Employee Retention Employee Retention
Employee Retention

  Life-Work Balance
By Roger E. Herman, CSP, CMC, FIMC

There's something backward about the work/life effort: its name. We ought to call it life/work.

There's been a shift in priorities among workers. Today, people are more concerned about their quality of life than they are about their work.

This is a challenge for employers. It's going to be difficult for a lot of managers to adapt to this widespread change in employee attitude--and employee expectations--because they're used to emphasizing work, saying to employees: "Sure, you can have a life, but not until your work is finished."

Yet employers who do adapt to the new life/work equation are finding that they actually have more committed employees. These employers are sensitized to the people who work for them and how work can fit into their well-rounded lives in a comfortable way--rather than worrying that "life" is bumping "work" out of first place.

Paradigm shift

This paradigm shift started in the late 1990s, when Generation Xers observed the workaholic lifestyles of their parents and older co-workers and said, "This isn't for me." At that time, jobs were plentiful and workers could quit if their supervisors placed too little emphasis on the non-work lives of employees.

Since the economy tanked, it might appear that employers don't have to cater to their employees' new life-first priority. But they do.

Employees who can't quit no matter how the company treats them feel trapped. And like any being that's trapped, an unhappy employee will sprint out of there as soon as there's an opportunity. I call this "warm-chair attrition"; those employees may still be warming their office chairs, but their hearts are no longer there.

A timely warning

Employers that do not emphasize life/work balance are going to lose their good people as soon as the economy picks up.

Employees once again--perhaps as soon as mid-year, depending on which economists you believe--will have a choice about where they work. And employers of choice will have at least these two things in common:

  • Their employees believe their work is meaningful.
  • The companies are involved in their communities.

Today's employees are motivated by more than just the work that has to be done or how much money they need to make. They're bringing their hearts to work. It's a new kind of motivation.

Respect it. Feed it. Some good ideas:

  • Develop non-work profiles of employees. Feature their off-hours accomplishments in the employee newsletter.
  • Support those non-work efforts. One of my employees works with the Girl Scouts, so we buy 350 boxes of cookies a year for our clients.
  • Divide your donations budget by the number of employees and let each one donate, on behalf of the company, to a favorite local charity or club.

This is a way for employers to say: "We think this is important. Let us show you how the work we do here supports your life."

It's a step toward recognizing the new need for life/work balance. And it's a step toward building a work force that's going to stick around, even when the going's not so tough.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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