It's National Work and Family Month -- Do You Know Where Your Work-Life Programs Are?

Work-life programs such as dependent care referral services and flexible work hours are often underused and underappreciated. Why? I suspect one major reason is a lack of effective communications.
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Over the past few decades, companies of all sizes have introduced programs and policies aimed at helping employees balance their work and personal lives. (Many have stopped using the term "balance," though, as it implies that some sort of 50-50 balance is actually achievable -- a laughable notion for most anyone who has both a job and a personal life.)

Some work-life programs, such as dependent care referral services, are specific to people with family responsibilities. Others, like flexible work hours, have a broader constituency. But one thing too many of them have in common is that they are underused and underappreciated. Why? I suspect one major reason is a lack of effective communications. Here's what I'd do if I were in charge of my company's work-life programs and policies:

  • When it comes to communications, more is nearly always more. This is especially true for work-life communications, because people don't remember -- or even register -- that something exists until they need it. That's why I'd use articles, posters, videos, emails and carrier pigeons to say it, say it once more, and say it again.
  • If the boss doesn't know about it, and neither does the local HR director, what chance does an ordinary employee have? I'd aim my communications not only at potential end-users, but at those who have influence over them. And I'd make sure to not only describe what's out there, but to explain why it's important to the company that people use it.
  • Most employees aren't stupid, but they are busy. Especially if they are also parents, caregivers, students, coaches, travelers, artists -- or whatever else makes them long for work-life balance. I'd make sure to connect the dots by including the who, what, when, where, why and how of a program or policy--either right there in the communication or a single link or phone call away.
  • What exactly is a dependent care resource and referral service anyway? Isn't flextime just for mothers of young children? You mean I can keep getting benefits even if I cut back on my hours? Like benefits, work-life programs and policies don't exactly make for gripping reading, and the details don't always stick. I'd use plenty of stories to both illustrate and entertain, either by profiling real employees who use the programs or by inventing a cast of fictional characters who do.
  • Everyone knows the best way to spread information -- especially in this Twitter-fied, Facebook-sodden, Tumblr-riddled world -- is to get "regular" people talking about it. I'd set up an internal social media network, minimize the censorship, and let the stories fly.

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