Be on the Same Page with Workers on Work-Life Balance | DCR Workforce Blog

Be on the Same Page with Workers on Work-Life Balance

work-life balance

A new study entitled, “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study.” by Workplace Trends and CareerArc revealed that in a national survey of 1087 professionals, 67% of the 116 HR professionals who participated claimed that their employees have a balanced work-life. In contrast, 45% of employees (and 35% of job seekers) felt that they don’t have enough time each week to address personal activities. Employers admitted that they expect workers to be reachable outside of the office: 18% by email, 3% by phone and 26% by both email and phone. One in five employees surveyed said that the average time spent working during personal time outside the office is over 20 hours per week.

Attitudes Vary with Manager:

Let me share a personal experience here. I am sure many of you must have had similar experiences at one time or the other in your careers. My very first job involved having responsibility for a large amount of cash. So, taking a day off required advance notice and planning to ensure that someone would be available to manage the cash and the keys to the safe. When I applied for leave to attend my brother’s wedding, my manager flew into a rage. Turns out he remembered the time he was in a role like mine many years ago, when his brother got married. He had applied for leave, and was all dressed up and ready to go – but was stuck, because his replacement never materialized. His bitter memories were still so fresh, that he openly refused to facilitate my plans, some thirty years later, even though there were at least 20 others who could take charge from me.

Unfortunately, the determination of whether a request is “reasonable” often lies with the individual manager. Many managers and employers feel entitled to interrupt their subordinates’ weekends, holidays, and vacations.   The problem then perpetuates itself. When faced with such experiences, the subordinate may adopt similar draconian policies later in life when in a position of authority or supervision of others.

The “Abusive Boss” Test:

Ask yourself if you are guilty of any of the following actions that cause your employees to label you as an abusive boss. If so, don’t be surprised if your key employees are quietly looking for another position, and discouraging their friends and colleagues from joining your company.

  • You inform your employees of a new project on Friday afternoon, and want to see their first draft by Monday morning.
  • You schedule staff meetings and conference calls at hours that make remote workers participate during off-hours early in the morning or late at night.
  • You call or text employees during the evening or on weekends, and are annoyed when they are unavailable or don’t respond.
  • You consider any employee that requests two consecutive weeks of vacation to be not committed to the job.
  • You brag about how many hours per week you work, and value those who participate in the “I can work longer than you” game.
  • You chastised or penalized a worker who took off time for illness or to care for a family member, even though the person had accrued the time to do so.
  • In response to a worker’s objections to an assignment that must be performed during personal time, you made comments like “If you can’t do it, I’ll get someone who will!”
  • Expect employees to participate during their off-hours in activities such as company-sponsored sports leagues, after-work cocktails at the end of the week, or the manager’s favorite community service project.

Some Steps Employers can take to Provide Work-Life Balance:

Everyone talks about the importance of work-life balance. But there will always be some sacrifices required of people whether they are software programmers or snow clearing crews. Work is not only about making a living; it is also about being sincere about our contribution to the workplace as much as the family. The workplace may hold a clear advantage, in these days of high pressure delivery deadlines and precarious work engagements. We all recognize that emergencies occasionally occur, requiring work during off-hours. However, if “emergencies” occur on a regular basis, it is time for the company to consider whether the real problem is an ineffective manager who may need to be replaced.

Work-life balance is now a central driver of career success and job choices for women as well as men. If committed to ensure the work-life balance of employees, employers can:

  • Properly set expectations. Accurately describe the work environment to candidates considering employment. Individuals have a right to know if the job entails traveling on Sunday nights, working evenings and weekends in preparation for a new product launch, or conducting conference calls at 11PM with colleagues in another part of the world.
  • Stop insisting on immediate responses to work communications during employees’ personal time. Set mutually accepted limits on when someone can or cannot be contacted after office hours. Set mutually acceptable expectations on the response times to emails and other text messages.
  • Establish a common definition of what constitutes an “emergency” that warrants contacting an employee during off-hours.
  • Limit remote work hours (work from home) to a reasonable window of time, suited to the time zone in which the worker is operating from.   At DCR, employees in our India offices have work schedules that align with our U.S. headquarters. This optimizes collaboration while avoiding expectations that our colleagues in India will work 14-hour days.
  • Establish clear policies regarding time off. Address the required notice time and approval process. Train managers on the importance of following the policies.
  • Offer coaching to new managers to ensure that their personal styles are aligned with your desired culture and reputation as an employer of choice.
  • Where feasible, offer flexible work options like job sharing, part-time work, flex schedules, compressed work hours and telecommuting. When these options are made available, emphasize that these are available only if they do not adversely impact the completion of the work.
  • If possible, emphasize deliverables over time worked. Allow productive workers some flexibility in defining their work hours.
  • Give employees an opportunity to participate in community service initiatives that may, on rare occasions, require flexibility in time away from the office.
  • Restrict the use of technology (like mobile devices and connectivity) in situations where it is found to impact the work-life balance of workers.

Advantages to Employers:

Men and women today have to balance a successful career with family and civic commitments, live good lives and make sure that they pay for their children’s education and save for their retirement. For many, it is a tall order, and possible only if their employers are also committed to employee engagement and work-life balance.

  • Such commitment would in turn would improve productivity, reduce attrition and enhance employee loyalty.
  • Advertising the focus on work-life balance and flexibility at the workspace on the career website would improve the employer brand and quality of applications received.
  • Recognition as an employer of choice extends the range of their talent pools and pipelines.
  • Workers are less likely to be deceptive in reporting of time worked and use of sick days.
  • When emergencies do occur that require employees to work extended hours, companies experience a higher level of commitment.

Not all companies have succeeded at the adoption of flexible work, and the withdrawal of remote working option by Yahoo seems to indicate that. When implementing flexible work options, employers must communicate that flexible work options will be discontinued if there is evidence of abuse or declines in productivity. Managers must be trained on how to effectively manage flexible work environments. Companies that have successfully adopted these approaches have experienced significant business gains.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.