Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Work-Life Balance: Whose Responsibility Is It?

Work-life balance is the new focus, and rightfully so. It is the daily balancing act of juggling one’s working time (paid or volunteer) and the other activities that are important to you.

These other activities could be anything; like having the time or mental space to paint our nails with green nail polish, walking through a sunflower garden, or working out to prepare for a climb in the Nepali Mountains. It could be having bandwidth to attend your child’s awards ceremony in the middle of the day or the flexible schedule to leave work and check on your elderly parent during the workday. 

This flexibility to balance our work and engage in meaningful activities benefits workers in many ways. It allows workers to be peaceful and able to meet company goals. Workers that are able to seek work-life balance feel mentally grounded or in-control. In addition, workers see physical benefits, such as the ability to maintain a desired weight, good sleep, more stable blood sugars, lower blood pressures, and a decreasing risk of Alzheimer due to high stresses.

According to a 2009 Wisconsin Marshfield Clinic Study, women who vacation more than once a year have less depression and tension as well as greater marital (or relational) satisfaction than other groups.  

Employers benefit when employees are able to give their all in the workplace and fully commit to reaching the company's goals or mission. With sufficient paid, sick, and volunteer leave offerings, employers also have the benefit of seeing less unplanned absenteeism and retaining skilled employees over time. When policies are in place to allow for flexible working arrangements, employees have the opportunity to arrive and leave work with less stress. They come to work more refreshed and better equipped to tackle the day's demands.

Google recently implemented a policy to increase their paid time off from 12 weeks to 18 weeks and found that new mothers leaving the company decreased by 50%. 

Both employers and employees see the benefits of work-life balance, but whose responsibility is it?  

Employers (C-Level executives in conjunction with HR) have the strongest influence because they can change the work culture from the top down. The culture can be changed by implementing training and policies that enforce and support work while balancing personal life. These initiatives that companies pledge to implement should be structured to affect all individuals and not just certain groups of the working population (such as just women). When the policies are created to encompass all individuals, the culture can change for the better. Influencers are creating initiatives and policies like subsidies for child care onsite at the workplace, funding for paid parental leave (for males and females in the event of birth or adoption), and initiatives that support single parents. 

This does not mean employees have no power or say in enforcing this balance. Employees retain the right to call the shots on where they work. Perhaps they may not be able to make immediate job changes but they can be strategic about their next job move. Rest assured, there is an employer putting benefits in place to support work-life balance for their workforce. In order to stay competitive and retain their workers, it is critical. Moreover, an employee might not leave the company, but they may decide to change roles, request an alternative work schedule, or even a job share to allow for more balance. Communication is key. How will an employer know the needs of their workforce if it is not shared? Participation in surveys, communicating with HR respectfully, suggesting strategies where everyone wins are all critical.  

Work-life balance is THE responsibility of BOTH the employee and the employer because it affects everyone. Employers need to focus on creating this environment through policies and initiatives, all based on consistent input from regular employees who come from varying backgrounds and with different needs. This will ensure that employees can thrive and still stay energized and excited about contributing to company goals. Employees need to communicate openly with influencers about their needs and stay abreast of work-life balance initiatives in other organizations.  When both parties work to do their part, everyone wins!