If you thought your workforce was most concerned with paychecks, benefits or corner offices, think again. New research from WorkLifeBalance.com reveals that 81 percent of employees believe a company’s work-life policies influence their decision to accept or quit a job.
Only half of those surveyed, however, felt their companies were supportive of life outside of work.
“Work-life balance is not only a mission-critical business issue,” said Jim Bird, CEO of WorkLifeBalance.com. “It may be, as we continue to prosper, the most mission-critical issue in terms of holding and recruiting great talent. Work-life balance is going to be the key.”
One of the reasons the issue has come to the forefront, Bird said, is because today’s work environment is so drastically different from that of previous generations that a fresh approach to the juggling of professional and personal commitments is required.
“Since 1950, which is a little over a generation ago, the average individual is exposed to over a hundred times as much information or knowledge on a daily basis as her or his parents,” Bird said. Not only is information more widely accessible, thanks to innovations like the Internet, e-mail and the ever-present BlackBerry, he added, but there’s more information to be shared in the first place.
“With that comes an explosion of choices,” he said. “The skill set to create a work-life balance that worked up until 1950, even 1960, doesn’t work anymore. It’s not good enough. It’s not so much the things we need to manage are different — the real difference is we need to be able to have tools that sort us through and make these decisions faster and quicker.”
So, while most companies provide the standard benefits that help alleviate the stress involved in balancing work and life — vacation policies, health care programs, employee assistance programs (EAPs), flexible work schedules and telecommuting — they don’t train employees on how to manage their daily time on and off the job, Bird said.
“When [many executives] think about work-life balances — frankly, justifiably so — they tend to think of it as, ‘They want us to spend more money on benefits; they want us to reduce hours,’” he said. “It’s kind of a cost thing.”
But what 75 percent of employees are actually clamoring for is training, according to the WorkLifeBalance.com study.
“What a lot of [work-life] strategies lack is what the individual can do for himself or herself,” Bird said. “The organization cannot create work-life balance for the individual; the individual has to create it for themselves. What the organization can do is provide skills, tools, training that help the individual better identify, create and then attain their best work-life balance for them.”
These days, that means training all employees on relationship management as well as project administration — skill sets that only the top managers used to need, Bird said.
“It does take a different skill set today than it did a generation ago to have good work-life balance,” he said.
To that end, Bird said the most efficient way to conduct the training — so as to teach the skills while also demonstrating the company’s commitment to work-life balance — is to engage in what he calls dual-purpose learning.
While single-purpose learning involves training the individual to use a skill set as it applies in a work environment only, dual-purpose learning means showing how the skill set applies both to work and to the individual’s personal life.
And the benefits can be astronomical.
“Utilization on the job increases 50 to 100 percent if you teach it in a work and personal way,” Bird said.
Why such a dramatic increase?
“If people learn a skill set and they apply it off the job as well as on the job, then it’s much more likely to become a habit, and they use it automatically,” Bird said. “The other reason is, and this you can observe in a classroom, if you spend four hours a day or three days teaching something, and you’re just talking about work, after a while people’s minds wander, they lose focus a little bit. But if you’re suddenly talking about their boyfriend or their girlfriend or their spouse or their child, they perk up, they listen. They learn better, but they also they retain better.”
Bird said it’s also possible to harness the benefits of work-life training to further other business goals, including employee retention and increased productivity.
WorkLifeBalance.com also reports that 94 percent of employees who have received the training are still using the tools after two months, with employees stating they’re also 24 percent more productive on average.
“[Work-life training policies] should be part of [a company’s] recruiting process from the get-go,” Bird said. “They should be part of their Web site. They should be part of their recruiting materials, whether sent electronically or print. They should be part of the interview process.”
Additionally, Bird said, including work-life balance training in the initial onboarding process adds competitive advantage to the recruiting package.
Although recent college graduates will probably be the most straightforward in asking about them, studies show a company’s work-life policies affect both new hires as well as senior executives considering a CEO position, Bird said.
“So, whether it’s at the new-hire point, or whether it’s at the CEO point, and all points in between, it’s a critical issue,” he said.