For those whose hours are fixed due to the nature of their job (customer support, ranger in the Night's Watch), the following will not apply. For those who have the laid-back life as Chief Party Officer of the block's hottest startup, discontinue reading and go have another drink from the company keg. But for those who need to negotiate work/life balance on a daily basis, there will always be different priorities competing for the limited time in your day.
Maybe you are a working parent, maybe you are taking courses to further your education, maybe you just want to have a healthy life outside of the office. Whatever the case may be, work/life balance has become a hot topic of conversation among the leaders of successful companies because it has demonstrated the ability to improve morale, productivity, and retention according to several sources including this report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Nevertheless, even at companies that tout a progressive culture, there are several things that can wreak havoc on work/life balance and they can often go unnoticed.
Watch out for these four pitfalls of an otherwise perfect work environment.
1. Inconsistent "Tone at the Top"
The concept of work/life balance needs to be culturally ingrained in managers for it to be relevant. The phrase "tone at the top" is an old Internal Audit term that refers to the responsibility of organizational leaders in guiding values and ethics within a company. But tone at the top can also be a key factor in creating (and adhering to) a culture of work/life balance.
Managers that praise work/life balance but fail to adhere to its tenets in their own lives create a mismatch for employees. Employees, to a certain degree, may connect success with having a working style similar to their managers. Flexibility of working hours means very little to an employee pressured to keep pace with his or her boss and means even less if the employee perceives undue judgment from their manager for working different hours.
2. "The Boys' Club"
Gender inequality in the workplace deserves more discussion than a bullet point on a list article, but it is relevant to the topic of work/life balance as women are often expected to make hard choices up front when it comes to how they separate time between their family and work, while men are not. This double-standard can result in a "Boys' Club" in top leadership where even the women who do manage to secure a seat are constantly under pressure to put off personal decisions like having a family.
3. Mobile Devices and Web Services
Work/life balance can become a challenge when your phone, email, or work-related apps are lighting up at 9:00 pm or while you're taking that rare and valuable PTO. It is always a little scary seeing business centers at vacation resorts, but it's not surprising considering how conditioned we are to keep working even on vacation. In a recent CareerBuilder survey 50% of workers surveyed stated that they "check or respond to work emails outside of work." Additionally, "nearly 1 in 4 (24 percent) check work emails during activities with family and friends." As some authors have noticed, this is made even more dangerous with the increase in chat services like Slack, which encourage instant communication with an expectation of immediate response.
4. "More Hours = More Success"
Implementation of flexible hours needs to coincide with a surprisingly non-traditional company mindset that working smarter is good and working too many hours is a red flag. Without this mindset, the number of hours an employee works still acts as a positive measurement of success when it actually has very little correlation to the quality of their work or to their ability to work effectively. When used appropriately, however, the "work smarter" mindset can help employees focus and can increase motivation.
In its report, the Council of Economic Advisers also identifies a management practice known as "Results-Only Work Environment" (ROWE) where workers are able to choose their own hours and working locations. Their performance is thereby measured only by the results that they bring. The challenges with a ROWE model are that a company must have very clearly defined goals and measurements of success in addition to needing a business model that can afford that kind of flexibility. Also, ROWE says very little about good communication and team building between coworkers, which is often much easier to foster in person.
While work/life balance policies are a tremendous step forward for companies that implement them, leadership needs to be aware that there are additional factors involved in actually "walking the walk." The above-mentioned concepts are just a few of the things that can silently erode work/life balance for employees, potentially creating even worse outcomes in productivity, employee health, and retention if management is not careful.
What have been your challenges with work/life balance? Have you experienced any of these issues? Feel like this list is missing something?
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