Lack of trust or awareness regarding the benefits of work-life balance for organizations are some of the main reasons behind the absence of real, fully-implemented work-life balance policies. In other words, organizations seem to be still sceptical about the benefits of said balance, not only for their employees and their families, but for themselves.
Better work-life balance, greater work satisfaction
The classic notion of ideal worker —less roles means better performance— is still present in the minds of many executives, shadowing a complete vision of the person. At the same time, it prevents many employees from utilizing flexibility policies already at their disposal, afraid of violating that traditional ideal worker mental notion.
We talked about the benefits of work-life balance for employees in a previous article, but the benefits of work-life balance for the organization itself are, if possible, even greater. Two recent studies with extremely interesting and revealing conclusions can help us analyze this phenomenon.
A study proving the benefits of switching off
Leslie Perlow, professor at Harvard Business School and creator of the term “time famine”, recently published her new book Sleeping with my Smartphone, where she describes an interesting experiment with relevant organizational implications conducted by a large consultancy firm. It is well known that the world of consultancy requires many working hours and a high degree of availability. Perlow thought that this over-demanding and over-connected environment was the most appropriate to conduct a research.
Her proposal was simple: offering a specific team was she referred as “predictable time off”, or a scheduled time to take a rest, during which the consultant wouldn’t work or be contacted, thus allowing some time for other personal needs. Each consultant enjoyed a free afternoon every week, from 4pm until the following morning. During this period the consultant would switch off his mobile and laptop.
Said proposal was regarded with certain suspicion inside the company, but the research project was eventually given the green light, and Perlow was able to begin the test. The chosen team enjoyed their free afternoons, and numerous indicators (like work satisfaction, commitment and added customer value) were evaluated before and after the experiment.
The results were surprising. The chosen team improved in all the indicators: work satisfaction increased by 11%, commitment towards the organization by 21%, and added customer value by 10%. The firm, pleased with the results, decided to go one step further and expand the experiment to their offices in Boston, New York and Washington DC, with a very similar outcome. The indicator I’m willing to work this morning went from 27% to 59%, work satisfaction from 49% to 79% and added customer value from 84% to 98%.
The importance of managers in work-life balance
Another study —this time conducted by MIT professor Erin Kelly, among others— in a technological company outside Silicon Valley, wanted to examine the organizational impact of having executives and managers who jump into the wagon of work-life balance for their employees. The name of the study was STAR, and the intervention consisted of a brief 4-hour training for managers and an 8-hour workshop for employees on the benefits of work-life balance for themselves and the company they work for. Executive training revolved around FSSB (Family-supportive supervisor behaviors), and each manager was presented with four aspects which they could have a possible degree of influence on:
– Emotional support, listening to their employees when they have a balance issue.
– Instrumental support, offering a solution.
– Role model, at work-life balance level.
– Management of work-life management policies, reporting and arranging policies proper to the organization so that team members can make use of them.
With only a little intervention —training and awareness for both executives and employees—, Kelly’s team observed how work satisfaction and sleep quality improved, while intentions of quitting the company, stress levels and anxiety decreased. These indicators are key precursors of commitment, motivation and productivity within organizations.
How can companies get involved in work-life balance policies?
These researches are just two examples, but also a clear illustration of the benefits —a healthier working schedule, compulsory breaks and greater autonomy to meet work and family demands—for both organizations and their workforce.
On the light of these studies, therefore, the implications for organizations would be the following:
– Organizations must make an effort to fully understand the benefits of work-life balance policies for themselves.
– If not sure about the benefits presented by other studies, it’s advisable to conduct experiments and interventions within the organization itself in order to measure and evaluate the benefits of such initiatives in detail.
– Organizational culture is very strong and always wins. Therefore, in companies where there’s an existing culture which deters from using flexibility policies due to the classic, outdated notion of ideal worker, it’s essential to impose such initiatives at the beginning, so as to facilitate their use and promote a new way of thinking.
– The role of executives and managers is crucial. It’s essential to continue training and raise awareness in order to build truly healthy organizations.
Let’s hope this kind of studies and experiments are the beginning of a small revolution that leads companies to really believe in the benefits that work-life policies entail for themselves.