ARTICLE: “Keep Your Job, Your Family, and Your Sanity”
Work and family balance is a hot topic in organizations today. Balance is tough to achieve, because employees have a real commitment to their jobs AND to their families. They love their work lives and their personal lives, often with equal vigor, and don’t want to give either one of them up. But professionals find it difficult to participate fully in one arena without sacrificing the other.
The Problem of Life Balance
We live in demanding times, and the demands upon us are often in conflict. As you know, U.S. companies have come under increasing pressure from competitors. As a result, innumerable firms have downsized and restructured their operations, a trend that continues even as the U.S. enjoys relatively strong economic growth. Corporate restructuring over the past decade has left fewer and fewer people doing more and more work. The general downsizing of staff and other strategic moves have produced impressive gains in productivity (22% since 1980), but they have not been achieved without cost. Job insecurity now infects the emotional health of those who remain as well as those laid off. No wonder stress-related illnesses cost this nation some $300 billion per year.
In addition, we are learning that many companies have not benefited from downsizing. According to an American Management Association (AMA) survey, only half of companies that downsized showed profits; only 34% showed increased productivity; and employee morale was down at 86% of companies.
Meanwhile, family life has also undergone structural changes to the point that a one-form definition no longer fits all. Single parent households and those where both parents work outside the home now constitute a majority of American families. Women are in the workforce in massive numbers, and business is dependent on their skills. Over the last two or three decades, demographic changes in the U.S. population and its labor force have been dramatic. The number and proportion of women in the labor force have increased. The divorce rate is up alarmingly, and the number of single parent households is far above historic proportions. The number of children living in poverty is unacceptably high. Eldercare responsibilities are also a challenge faced by many employees, and these challenges will increase in the future as the percentage of the population over 85 increases.
Employee perceptions are also changing. People in the workforce are questioning policies and attitudes that limit or preclude their ability to successfully combine work and family.
Businesses globally must recognize that they are not immune from the negative consequences of social and family change. Business cannot long succeed in a deteriorating social environment. As the underlying fabric of society changes, the contract between business and labor must change. Productive, socially responsible citizens are essential to a stable society, and a stable society of productive workers is essential to prosperous business. Profitability in business is inevitably dependent on the capacities and discipline of the workforce.
The noted management thinker and author of The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge, writes, “The artificial boundary between work and family is anathema to systems thinking.” I cannot agree more. The two are interactive. What is positive or negative in one affects the other.
CEOs, senior managers, shareholders, and employees should know that employee-friendly companies are in fact more profitable and more competitive than companies that choose to honor only one stakeholder. Companies around the globe have much to learn from each other and much to gain from cooperation. We must take the seemingly soft subject of work and family policies and convince management that these are pivotal business strategies directly linked to future profitability and workforce productivity.
Enter: the Work/Life Program
To counter the stress of today’s workplace, more and more organizations are looking to work/life programs to help employees cope. Fortune magazine publishes the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America,” each year. And many of these organizations cite work/life programs as one of their top tools to attract and retain the best employees and give them a competitive advantage.
These forward-looking companies have begun to rethink their contract with workers, develop new relationships, and find creative ways to attract and retain a skilled workforce. This is not about being “nice” or “friendly.” Balance is about productivity and the long-term economic competitiveness of companies and of societies. Policies that facilitate stronger families lead to stronger companies and stronger societies. What we do at work affects our families. And what happens in our families affects the workplace. Companies do not exist in a vacuum. An African proverb states, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” An interesting variation on that might be: “It takes a healthy village to sustain a company.”
Research Supports Helping Employees Achieve Life Balance
We can now prove through empirical research that organizations that help employees achieve balance in their work and family lives have a strategic advantage and higher retention over organizations that don’t make these efforts.
Watson Wyatt Worldwide has completed two years’ worth of research that establishes a strong link between stock price and personnel practice at more than 400 publicly traded companies, such as Microsoft, Whole Foods, and Time Warner. Investments made in your employees, such as flexible work schedules, can contribute to an increase in your company’s stock price over the long term. If you don’t help your employees avoid burnout, the best and the brightest will eventually look elsewhere.
In addition, a survey by Sibson & Co, a Princeton, NJ-based management consultancy found that most companies believe the need for talent will increase over the next five years. What are you doing to increase your pool of capable prospects?
An American Management Association (AMA) and Ernst & Young survey of senior HR executives reported that programs that invest in employee skills (such as training) and “give them a life” (such as flex time and sabbaticals) are more effective retention tools than cash payoffs. Companies with retention programs say they find educational and lifestyle incentives and training more effective than dollars and cents compensation.
Deborah Holmes, Director of the Office of Retention at Ernst & Young, says, “(Companies) know that it takes more than money to keep employees. If companies help employees balance their lives between job and family without penalizing their career development, people are less likely to leave for a few more dollars.”
