Making strides on work-life balance

More professionals say they’ve achieved a healthy work-life balance than ever, but there’s still work for employers and employees to do.

When it comes to finding work-life balance, it’s no longer all work and no play for most professionals. According to new research from staffing firm Robert Half, 74% of workers across the U.S. rate their work-life balance as good to excellent, and 43% think it’s getting better compared to three years ago.

While this survey data doesn’t include responses from Wisconsin workers, professionals from neighboring Midwest cities did weigh in. Chicago topped the list for best work-life balance, with 85% of workers rating their work-life balance as good to excellent, while 73% of workers in Minneapolis said the same.

Other top cities for a healthy work-life balance include, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco, while professionals in Nashville, Denver, Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Raleigh reported the most dissatisfaction in their work-life balance.

Employers in Greater Madison are getting smart about this issue when it comes to recruiting and retention, notes Jim Jeffers, metro market manager of Robert Half in Madison. “The more options Madison companies can offer, the higher their chances of hiring and keeping a top professional.”

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to work-life balance; 33% of survey respondents ages 18–34 cite their work-life balance as excellent, compared to just 22% of those ages 35–54. The best approach is to create individualized plans for each employee.

“It’s important to provide options so that people feel in control of their time,” explains Jeffers. “In a multigenerational workforce, it can be easy to make assumptions about people’s work preferences based on their age. For instance, many companies view work-life balance as being particularly relevant to millennials, but the truth is that employees of all generations are under pressure to meet both work and personal obligations.

“Businesses should promote work-life balance initiatives broadly and make sure all staff can weigh in on the perks that will best help them meet their goals.”

For managers, this means having a conversation and customizing work-life balance options based on each worker’s individual needs. Some working parents prefer to telecommute from home, others simply need to start and end their workday earlier. Workers without children may have other personal responsibilities that require a flexible work schedule — such as caring for an aging parent. Employers should also consider workers who have especially long commutes, perhaps offering an alternate schedule to help alleviate the stress of traffic.

To avoid any pitfalls that could come from appearing to offer more flexibility to one group of workers over another, employers need to communicate openly with staff about their policies. If certain work-life balance options are offered based on seniority or performance, state this clearly and keep things fair by offering the same variety of options to eligible employees — and make sure the terms for eligibility are understood.

Employee wellbeing has a significant impact on the performance and sustainability of organizations by affecting costs related to illness and health care, absenteeism, turnover, and motivation, says Jeffers. Companies that value the wellbeing of their employees are more likely to attract and retain skilled talent in today’s competitive hiring environment, especially in Wisconsin where the state unemployment rate is currently at 2.9%. And according to research conducted by Robert Half on workplace happiness, workers who report having work-life balance are two times more likely to be happy at work compared to those who reported they didn’t.

Some of the most common work-life balance options companies offer include:

  • Flextime — Gives employees options for structuring their work week and hours;
  • Compressed workweek — Employees work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days;
  • Telecommuting — Employees can work from home or from another non-company site;
  • Child-care options — Employer offers on-site child care or child care reimbursement; and
  • Health and wellness programs — Such as an on-site fitness facility to help workers squeeze in a workout.

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So, who should be responsible for work-life balance? Thirty-nine percent of employees think it’s the company's job. But in a separate survey, 26% of business leaders said they believe achieving that balance is primarily the employee’s concern.

In reality, the responsibility is truly 50/50, but the process starts with employers, Jeffers states. “It’s up to companies to offer work-life balance options to begin with and clarify the terms in which workers can take advantage of them. Some employers require workers to be with the company for a minimum of one year before allowing them to telecommute or request an alternative schedule. However, more employers in Madison are offering work-life balance options upon hire as an effective recruiting tactic. It’s also the responsibility of managers to be open to work-life balance discussions when approached by workers.”

And employees should absolutely advocate for themselves, notes Jeffers. Get the ball rolling by scheduling a meeting and be prepared to state your case in favor of workplace flexibility, he suggests. “Managers want to know how your plan will not only benefit you but the company overall, whether it’s a schedule that allows for increased productivity or a team morale boost.”

Jeffers offers the following tips for professionals looking to improve their work-life balance:

  • Ask your manager for a specific request, such as a flexible schedule. Prior to the meeting, determine exactly what you want and whether the company offers it.
  • Present a business case by showing the value of the benefit to the firm (e.g., allows the department to offer extended service hours, reduces burnout).
  • No matter how the discussion goes, remain professional. Your manager may have other options available for you.
  • Treat work-life balance like any other career goal: Define it, measure it, track your progress, and adjust as necessary.

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