With summer as the most popular time for family and personal vacations, I hope that everyone reading this column either has been on vacation or has one coming up in the very near future. Even if you are taking a “staycation,” make sure you’ve got something special planned. Vacations are an important time to reconnect with your family and build those special memories that are so important.
Unfortunately, these days “being on vacation” may not mean we’re truly away from work. Our connected world is making it harder to disconnect from what is happening back at the office. Either we’re tempted to check e-mails or our colleague or clients are thinking that there’s something too important to wait until we’re back. With few destinations around the globe that don’t feature always-on communications networks, it’s really up to us to decide how much we’ll be working — or thinking about work — while we’re on vacation.
In addition to having to fight this temptation while on my family vacation (my daughter will say I was only moderately successful), an article entitled “Tipping the Work-Life Balance” by Ann Carlsen, founder and CEO of executive search firm Carlsen Resources, reminded me that the porous demarcation between work and vacation is symptomatic of a larger workplace phenomenon.
The article, which appropriately appears in the July/August issue of our association magazine, The Financial Manager, points out that failing to support employee needs for maintaining a work-life balance is a leading cause for spiraling rates of absences and sick days. According to one of the HR executives cited in the article, “It used to be that an employee’s relationship with (his or her) manager was the No. 1 reason for voluntarily leaving an organization. Now it’s the lack of employer flexibility. That’s the No. 1 reason.”
As Carlsen notes, competition for recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest executives, managers and skilled technicians is motivating many forward-looking companies to retool “their org. charts to support a healthy work-life balance.” Companies large and small have found themselves compelled to adapt or face the consequences of higher costs, lower productivity and an epidemic institutional “brain drain,” she observes.
Carlsen also points out that the technology that makes it easy for us to foster employee communication when we are away from the office may be used to communicate with broader audiences about our company’s commitment to a people-friendly work environment. While we may use social Web sites to learn more about a prospective candidate, online communities and blogs also link prospective new-hires to postings from employees that either make or break the company’s reputation as “an employer of choice.”
The new HR reality more closely resembles the world of professional sports, where free agents sign with teams that have a reputation for success. In the workplace, that track record is measured by how well the company supports its employees’ desire for a rich, full life outside of work, Carlsen advises.
Some of the ways that companies are showing their support for balancing work with the employee’s life needs include innovative ways to support retiring employees and parents of infants or toddlers is by broadening their employment options, through offering job-sharing, flex time, compressed time and annualized hours. Other examples include amending maternity-leave options, developing policies for sabbaticals and offering performance vouchers that may be used toward benefits like employer-provided childcare, health and wellness programs and concierge services.
As HR professionals attending our annual conference learned, it is very important that there are established policies for these options and that they are extended fairly. For example, offering flextime to a female employee who needs to pick up her children from school or daycare should also be offered to a male employee that shares the same circumstance. Polices concerning telecommuting also need to be developed and evenly enforced.
Many stations expect their talent to participate in station blogs, which is often done from home. In these instances, their contracts need to define which activities are being compensated and how they will be verified or measured.
Carlsen concluded her article by reminding us that, “in today’s hypercompetitive market, when it comes to the benefits that will be the difference makers for the brightest, most in-demand workers, work-life balance deserves a place right at the top of that list.” Amen!