We have a great deal more to learn about the costs and benefits of work and family policies and programs. The relationships are complex, and it is difficult to calculate the benefits because the proper measurements are often lacking. Some people argue that the linkages are common sense. But management often wants hard data, and you as an employee services professional can provide it. From the research done thus far, we have considerable evidence of the positive results of work-family policies.
Study after study testifies to the results of work/life programs, ten of which are outlined below.
1. Employee Time Saved
Many family/personal issues must be dealt with during the normal weekday and may result in lost work hours. The U.S. Department of Labor for example found that 75% of employees with children under the age of 18 tended to family issues during work hours. Elder care issues may require similar attention during the workday. Therefore, programs like a resource and referral service that helps employees manage family/personal needs more effectively can save employees time and decrease lost work hours.
Evidence of this savings is Work/Family Directions’ conservative estimate that employees save an average of 14.7 hours per year by using their resource and referral service, with at least 80% of this time expected to have been spent during the workday.
2. Increased Output Due to Increased Focus and Motivation
Work/family programs can also increase productivity by decreasing distractions/concerns, increasing motivation, and improving working conditions. Workplace assessments for example show that 33% of working mothers with children under 12 had a sick child in the last three months, and while 51% missed work to care for the child, 49% went to work and worried. Elder care concerns can have a similar impact as evidenced by a Bureau of National Affairs survey that found 67% of respondents with eldercare responsibilities reported feeling exhausted at work occasionally or often because of caregiver activities.
Work/family programs that help employees manage these issues appear to not only improve one’s ability to focus because of the decreased distractions, but they also appear to increase employees’ motivation.
DuPont found in a ten year study of 18,000 employees that employees utilizing or aware of work/family programs were the most committed employees and the least likely to feel overwhelmed or burned out. Employees using the programs were also 45% more likely to “go the extra mile” to ensure their company’s success than employees not using the programs.
Fel-Pro, Inc., an automotive products manufacturer, commissioned the University of Chicago to study work/family policies and found that workers using benefits and programs were more committed to the company, participated in changes at the company, were more active in team problem solving, and more likely to submit suggestions for improvements. Use of work and family benefits helped create a strong, constructive working relationship with employees and boosted worker support for quality improvement.
Telecommuting programs have also been associated with increased output with companies reporting productivity gains of 5 to 20% for employees who participate in the programs. The improved work performance has been attributed to a decrease in the distractions normally found in an office environment and the fact that employees are more motivated, work longer hours, and work at times of peak productivity.
3. Increased Employee Retention
Turnover can be extremely costly to an organization as evidenced by estimates that turnover costs from 93-150% of the departing employee’s salary and up to 200% of the salary for highly skilled or senior people. The costs include not only recruitment and retraining costs, but also costs associated with work inefficiencies and with coworkers’ inability to function effectively.
Work/family conflicts may increase the likelihood that an employee will quit, and therefore can increase a company’s turnover costs. This was evident in one study that found 43% of employees with work/family conflicts had considered quitting their job, while only 14% of those without conflicts had considered quitting. Family-supportive programs may however reduce turnover costs, help retain top performers, and help an organization become an “employer of choice.”
Corning, for example, estimates that it saves $2 million a year because of increased employee retention attributed to career and family initiatives. Aetna estimates savings of $1 million a year due to increased employee retention attributed to their policy of allowing part-time return to work after family leave. NationsBank reported that two-thirds of employees on flexible schedules would have left without those work options, and several studies found that the top-ranked benefit of on-site childcare centers was decreased turnover.
Johnson and Johnson found that 71% of employees using family-supportive policies and 58% of employees not using the policies rated them as very important in their decision to stay, and nearly 9 out of 10 women using or hoping to use the policies reported they were very important in their decision to stay.
Also interesting was IBM’s finding that the highest performers were most likely to rate the ability to balance work and personal life highly in a decision to stay at IBM. Top performers rated work balance 2nd in importance of 16 factors impacting their decision to stay, while overall work balance was rated 6th of the 6 factors by all employees.
According to research conducted in January 2000 by the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC), employers also use telecommuting to retain workers who consider working from home an important job consideration. By retaining the employee with this alternative work arrangement, the employer saves $7,920 per employee in replacement costs. This number reflects the assumption that organizations spend, on average, one-third of an employee’s salary to recruit and train and employee.
4. Increased Income
Work/family related programs might also allow organizations to increase their bottom line. This may occur for example if an organization is able to increase revenue by extending hours of operations or improving worker availability. This was the case for a small CPA firm in California, which estimated that it netted an additional $25,000 in income by providing seasonal on-site childcare. At UT-Houston, it might be possible to increase clinical income by extending the hours of operation of clinics.
A Ford Foundation study found that policies that help employees integrate their work life and personal life can actually improve business performance.
