A recent article on Monster.com covered Workplace Trends’ 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study, which found a clear disconnect between HR and employees’ perception of work-life balance. Sixty-seven percent of HR professionals think their employees have good work-life balance, but only 45 percent of employees believe the same.
How Technology Hinders Work-Life Balance
According to the survey, 20 percent of employees say they spend more than 20 hours each week doing work stuff on personal time; 65 percent say their managers expect them to be reachable outside of the office on personal time.
HR actually agreed with this, reporting that nearly 64 percent of managers expect their employees to be available outside of work, either by phone, email, or both.
Says Monster.com, “There may be an unwritten company rule that employees should be available just in case—even on their days off—and it’s not uncommon for employees to feel like they should answer whenever a work email comes in.”
The Importance of Flexibility—and Another Disconnect
Fifty percent of HR professionals ranked flexibility as their employees’ most coveted benefit, but 75 percent of employees ranked flexibility as number one. Both HR professionals and employees rated time off—paid and unpaid—as high on the list of importance.
Are We Missing the Point?
The Workplace Trends survey brings to mind a larger issue about work-life balance—are we all missing the point?
In “Work-Life Balance? We Don't Have Time for That,” Dawna I. Ballard implies we might be and suggests we reframe the discussion of “balance” around the simple concept of time.
Ballard says: “Talking about time gets to the heart of overwork and general quality of life. It's also a relatively straightforward metric already being measured in diverse (although not politically neutral) ways for everyone from the minimum wage earner to the executive.”
Ballard makes the point that “work-life balance” is a middle-class concept with little meaning to millions of laborers across the country. On the other hand, talking about time “gives voice to the needs of parents and adult children who primarily care for others as a way to support their families … when the conversation shifts to time it becomes clearer … that everyone needs regular downtime for personal renewal.”
I think Ballard is on to something. A big source of workplace conflict between managers and line staff is the use of time.
Managers want to be able to predict who’ll be where when, but employees want to have time to attend to personal business when the need arises. Further, they don’t want to “ask for the boss’ permission” to take time off. Instead, they want to be able to state their intentions and have their managers respect that employees are using their time wisely.
A reasonable person can appreciate both viewpoints, but negotiating these divergent realities can be sticky and result in a less-than-honest manager/employee dance whereby the employee “requests” time off she fully expects will be granted (and heaven help the relationship if that expectation isn’t met).
And yet, if the employee forgoes the dance and does more informing than requesting, the manager tends to feel disrespected. In healthy cultures this dynamic may not be a big deal. In unhealthy cultures, however, it’s another major source of disenchantment.
That’s why I like Ballard’s suggestion. Any manager should be able to understand her employee needs time for personal stuff. Framed this way, requests for time off (whether the employee “asks for permission” or simply requests approval of her plans) become less charged, and the entire issue becomes more humane.
Regardless of how the issue is framed, however, all employers should note that flexibility pays.
According to Workplace Trends, employers who invested in their flex programs found they improved employee satisfaction (87 percent), increased productivity (71 percent), and helped with employee retention (65 percent).
Considering that flexible work arrangements typically cost very little to implement, I’d say that’s a pretty big bang for not much buck.