Why Does Your Company Care About Life Balance?
By Tracie Hiemstra, 2000
The answer is very simple: you need to retain your skilled workers. In today’s work environment, workers are hard to find and harder to retain and by 2006, that will become even more significant. There is a gradual slowdown in workforce expansion while at the same time, the skills employers need are becoming more advanced. It is expected that by 2006, the labor force will increase by 15 million persons, while at the same time, the economy is expected to add 18.6 million new jobs, all in the service-producing sector. (See this article). That creates an employment situation where the educated workforce is shrinking. As you have undoubtedly noticed in your own business, employees are also becoming more and more demanding in what they want from a job. People are no longer content to punch the clock and take what?s dished out. They know they are in a position to make more demands and have them met. One of those demands is for personal balance.
As an executive, a manager, a business owner; i.e., an employer, you must learn to recognize before an employee gives up and moves on. You need to pay attention, not only because it is a value your employees will appreciate, but because attrition has a major impact on your company’s bottom line. It takes a great deal of time, effort and money to train a new employee (if you can find one), far more than to retain a talented, productive one. Every year US companies are paying more than $140 billion in recruiting, training and administrative costs to replace employees who leave. These are costs you would not have if you were able to keep your employees satisfied.
So employers are learning more things to help them seek and retain the best workers. Benefits have increased, perks have gotten more interesting, and life balance is being recognized as a major contributor to an employee’s happiness.
Life balance is not the responsibility of anyone but the employee, make no mistake. However, and this is a critical factor, companies who encourage their workers to achieve personal balance, demonstrate that encouragement by policies and procedures (not just lip service), and reward productivity, not just “seat” time, are keeping the good people.
It is not enough to just tell employees your company believes balance is important. A company must provide mechanisms to ensure workers are satisfied with their jobs as well as being productive. This means being aware of what is important to an employee. This means aligning company and personal values amongst all levels of workers. This means setting standards for performance that include the expectation that workers will maintain balance in their lives. This means creating criteria for the entire system within an organization that supports maximum productivity and maximum personal satisfaction.
This does not mean work becomes a free-for-all where there are no work standards. It does mean creating communication amongst all levels and rewarding good work without expecting a person to sacrifice their personal well-being to benefit the company. Not to say that there won’t be short stretches where everyone has to give their all in order to accomplish a task or complete a project. But if that goes on month after month, people will leave physically and emotionally by either getting sick, giving up, or moving on.
Personal balance does not equate to numbers of hours on the job either. And it is not decided by the boss. Every person (including you) must assess what they need to do to create energy for themselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And each person must focus on those things to the extent they feel necessary to build and rebuild their reserves. Then when something is needed from them by their careers or relationships, there is energy to give. So often we use all our energy at our job, maintaining our homes and families, and we have nothing to give to ourselves. That is a perfect prescription for burnout.
So what are the warning signs you can watch for? You already know what they are, of course, but they are so much easier to ignore, especially if your workers (and you) just keep on going. But when you realize that will not last, you might be more willing to save some of those many billions of dollars by being more flexible. So watch for these situations:
- Employees are leaving for other jobs.
- Employees are burning out, getting sick or missing time.
- Employees are nonproductive and take no initiative.
- Employees have low energy.
- People are constantly complaining or bickering.
- Nobody is having fun!
And remember, it is within your power to:
- Increase capability and productivity.
- Heighten awareness and commitment.
- Lower stress levels.
How this is accomplished is determined by the company, the whole system. The larger the company, the more complex the system. I have seen very large companies create a company policy supporting life balance and then trickle it down to all levels through policies and procedures. I have seen all sizes of companies institute training programs for managers and employees alike in how to align company values and vision with individual ones. I have seen companies create wellness programs to provide resources directly or indirectly to employees. I have seen companies provide specific benefits to employees to foster life long learning in whatever the employee chose.
There is a plethora of ways to create a system that supports balance. The specific ones your company chooses are not as important as making personal balance a priority for all employees, including executives. The first step is awareness on the part of upper management. Look at the statistics. Look at the impact on individual lives. Look at the bottom line of satisfaction and productivity. Then make sure your company gets and keeps the best employees at all levels by paying attention to their needs as a whole person.