There was a lot of buzz earlier this summer about an article published in the Atlantic titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” by Anne-Marie Slaughter. A blog posting published shortly after in HBR Blog Network by Stew Friedman (“‘Having It All’ Is Not a Women’s Issue“) offers additional perspective on this topic, which falls under the broad umbrella of “work-life balance.”
Coincidentally, a supply chain executive raised this topic at a breakout session I moderated in June. Improving work-life balance was a high priority at his company because employees have historically scored the company very low on this metric, which impacts employee retention.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the breakout session discussion:
- Work-life balance is a recognized challenge with no easy solution. And technology is making it worse by enabling us to always be connected (more on this point below).
- Job satisfaction plays a role. Simply put, spending time away from home and family is easier to accept, by both the employee and his/her family, if the employee truly enjoys his/her job. If the employee comes home every night complaining about work and is not happy, then the long work hours and time away from home is a more significant problem.
- What stage you are in your career and personal life also plays a role (young and single vs. mid-career with house and family vs. late career with no or grown children).
- The goal is to achieve balance over the course of a year. For example, a critical project might require you to dedicate a significant amount of time at work for a few weeks or months. At the conclusion, you should take some time off and/or dial back your work commitments for a period of time. The issue is when the scale is always out of balance and tipped toward work year round.
- Flexible work hours, earning days off after heavy travel, and including family on work trips were some of the ideas and initiatives discussed.
I talked about this topic with a good friend of mine, Faun Zarge, who is an expert on work-life issues. She introduced me to the work of Leslie Perlow, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School and author of “Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work.” The book describes a process the author calls “PTO” — predictable time off — and the results of an experiment she conducted at The Boston Consulting Group. You can read more about it here, as well as watch the short video below, but in a nutshell, employees who participated in the PTO process were more excited to start work in the morning, were more satisfied with their job, and were more satisfied with their work-life balance than employees who did not participate. Employees on PTO teams also found the work process to be more collaborative, efficient, and effective than non-participants.
Is work-life balance an important consideration at your company? What feedback (if any) do you get from employees on this topic? What efforts is your company taking to improve work-life balance? Post a comment and share your thoughts and experience on this topic.