Paying Lip Service to Work/Life Balance

Personal coach Kelly Walsh says some initiatives with the 'work/life balance' label are actually counterproductive.

By Jamie Eckle
Mon, December 02, 2013

ComputerworldQ&A: Kelly Walsh

The president of personal coaching firm 1 Smart Life talks about work/life balance.

Are employers taking work/life balance issues seriously, or are they just paying lip service to the idea? It's a mix. Some employers are doing very well. SAS Institute is well known for its family-friendly style, along with Mitre, Nestle Purina PetCare and Facebook, to name a few. They have benefits such as on-campus daycare, personal services and fitness centers that frame the corporate culture.

Some are missing the mark. They might use the term " work/life balance" on their recruiting pages, but really just list normal benefits like time off for jury duty (really!). It's lip service when it isn't fully part of the corporate culture. A company may say it supports flexible work arrangements, but if there is no policy or promotion of the policy, managers are on their own [when it comes to addressing employees' work/life balance issues]. When that happens, people are treated differently. One boss may fail to communicate well with those not in the office. Another may offer flexibility only to mothers, alienating people with other life concerns (45% of men are now reporting work/life conflicts).

Do you find companies doing things in the name of work/life balance that are actually counterproductive? Yes! Some companies offer things that they think will appeal to employees, such as pool tables, free snacks and soda or, even more surprising, beer after 5 p.m. The intention is probably good, but there are many unintended consequences. First, people from these environments whom I have interviewed say that these perks do nothing to shorten the workday or reduce stress. The workload is still tremendous, and free chips don't fix that problem. Also, employees have gained weight, because when they are under stress, they reach for the free cookies, not the free apples. In addition, they notice a "frat party" atmosphere when the beer comes out, including sexual harassment.

People need individualized work/life solutions that will work for them as their life changes. Perks like free soda don't hit the mark, although many companies try them, and new hires are likely to tell their friends first of all about these kinds of things.

What evidence is there that legitimate efforts to provide work/life balance are good for a company's bottom line? Glassdoor took a look at the top 25 companies to work for, as ranked by US News & World Report, and found that companies with the best work/life balance programs have the best retention. That is a huge benefit to the bottom line. Most studies put the cost to replace an employee at 200% of the employee's current salary. (The American Management Association estimates a range from 25% to 500% of an employee's salary. Quite a range, but I've been seeking this data out for years, and 200% is the most common number in studies.)

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