Encouraging Work-Life Balance in Your Organization

Supporting a work-life balance in your organization is tricky.  There are forces that make the implementation of a work-life balance mentality difficult, especially given the varying circumstances of individuals and organizations.

Obviously you want your workers to be as productive as possible, especially in these difficult economic times.  In the short run, work-life balance appears counter to your bottom line goals.  Dedicated employees working extra hours can bring the profit, or survival, your company so desperately needs.  But like any runner knows, the pace for a 5K race cannot be sustained over the course of a marathon.  The runner is eventually exhausted only to drop out of the race.

People also have their own propensity to work enough to complete their jobs.  When the workload grows, as happens during a period of downsizing, people attempt accomplish whatever is handed to them.  The best employees will tend to sacrifice themselves (and their own families) to accomplish their tasks.  Telling them to have a work-life balance while simultaneously piling on can seem to send a contradictory message.

Individuals meet their needs in different ways.  Some people have families at home that require significant energy: like having children, aging parents, or members with illnesses.  Some people meet more of their social needs at work and are alone at home.  Work-life balance will look different to each employee.

Most importantly, the notion of a work-life balance establishes a cultural position.  It conveys that the company wants its employees to achieve mastery at work and at home.  It conveys that the company cares and does not want to take advantage of workers.  It conveys that while the company needs to run a business, it can do so with flexibility and consideration of employee needs.

The organization will convey these messages through supervision, through employee policies, and through programs that demonstrate a commitment to balance.  It will do this with a healthy respect for unique individual differences.  Organizations will offer continuing education, career development, flexible hours, and opportunities for advancement commensurate with its resources.

Remember, it is fundamentally not about how lavish the programs are, but how the organization conveys that it wants employees to work sensibly, and have a balance.

Tom DeMaio, PhD


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