your résumé looks a little stronger every year. I think wellness is about the relationships you have at work, particularly with your boss. And I think it’s about your fitness. But I don’t think it’s just about your fitness."

Working too much
    The topic of work/life balance has gained renewed attention in recent months as several new studies paint a dismal picture of work/life balance in American organizations.

    One-third of Americans are chronically overworked, according to a recent study by the Families and Work Institute.

    A separate study by the Center for Work-Life Policy calls on companies to stop stigmatizing work/life options, finding that 35 percent of women and 48 percent of men say they would be penalized for using work/life options.

    It’s not just a problem in the U.S. In the U.K., 46 percent of employees in their 30s are unhappy with their work/life balance, according to a recent report by the Employers Forum on Age, a network of 170 firms. Fifty-eight percent of executives in Shanghai, China, say they are working longer hours than ever before, according to a survey by Hudson Recruitment.

    Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York, points to Ernst & Young as an organization that successfully changed its culture and shed any stigma about work/life options. Subordinates rate their managers on how available they make work/life options such as flextime. Those ratings influence year-end bonuses.

    Twenty-seven percent of Ernst & Young’s workforce now uses some flexible work arrangement, Hewlett says. "There’s enough of a critical mass of both men and women clearly doing this successfully," she says of the Big Four accounting firm.

    Jim Bird, president of training company, emphasizes project- and time-management skills and personal responsibility in achieving work/life balance.

    "The individual has to do it for themselves," Bird says. "Where companies can really make that happen is through training."