Sunday, July 26, 2009

Work/Life Balance? Yea...Right.

Every employee is looking for it. Every employer is offering it. It's work/life balance. And while it sounds good on the benefits brochure, what the heck does that really mean?

Employers will tout alternative work schedules, telecommuting, flex time, and additional benefits like wellness programs. But what does that have to with an employee's real "balance" needs? I talk to people all the time whose full time job interferes with their quest for balance. They need provisions that aren't listed anywhere in the company benefits package and are frustrated because their employer won't consider their requests.

For example:

What if an employee wants to coach their son's soccer team and needed to leave every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:00pm for practice or games. What would the employer say?

What if an employee wants to go to school and finish their degree and wanted to learn in a classroom - not online. Could they attend class during the day - being out of the office for 2 or 3 hours a couple of days a week? What would the employer say?

What if an employee sees little or no reason to actually come to the office? As long as the work is delivered on time and the employee exceeds performance expectations, why couldn't they work from home? What would the employer say?

What if an employee wants to spend quality time with their children during summer break and requests the month of July and/or August off - regardless of how much leave they have? What would the employer say?

What if an employee with a family finds that the only time to workout is during the day and wants to take a two hour lunch to go to the gym? What would the employer say?

All these examples highlight the problem with work/life balance: One size doesn't fit all.

It also highlights how many employers are still entrenched in "tradition" when it comes to dealing with the changing lifestyles of their employees. No matter how "modern" companies label themselves, the reality is that many companies can't see past their traditional work structures, policies, and procedures to give employees real work/life balance.

A while back, I read The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss (yes, that's 4 HOURS, not 4 DAY). And while this book is geared towards entrepreneurship, he brings up some interesting perspectives on corporate America. One of the statements revolved around being conditioned to the 8 hour workday. How many people actually need 8 hours/day (or 40 hours a week) to complete their workload? Ferriss says that many times employees stretch their work to last the length of time they have to complete it - which is neither efficient or effective.

How many times have you prepared to go on vacation and did more work the 1 or 2 days before you left than you had all month? How many times have you had a project due - and even though you had weeks, or months to complete it - you waited until a day or two before it was due and it was still completed on time?

He also talked about company imposed deadlines that really aren't deadlines. For example, what difference would it really make if the report was due this Friday or next Monday? In some cases, it might matter, but in many cases, it doesn't. He also mentions the number of hours people waste at work. Chatting, filler work, surfing the net, e-mails, non-important tasks, and useless meetings. However, even with all these fillers, people still manage to meet deadlines and complete their work. All of these examples lead to a bigger question:

Can employees produce the same amount of work working a shorter week? The answer is many of these cases is YES! Now, because employees are producing the same amount of work - salaries should remain the same. Now, this is definitely not what traditional corporate America is about. But if they would just consider the possibilities, employees would be more effective and efficient. And, with more hours out of the office, we can begin a REAL conversation about work/life balance.

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  1. AMEN!!! Doreen, you hit the nail on the head. Many companies claim...even boast that they are family-friendly, but they are NOT! I need you to do a presentation at my job to help them understand the real meaning of work/life balance! :-)

  2. Getting employers out of their "traditional" thinking is a tough sell!!! Some find it hard to imagine anything different than what has always been.

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