Offering more flexible work options for employees is the key to success
Clearly, people are at their most productive when they are healthy, happy and have some control in their lives. In fact, stress is inversely related in virtually all situations to our amount of control. So, allowing employees more authority is usually a really good thing. With that in mind, wise leaders should consider how we might better support our employees’ needs to have more control—especially over their scarcest resource—time!
In traditional workplaces, not enough thought is given to this issue. The effects become quite obvious when looking at the struggle that many people have in combining their personal and family needs with an inflexible work schedule. This amplifies the stress in the lives of our staff members, as they try to attend to the health needs of themselves and their dependents, get their kids to and from school and their activities, care for aging parents… well you get it, the list goes on and on.
“Staff can feel isolated and alone with their problems.”
It’s unfortunate that, in many companies, work-life balance issues are seen to be exclusively the worker’s responsibility. Parenting issues, for example, are not seen to be at all relevant to the business of the employer, and employees often feel they must conceal home concerns.
In these organizations, the view of bosses is that work and personal issues are separate, and they seek to avoid discussion of family matters when they arise. Staff can feel isolated and alone with their problems, with little in the way of support within the workplace and/or with inflexible work schedules, and thus, motivation, productivity and retention rates can suffer.
“Employers would do far better to accept, and even encourage, flexibility in work structures.”
Contrasting that, in “workplaces of choice” (what many employers these days say they are, or wish to become), bosses and others clearly recognize that people at work “have a life.” The quality of that life is recognized and valued by the employer as the link to performance, morale, and ultimately, the success of the organization. People are encouraged in their efforts to keep a healthy and effective balance between their work and their needs and commitments away from the job.
In this instance, bosses show an interest in their employees as people and are more alert to what is happening in their lives. People feel valued, and connected, in the company. The bottom line is that this type of business thinks longer-term, and workers less-often fail and burn-out.
Therefore, why not think of work options that afford staff members increased flexibility, so they can better respond to the competition for their time and attention between work and home? There is one option I liked most when I was an employee—one that recognizes that no two human beings are exactly the same, and that we are subject to different needs and pressures. I am talking about getting away from the “in the box” mindset that everyone must work the same days, the same number of hours, and the same shifts at the same locations. I prefer to ask employees “what works best for you?”
I am suggesting that, wherever possible, employers would do far better to accept and even encourage flexibility in work structures, including being open to alternate work schedules and compressed hours of work. Avoid taking a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to work arrangements. As a further example, be open to telecommuting and other arrangements that will not only allow the work to get done, but also may yield a happier more productive employee! Remember, happy workers tend to want to stay!
“Avoid taking a cookie cutter approach to work.”
As we see our employees heading out the door at the end of each day, we can make it more likely that they will have well-deserved opportunities to spend quality time with their families and others by recharging their bodies, minds and creative spirits. Adaptable work schedules can directly contribute to that result, and often the work can be designed so that it is done just as well using alternate arrangements, and may even be performed more efficiently at less cost!
The Work-life Balance Reality
- Absences due to work-life conflict have doubled in recent years and are estimated to cost over $4 billion per year in Canada (Canadian Policy Research Networks 2001)
- Work-life conflict affects most people, not just those with children.
- Many people with conflict in their life point to work as a major cause.
- In companies struggling to retain valued employees, failure to support work-life balance is often a major contributing factor.