Thursday, November 09, 2006

Work-life balance

A friend of mine mentioned that his company offers great work-life balance, and hence is a great place to work. This got me thinking as to how a company can 'offer' great work-life balance.

The first question that came to my mind was: what is work-life balance?

It is the ability of an individual to decide when, where and how they work. Work-life balance is achieved when an individual's right to life inside as well as outside of the workplace is accepted, and respected.

The ideal work-life balance varies from individual to individual. It also varies from time to time. It is upon every individual to define and achieve the balance. For some individuals (whom we lovingly label 'workoholics'), spending lots of time at work is what they want to do. For others, this may not be the case. Organizations need to understand this first in order to institute an acceptable program to achieve work-life balance.

Good work-life balance leads to (among other things):
- Reduction in absenteeism
- Improvement in morale (leading to satisfied employees)
- Reduced stress among employees (flex time to take care of sick kids)
- Increase in productivity (happy employees are productive employees)
- Decrease in turnover (happy employees want to stay!)
- Reduced sickness (flex time to stay home and not spread the germs at work)

Optimal work-life balance is a variable. This needs to be well understood. A young person out of school may love to spend lots of time at work. But, once that person gets married or has children, the balance shifts (either way). And, other changes in one's personal life could again shift the balance. Organizations need to understand this and respect it. They should not be biased towards employees whose work-life balance tilts more towards the work zone. There is this notion that workoholics are favored in organizations. Of course, they will be more productive. But, that doesn't mean that an organization should encourage it. They are also more prone to burnout.

Most organizations have this policy of use or lose vacation every year. Lots of people lose their vacation (at least part of it) because they don't want to (or can't, due to various reasons) take it. This leads to frequent burnout, leading to productivity loss and decrease in employee morale. Some organizations force people to 'use' their yearly vacation by offering incentives (Leave Travel Allowance: I pay you $x if you take your vacation and produce travel receipts). This will force most employees to use their vacation and recharge.

Work-life balance is a way for organizations to recognize that everyone works in different ways. Orgs should recognize that working 'long' hours is not the only way to be productive. Everyone has their own ways of being productive. Take the example of telecommuting. Not everyone will be productive working from home (distractions, kids, etc.). So, orgs should leave the choice to the individual. Provide employees options and let them choose what suits their style most. Empowering the individual thus will improve the employee morale and make them more productive and loyal to the organization.

This is one of the ways organizations can make employees to fall in love with them!