This week in the U. S. we celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a day to honor the memory of those that are no longer with us and also to honor those who sacrificed their lives to protect us.
It also is considered to be the beginning of the summer season when vacations are taken and life is supposed to be a little more relaxed so this seems like an appropriate time to bring up the issue of work-life balance.
In an interview last week, U. S. Supreme Court Justice Alito talked about the importance of work-life balance. He reminisced about his own childhood and how important family was in his upbringing. He said work-life balance was also important to him with his own children and said as a society we need to encourage a greater work-life balance for all of us.
What is work-life balance? What does it mean? According to Wikipedia, work-life balance is determining the types of activities related to either work or lifestyle that are important and how much of each is needed to provide a sense of stability in one’s life. Examples of work-life balance are vacations or paid time off, telecommuting, flex-time or other similar workplace practices that help employees deal with their lives outside of work. Flex-time allows employees to see their child get on the school bus in the morning. It also helps as far as making sure parents are able to see their children participate in after-school events. These type of policies and practices help create that work-life balance.
In a 2015 U.S. News and World Reports article, it says more and more workers have difficulty maintaining a work-life balance. It’s great to have cell phones, tablets and computers readily available in any location, but it also causes work to become 24/7 so that makes it difficult to turn work off and enjoy other things in life that are important. Telecommuting, too, can be great but it also means turning it off to pursue other interests.
A new report is out that says there are 662 million unused days of vacation out there workers are not taking. Project: Time Off is looking at how work culture is changing including time-off. A survey was done earlier in the year of workers and managers and it found people are not as willing to sacrifice their vacation time for work as in the past. There are still people who think sacrificing vacation time will help them advance in their jobs.
In addition, in a segment on Nightly Business Report, a person associated with the online community at glassdoor.com said workers are somewhat afraid of taking time off. They fear the work that has accumulated while they were off. No one else would be available to do the work or someone could replace them. Scott Dobroski from glassdoor.com says it’s about work culture and it becomes the responsibility of both the employer and employee to change it. He suggests both develop a plan of what should take place when an employee is on vacation. Scott also suggests employers encourage employees to take vacation. Scott also agrees about the 24/7 issue. They’re learning more employees are working while on vacation. It’s important, Scott says, employees get away, have that work-life balance, so they’ll be more productive.
The idea employees will be more productive with a positive work-life balance is also good for the economy overall. The Aspen Institute asked economist, Heather Boushey, to explain it. She said when workplaces provide positive work-life practices, it encourages more workers to participate in the labor pool and it also means more goods and services are purchased. The example she gave was parents who have a job that allows them to take their child to school or take paid time off when a child is sick. When parents don’t have the distraction of worrying how they will take care of their child, they can focus more on work. This also helps the workplace be more profitable which also helps the economy. Creating work-life balance practices can help with employee retention. These type of practices help make the overall work environment be more conducive and friendly to employees. It can be a good approach when wage increases are not possible.
Project: Time Off goes the other way and explains what the economic loss for the country was in 2016. More than $2 billion dollars was lost because of vacation days not taken. The loss comes from the lack of spending that would also help to create other jobs. If one day -off had been taken by a little over 50% of workers in 2016, it would have put over $30 billion back into the economy.
Heather Boushey also provides some examples of work-life balance in other countries. In the UK, she says, work-life balance is an automatic. It’s built into the economic system. Experts recognize policies such as those for child care are necessity for economic gain.
If positive work-life balance practices can help countries and their economy, think even more what it can do for workplaces!
CALMC worked with a labor-management committee that worked on flex- time policy. At first, management was very skeptical about flex-time but as time went on, they realized it was really helping the organization serve their customers much better and productivity was increased. Because some workers were working mid-shifts (10-6 or 11-7), it was much easier for customers to call in their questions. Customers didn’t have to call on their lunch time but could wait until they were off work free of distraction. There were no longer lines at copier machines because work times were staggered and workers were able to make copies when they wanted instead of waiting for the copier to be available. The flex-time policy almost disappeared until BOTH labor and management wrote about the benefits. Each side might have had a different reason for wanting flex-time in the beginning but they were united in how everybody, including customers, were benefitting from the policy.
There are no two ways about it, work-life balance practices help both the employer and the employee. It may depend on the workplace as to what that practice may be but it can also demonstrate an overall concern for employees’ well benefit, which, again, can help with employee retention. It’s not to say the responsibility of work-life balance should remain entirely with the employer. Scott Dobroksi from glassdoor.com is right. Employees have an obligation as well. That obligation may be to work out a plan for work coverage when on vacation or absent. It may be unions making sure work-life balance policies, such as flex-time or telecommuting, are included in contractual negotiations There are also other ways work-life balance can be achieved. Some examples employers have done are elder care practices, on-site delivery services, and, of course, encouraging paid time off for vacation, sick-time and, even more specifically, time off for sick children. It is anything that provides employees with a sense of stability and easiness in their busy lives. These items can also be called “perks” but they can mean so much when delivered with a genuine concern of the employee’s well-being. It’s a great way of saying, “we’re all in this together ” and, as we have found out, it has great returns not just for the workplace but for the overall economy . And when it comes to a day-off, well, it can also mean one less thing to do on the day off which we all like!