Yes, There Is a Disconnect Between Employers and Employees on Work-Life Balance
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The lack of personal time is a major concern by employees who are struggling, trying to live a more balanced life. In a new study between my company and CareerArc, we found that 67 percent of HR professionals think their employees have a work-life balance, yet almost half (45 percent) of employees feel that they don't have enough time each week to do personal activities.
Some employees (20 percent) are even spending more than 20 hours each week working outside the office on their personal time. They simply can't balance their work time and personal time because management expects them to be on call more hours during the day. New technologies and globalization have expanded the typical 9-to-5 workday into a 24/7 "always on" business environment that's almost inescapable.
While technology -- including smartphones, gamification and social networking -- has helped employees develop stronger networks, learn faster and become more valuable to employers, it's also broken the boundaries we all used to have between our personal and professional lives.
In the survey, we found that 65 percent of employees say that their manager expects them to be reachable outside of the office by either email or phone. Sixty-four percent of HR professionals said they have those same expectations. While HR suffers from the same work-life imbalance as all employees do, they typically don't have the hours of IT, customer service professionals and sales people, who have to base their time on the customer's needs -- some of whom might be in other countries where time zones are different.
A growing need for flexibility
These growing concerns from employees have forced HR to start prioritizing workplace flexibility programs. More than half (53 percent) of companies surveyed plan to invest more in their programs this year because they are receiving tangible benefits, including improved employee satisfaction (87 percent) and increased productivity (71 percent). Employers are also seeing their retention rate increasing and their recruiting strategy becoming more effective as a result.
In order to get a better handle on how to construct the right program for your organization, HR should survey them to see what benefits are most important, and employees should speak up to HR or their managers about their work-life issues. For instance, companies can experiment by having their employees work from home one day a week or by giving them business phones that they can shut off after a certain hour each day.
Some companies are leading the way with successful programs, including Aetna and MITRE. At Aetna, nearly half of their workforce can work from home full-time, which many companies were concerned about in our study. We found that HR feels that the biggest concern of establishing a program is employees abusing the system (42 percent). This was not an issue at Aetna, which has built a culture of trust, lowered its turnover and improved employee productivity. In the process, Aetna says it saves about $80 million annually.
At MITRE, 90 percent of the company’s workforce engages in some form of flexibility, whether it's a shortened workweek or some form of telecommuting. After surveying their workforce on the top reasons why they work at the company, their flexibility program has consistently surfaced as one of the top reasons.
Workplace flexibility programs will continue to be in high demand because of advances in technology, globalization, companies wanting to cut down on real estate costs, and more millennials having children. Based on the preferences of employees, and their numerous employment choices, I believe that all companies in the future will offer at least a basis program for employees. This new standard will be good, not just for employees of all ages and positions, but for HR professionals who will seek the same support.