Just about every employee these days wants work/life balance — if not right away, at least once he or she has reached a certain experience or comfort level on the job. And employers, for the most part, have acquiesced. The concept of work/life balance isn’t scoffed at or viewed nearly as suspiciously as it was, say, 20 or 30 years ago.
As you seek to grant your employees as much work/life balance as is feasible, watch out. There are many daunting threats out there that can upset that balance one way or the other — to the detriment of both your organization and the worker. Here’s a look at four of them.
1. Poor communication
Naturally, many factors can cause an employee to work either too much or too little — the two ends of the spectrum that is work/life balance. But one of the biggest threats to this crucial equilibrium is poor communication.
Assumptions can be a dangerous thing. If an employee assumes you want a certain level of production from him or her, that worker may strive to overachieve and, in the process, suffer from burnout.
Of course, that doesn’t mean staff members shouldn’t work to exceed your expectations. But if they’re trying to do too much because their job description is unclear or their supervisors aren’t providing clear direction, problems can arise both at home and in the workplace.
A lack of communication can also lead employees to underperform. If a supervisor is aloof or simply not motivating his or her team adequately, work/life balance can fall into jeopardy. Employees may learn to do the bare minimum at work and spend the rest of their days on personal activities. Your organization’s productivity and, therefore, bottom line may drag as a result.
If you offer a telecommuting program to facilitate work/life balance, be particularly careful. In data drawn from more than 2,300 telephone interviews with chief information officers of midsize U.S. companies in 23 major metro areas, a 2014 Robert Half Technology survey found that 30% of respondents cited “communication (lack of face time)” as the biggest challenge to managing off-site staff.
2. Excessive flexibility
Flexibility lies at the core of work/life balance. In an attempt to help workers manage their “work” and “life” responsibilities as healthfully as possible, employers have tried to become as flexible as possible. Generally, this has been a good thing.
But being flexible with employees may also lead you to being inconsistent. And this is where organizations can get into all sorts of trouble — from having poor morale and work environments because some staffers are treated more flexibly than others, all the way to suffering costly lawsuits born out of a disgruntled employee’s belief that he or she has suffered discrimination.
The solution here is, in a word, consistency. Develop, write down and distribute clear, formal policies for your organization’s flexible work policies. Be sure to address, both in writing and in discussions with staff, any apparent inconsistencies. (But ask your attorney to review your documented policies before distributing them to staff.)
Among the trickier aspects of flextime work schedules is that some positions are well suited to variable hours while others simply aren’t. A marketing strategist, for example, might be able to work a less traditionally conventional schedule fairly easily, whereas an IT staffer might have to be on-site during regular hours to respond to questions and put out fires.
Another example: retail stores and manufacturers. Employees of these types of organizations obviously must be on-site during specific hours. But their employers can still encourage work/life balance by offering a helpful variety of shifts or providing ample banks of paid time off.
Whatever approaches your organization takes, state your flexible employment policies in plain, reasonable language. And, again, stick closely and consistently to these stated rules.
3. Technology troubles
One of the most powerful drivers of work/life balance over the last decade has been technology. Long gone are the days when employers were the only ones with powerful computers, dynamic communication systems and gigabytes upon gigabytes of data storage capacity. Nowadays, most employees are carrying around more powerful computing devices in their pockets than the ones that used to sit on their desks.
But technology can have a dark side, too. Once an employee has 24/7 access to his or her e-mail and your organization’s network, being able to work anytime can turn into working all the time. This may, in time, put that worker at risk for burning out or developing unrealistic expectations of co-workers’ response times.
Problems like this are where, again, supervisors need to step in and communicate effectively. During midyear check-ins and year end performance evaluations, don’t hesitate to discuss an employee’s technology-related work habits if you feel they’re becoming an issue.
For example, perhaps someone is beating deadlines by a wide margin but not really submitting the highest quality work. Is that employee working from home late into the night? Could he or she benefit from some refocusing to slow down and tighten up quality while still maintaining acceptable timeliness?
4. Lack of identity
At the end of the day, work/life balance is really a question of identity. Every employee doesn’t view his or her work exactly the same. Typically, you can separate workers’ approaches into three general categories:
Separation. Employees who take this approach are looking to draw a strict, definitive line between work and life. They may prefer a flex schedule to telecommuting because it will keep their job duties in the workplace and their family or personal obligations at home.
Fusion. Here a worker will try to closely integrate work responsibilities with life responsibilities. Telecommuting is often a natural fit here, because the employee will (theoretically, at least) be able to seamlessly weave job deadlines with personal obligations.
Transition. Some staff members may vacillate back and forth between separation and fusion. This may not be a bad thing if the employee is separating to really focus on a big project or fusing while he or she deals with, say, a family medical situation. Or it could mean a worker is simply evolving from a separator to a fuser (or vice versa) to perform more effectively.
None of these three categories are, in and of themselves, bad. But an employee who has not yet established an identity under any of them is at risk for struggling with work/life balance. A fuser may feel confined and frustrated having to work a conventional, set schedule. Conversely, a separator may simply be unable to effectively integrate work and life responsibilities and need a set-in-stone schedule.
Help is here
Make no mistake: Employees bear a large amount of responsibility in finding their own work/life balances. But good leadership and sound supervision can really help your workers find their way, with greater productivity and brighter morale following fast behind.
Performance Dimensions Group specializes in workforce optimization services such as individual and job match assessments, and leadership and organizational effectiveness. And we’ve been doing it for 15 years! Click here to contact us to assist your organization in enabling its valued employees to find the right work/life balance.