Work/Life Balance - Are we Kidding Ourselves?

Since October is National Work and Family Month, it’s a good time to discuss work-flex.

I love how Jason Seiden described “work/life balance” recently at Illinois SHRM: “We talk of it as something we separate by a slash and then hope we can balance everything in between. Trying to package them and keep them separate doesn’t work…There is no rigid separation.”

More and more, we seek a middle ground between what works for us, our organizations, and our employees—whatever their stage of life. But does a flexible workplace really benefit everyone, or are we just kidding ourselves?

The benefits only come after careful planning. I recently attended the SHRM Strategy Conference in Chicago, and it reinforced my opinion that strategic planning should be utilized when creating flexible workplaces—and even strategy needs to be flexible.

Responses to Cali-Yost’s 2011 Work-Life-Fit Reality Check survey show that flexibility is no longer a shiny novelty item—it’s here to stay. Here are some respondent tips for implementing work-flex:

  1. Know the consequences if you ignore work-life flexibility.
    Two thirds of respondents agreed that the business would suffer in key areas such as health, morale and productivity without work-life flexibility.
  2. Show how flexible policies can help employees manage increased workloads.
    Employees see increased workloads and lack of time as the primary obstacles to work-life flexibility. Demonstrate the opportunity. Encourage experimentation with flex time and telework as ways to meet business needs, as well as the personal needs of employees.
  3. Portray flexibility as a strategy to retain talent, manage workload, and grow.
    Don’t suggest that flexibility is a “benefit,” or “perk” that’s not critical to the business. Language and perception matter. According to the survey, only 50 percent of respondents believe that flexibility is a strategy. There’s work to do in this area.
  4. Counter employee fears in embracing flexibility.
    Although concerns have dropped dramatically over the last five years, today’s respondents cite these as reasons for not taking advantage of flexible policies:
    • Thought they’d make less money—or lose their jobs.
    • Feared colleagues would think they don’t work hard.
    • Worried their boss would say “no.

    ”Set compensation parameters and help employees make flexibility proposals that make sense for them and the business. Train managers to create an environment in which conversations about flexibility can take place comfortably

  5. Expand definition of flexibility to include informal, day-to-day decisions.
    In too many organizations, flexibility means formal arrangements only. But most respondents (62 percent) value policies that accommodate unexpected personal needs.
  6. For day-to-day flexibility, encourage communication and coordination across all stakeholder groups.
    Communication related to day-to-day flexibility needs to include employee-supervisor, employee-spouse/family/partner, and colleague-to-colleague.

Through strategic planning, employers can help create more responsive and supportive work environments. Flexibility benefits engagement and productivity, generating a substantial ROI for your organization. No kidding.

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