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What Does Work Life Balance Mean?
According to Pew Research, nearly 150 million Americans are included in the U.S. workforce.Those 150 million Americans include people of diverse backgrounds — race, religion, class, economic status, gender, age, sexual orientation, title— who all go to work each day. While there have been discussions about the importance of work life balance there is much more to be done in terms of inclusion.
Some employers haven’t fully bought in to the importance of work life because they either (1) don’t know what work life balance really is or (2) why it’s an important business issue. When those two questions are answered, then perhaps the scales will begin to shift so that work-life is a higher priority for employers.
If you are don’t know what work life balance is, you won’t be able to realize why it’s so important. A common assumption is that individuals who would like more “balance” aren’t necessarily as driven or interested in building a career. Many people who want more balance, enjoy working hard, have ambitions, and even want to achieve high levels of success. While it’s not likely to have a balance or an equal equation between work and life. It’s much more about:
- feeling like work has an impact on the workplace as well as in personal life. These feelings do more to connect with other and provides more fulfillment
- having the ability to make time for important things – work and personal priorities
- feeling calmer and more focused instead of scattered and out of control
- leaving work with energy to spend on other things.
Generations and Work Life Balance
For those of us who are Baby Boomers, having a millennial boss (or client) is no longer outside of the realm of possibilities. Can you avoid a generational clash? How does someone from Generation Y run the show?
First, let’s take a look at a few perceptions about millennials in the workplace:
- “Entitled, lazy, narcissistic and addicted to social media,” according to CNBC
- “They Don’t Need Trophies but They Want Reinforcement,” Forbes wrote
- “Many millennials want to make the world a better place, and the future of work lies in inspiring them,” Fast Company proclaimed.
Where does the truth lie? As usual, it is somewhere in the middle.
Chris Altchek founded Mic in 2011 (then operating as PolicyMic) with Jake Horowitz, another millennial, his former classmate from the Horace Mann School in New York. Their workplace is aggressively casual and open. It was reported that, “some ride hover boards into the kitchen for the free snacks. Others wield Nerf dart guns or use a megaphone for ad hoc announcements. Dino, a white Maltese terrier owned by the lead designer, snuffles between desks.”
Altchek runs the business out of a 15,000-square-foot converted warehouse in the Hudson Square neighborhood. A few things that can be noted about the company atmosphere is the lack of boundaries.
- Work is preformed day and night – employees love to be there
- A meeting can be held on Twitter as easily as it can face to face
- Employees are encouraged to share liberally
Maybe this is because I’m young, but, like, I don’t think that there is a lot about my personal life that I wouldn’t want to incorporate into what I’m doing professionally,” Chris Altcheck
Advice for Working with Millennials
- They respond to “lightweight signals” such as indirect inferences. Provide suggestions in soundbites – not a full movie.
- Facilitate, don’t direct. Explain what to do – without dictating.
- Train them more. They grew up in a complex world, so are very open to training and learning new skills.
- Reinforce the “why” because they tend to be better at perceiving value and weeding out the superfluous.
- Consumerize because you’re competing with Facebook and Call of Duty. Make it fun.
- Promote work-life integration. Promote healthy integration after hours.
- Make it fun. Again. Making the environment fun promotes productivity.
- Connect them to the mission. This is the “why” again. Show them how their project or task fits into the mission of the company.
- Be super clear about expectations. Give them the WHAT and the WHY and let them figure out the HOW-to-get-there.
- Always put things in context. Where does this fit in my week and my month? Why is this even important?
Gender Perspectives on Work Life Balance
Our years of diversity and inclusion work at Spectra Diversity shows us that men and women aren’t too far apart about what they want when it comes to work life balance. What is difference is how they talk about it.
Women talk more about having balance and living meaningful lives. On the other hand, men talk about wanting more time for priorities and having impact – work and family/friends). Both men and women want similar things like:
- more time to spend with children, pets or significant other
- more energy and passion for life
- less time in the “fight or flight” stage and more time feeling centered and calm
- more time to think about things.
According to Gallup, around 34% of U.S. workers are engaged, which is described as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Happy employees are more engaged and loyal. Workplace morale in general increases and that results in improved communication and better teamwork. Employers can see:
- Performance and Increase in Productivity
- By reducing stress-levels it increases the ability to focus, be attentive and offer new ideas and solutions. Higher levels of satisfaction increase productivity.
- Cost Reductions / Savings from lower employee turnover
- Retention is higher because employees are more likely going to want to stay where they are happy and engaged.
- Lower absenteeism
- Time to take care of one’s self results in improved mental, physical and spiritual health. Employees are not as likely to take off as much time for sickness or workplace injuries.
- Positive Branding
- Many companies offer employees incentives to recruit good employees from people they know. Those companies who value work life balance for their workforce will become known as a great place to work. More people will be interested in working for a company that values and cares for their employees.
Flexibility and/or Virtual Work Arrangements
Many companies are offering the opportunity for employees to work outside of their place of business. For many reasons, “Smart Offices” are becoming more common and employers are more in favor or employees off-site work arrangements. In addition, company benefits have to align with values that demonstrate we are, “taking care of our people”. Here are some of the ways in which employers are responding:
- on-site or childcare voucher programs
- meditation, yoga, etc. workshops
- free or highly discounted gym memberships
- sabbaticals – paid or unpaid
- generous maternity, paternity, adoption, and paternal leave benefits.
One of the categories measured in the Spectra Diversity Inclusion Assessment (SDIA) is culture. What can you do to ensure the culture of your company is supportive of work life balance?
- Model appropriate behavior. Ensure employees that it is really o.k. to take advantage of the work life policies. Telling employees to enjoy their evening, weekends or vacation is great. What is better is to “walk the talk” and constrain yourself from sending emails and calling employees during these times away from work.
- Avoid sending mixed messages. Don’t talk about policies or have them in an employee handbook when they aren’t true. If you demonstrate that vacations are truly vacations, then be sure not to make employees feel like they are doing something wrong or that they should feel bad about taking a vacation.
- Create guidelines and expectations. Train management and employees on these policies and expectations. While managers may communicate in some way or another with employees after work hours without needing an immediate response, employees are more likely to feel pressured to respond to after work hours calls or emails.
Employers must encourage and support work life policies if they want to remain competitive. Flexibility is key particularly to Millennials, but everyone benefits. Done right, employers and employees both benefit.
Source: Gallup, “Employee Engagement on the Rise in the U.S.”, Jim Harter, Aug. 26, 2018
Source: New York Times, “What Happens When Millennials Run the Workplace?”, Ben Widdicombe, March 19, 2016