5. Decreased Expenses
Work/family related programs might contribute to the bottom line by decreasing expenses. This has been found for example with telecommuting programs that save overhead costs because of a decreased need for office space or use of less expensive office space.
Bell Atlantic found that telecommuting programs saved not only several hundred dollars a year per telecommuter due to office consolidation, but also significantly reduced disability costs because workers not able to function in an office environment were able to work at home. Telecommuting also has allowed some companies to utilize independent contractors or temporary workers who cost less money and allow workforce adjustments to meet seasonal needs or fluctuations in demand.
6. Decreased Health Care Costs and Stress Related Illnesses
Employee stress can increase absenteeism and health care costs, and one common source of stress is work/family conflicts. A study by Northwestern National Life Insurance Company found that 7 out of 10 workers reported stress decreased productivity, provoked health problems, and caused missed days of work, and 72% of all workers experienced three or more stress related illnesses somewhat or very often. Employees from companies with supportive work/family policies however were half as likely to experience stress-related illness or job burnout, regardless of whether they participated in these programs.
In another study, Waste Management Inc. found a 50% decrease in benefits usage among employees using parenting support groups, and this translated to a savings of $1,600 for each participant.
7. Reduced absenteeism
Absenteeism is a problem all companies face with the average employee missing work seven to nine days a year. Approximately half of those absences are estimated to be due to family problems. Merck found that employees who felt supervisors were unsupportive of family issues had higher levels of stress and absenteeism, and lower job satisfaction.
A Families and Work Institute survey found that 25% of employees with children under 12 had child care interruptions two to five times in a three month period, and these were linked to absenteeism, tardiness, lower concentration on the job, and less marital and parental satisfaction. Employees experiencing work-family conflict are three times as likely to think about quitting their jobs as those who do not (43% versus 14%). The U.S. Department of Labor found that 40% of working parents missed at least one day of work every three months to deal with family matters.
Elder care issues also impact work as evidenced by a Bureau of National Affairs survey that found 67% of respondents with eldercare responsibilities reported feeling exhausted at work occasionally or often because of caregiver activities and that 57% of respondents surveyed with eldercare responsibilities missed work occasionally because of those responsibilities. AARP found in its survey that 33% of employees reported coming in late or leaving early because of elder care responsibilities, and, among employed caregivers, an average of 7.5 days were missed each year to deal with elder care issues.
Work/family programs can however help mitigate family-related absenteeism. Honeywell estimated that it saved $45,000 over and above the cost of its sick child care programs during the first 9 months of implementation, and an urban university found that classified staff who were satisfied with their child care arrangements had lower levels of absenteeism. Flextime also was reported to significantly decrease absenteeism in a national survey of 92 employers.
According to the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC) survey, employers salvage 63 percent of the cost of absenteeism per telecommuting employee, or $2086 per employee per year, based on the average number of days absent on which telecommuters were still able to work from home.
8. Improved employee morale and loyalty
Family supportive programs and cultures also appear to improve employee morale and loyalty. A GAO study of federal employees found that 75% of workers on flextime reported the program had a positive effect on morale.
Johnson and Johnson found that 53% of employees noticed an improvement in their work environment because of the company’s work/family initiatives, and employees utilizing work/family programs were more committed and loyal. They also found that, while the work/family initiatives were important, the factors most often associated with an employee’s ability to balance work and family were a supportive supervisor and workplace culture.
The Families and Work Institute found that monetary rewards to improve performance and loyalty have limited impact if the quality of jobs and work life is poor, and they also found that organizations build loyalty by providing employees more control over jobs and family-supportive policies and programs.
Fel Pro Inc. found a link between the use of work/family benefits and good corporate citizenship, increased initiative, and greater willingness to help coworkers.
9. Enhanced Employee Recruitment
Work/family programs may also have a positive impact on recruitment. Johnson and Johnson found that 57% of employees using work/family benefits were significantly more likely to recommend Johnson and Johnson as a place to work. A national study found that 60% of respondents cited “effect on personal/family life” as a very important factor in deciding to take a job.
10. Enhanced Public and Community Relations
Some organizations experience enhanced public and community relations as a result of their work/family programs. Work/Family Directions estimates that over 50% of their clients were featured in the press for dependent-care programs, and IBM estimates the value of their positive media exposure for work/family initiatives at over $600,000 a year.
While in previous decades employers maintained a hands-off approach when it came to employees’ families, today’s employers are reexamining their social responsibility in helping employees balance the multiple demands of work and family life.
I applaud organizations that through various work/life programs have made good strides in addressing the needs of employees who seek balance. But we must work harder. We have an opportunity to facilitate a global transition. We need to move from a time when work/life policies were seen as “exceptions to the rule” or as special accommodations to a time when such policies are regarded as core business strategies. The payoff for business and our communities will be positive and truly a win-win strategy for all of us worldwide.
© 2000 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:
Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at http://www.TheProductivityPro.com.