Have You Had Your Work-Life Balance This Week?
What is work-life balance? That is the question that eludes both employers and employees, which is ironic considering that there are an infinite number of blogs devoted to this particular topic. A quick Google search using the terms “work life balance” and “blog” resulted in almost 2 million hits. There are even organizations that exist, such as the Families and Work Institute, Swiftwork, and the Alliance for Work-Life Progress, who specialize in advocating or describing their particular perspective on work-life balance.
So, what does “work-life balance” really mean? The term seems to connote spending an equal time working and not working. Some terms, such as “Family Support” or “Work-Family Balance” even imply that only those with families (usually defined as children or elderly parents) need balance, along with the general assumption that only care-giving women need work-life balance. Most of the published research seems to indicate that giving people more ways of getting away from work (e.g., vacation time, personal time off, paid leave) or providing alternative work arrangements (e.g., flextime, telecommuting) will solve the problem. However, this research is ultimately flawed because there is no accepted definition of work-life balance.
Yet, at the end of 2007, a survey of 5,000 respondents concluded that 57% of professionals considered work-life balance the most important goal for the New Year. The problem for employers is that work-life balance is an empty buzzword; nobody truly knows what it means! It could mean spending more time away from the office…or increasing the amount of time spent at the office working on personal demands…or spending the same amount of time working, but with a different schedule…and so on. As an employer, your first order of business should be to work out a shared definition of work-life balance between you and to your employees. Rather than overextending your financial resources to offer a cafeteria-style set of work-life balance programs, you should first identify a few high-leverage options that would work for your organization (meaning that you have the resources, culture, and values to support them). Be sure to get your employees involved in developing, implementing, and evaluating the programs you create! By partnering with your employees on this, you can ensure that any programs developed will be valued and utilized. And remember, the goal is not to benefit just your employees; the goal is to create a win-win scenario between you and your employees.
Of course, once we get to the end of the year 2008, we’ll see whether any progress has been made in our resolutions for creating more flexible work and work environments!
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