Thursday, 28 October 2010

Work-life professionals on the subject of work-life

by WFC Resources

Jobs Vacancy, Employment, Job Vacancies

The current scene

"The terminology has become muddled. Because some of the big vendors refer to 'work-life' as resource and referral, a lot of companies think that's all it is. Are legal and financial assistance work-life or benefits? Is flexibility a work-life perk or a business strategy? Would it help if we all knew what we were talking about when we said 'work-life?' " "Everything we've always held sacred has been violated – corporate leadership, the presidency – everything feels tenuous."

"Work-life has disappeared from the corporate scene! Employers who once boasted about being a 'Best Place to Work' have reneged. People are on their own."

Employees' role

"It's time employees take responsibility for their own work-life balance, for raising their children. Personal responsibility seems absent. People are making a choice to stay at work 60 hours and leave their kids at daycare long hours or home alone. It's time we stopped blaming work, stepped back to see what's driving us. Is it greed? Power? Money?" "I believe it's fear, fear about the job, insecurity. The component of fear is so strong, it's unforeseeable, it overshadows all decisions, the risks I'm willing to take. Can I do the right thing or dare I risk it? It's the biggest challenge we have right now." "I also am aware that people are making a conscious decision not to become too loyal.

"What if everyone could lay out their own boundaries. Maybe a new responsibility for work-life people would be coaching people do that, to have the courage to ask for what they need – ask for flexibility." "We could call it 'Personal Work-life Effectiveness Training." "How do you get people to take action? How do you get people to own their own work-life balance?" "And how would top management feel about encouraging everyone to do that – making everyone feel powerful?"

"How can you keep people from being resentful. How do you prevent resentment, backlash, internal bickering?" "As Margaret Wheatley says, once you know their stories you don't fear them. It's all about communication."

The corporate work-life person

"I feel like we can't change the world. As the work-life person at my company, I see my role as helping people balance, given the world that we have." "We just had our 8th layoff, but our high potential people are also leaving – not necessarily for money, but to get a life. And the role of work-life at my company is still to try and hold on to them, to figure out what people value most that we can barter with. We've been surveying to find that out, and it's different for each demographic group, age, gender, type of work they do. One group of consultants who travel were more money-driven, and they wanted the flexibility to fly home when they could; site-based workers wanted flexibility to work from home, and the opportunity to purchase more vacation days. Tech people wanted more training. Women wanted longer maternity leaves."

"I'm apprehensive about doing surveys. What if you're not able to give them anything they want?" "Have you thought about trying focus groups? You may get just as much information with no promises, and it would be cheaper." "Focus groups may be a better tool for this striated workforce."

"Selling" work-life

"It all gets back to top management. If the CEO is committed to a supportive culture, everyone will be. So we're back to the same old question: how do you get top management on board? Executives still don't have a clue." "I used to think the best question to ask them was 'what keeps you up at night?' and then show them how work-life efforts could alleviate their pain. From what I'm hearing, maybe a better question is 'What do you value most?' And then turn them on with the possibility of achieving their vision." "We all have to be salespeople." But we have to speak the language they can hear. "So again we get to the point where we have to 'morph' work-life, pretend it isn't about making families healthier and people happier. We have to pretend it's about the bottom line!" "The only way we can maneuver is to maximize the business case. If you need facts and figures, the Great Place to Work Institute Website has all these graphs about the financial benefits." (

Line managers

"It's also about individual managers. When I got hired, I told my manager, 'Here are the hours I'd like, and I need this flexibility,' and my manager was fine with it. Other managers wouldn't have been" "In our company some managers are still focused on face-time. They're afraid to try flexibility because they don't know how to deal with telling one person they can have it and another they can't. They don't think they could measure what people on flexible arrangements have accomplished." "We lack the systems to measure what's been done. Maybe if we changed the word 'productivity' to 'contribution level' it would be easier to define."

The future

"What will happen to work-life when the economy turns around and skilled labor is hard to find again?" "I don't think it will ever be quite the same. The fact that so many jobs are being shipped overseas is going to make a difference. Work-life will become more important again, but we'll have to quantify everything." "What role does HR play now?" "It used to be that they would be the liaison, bringing the message down to the people from top management. Now supposedly they bring the message up from the people to let executives know what we can do to keep them, to motivate them?" "I think now HR is very interested in being more of a business partner – more than in taking care of the wellbeing of employees."

"I wonder how long it will be before we start to feel the impact of neglecting our children – the debate is heating up about the effect of long days in daycare, leaving kids home alone for hours." "The whole issue of human capital will be very important to work-life, the idea that employees are assets that have value to the company." "But 'capital' is such a fungible commodity. I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the term. There's something amazingly incompatible about thinking of work-life that way. Do we keep retreating from our real commitment, which is to family?"

"Maybe it's not necessary to identify what a company does to support its employees as work-life. At Land's End, there is no work-life person. They have a pool, flexibility, childcare assistance. It's not known as work-life. It's just known as a great place to work."

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