Recent surveys have confirmed what we already knew to be true: the recession has contributed to heavier workloads, higher stress levels and lower morale among American workers.
This October is National Work & Family Month, unanimously approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008. Everyone who works - employers and employees - should use this annual opportunity to re-commit to winning the battle of balance. Workers should use this time to take steps to strengthen their physical, mental and financial health. Companies, meanwhile, should take stock of their management strategies in order to maintain productivity and alleviate the burden on their employees.
In the business environment, work-life effectiveness success is defined by measurable gains across seven clusters of people practices known as the work-life portfolio. 20 years of empirical research shows that an investment in any one of them provides a positive return, just like a financial portfolio, and investment in most or all of them yields a cumulative effect that all stakeholders prize: a more productive, engaged and healthier workforce. Ask any "employer of choice"--they know that the strongest weapon for this battlefield is a flexible leadership philosophy, but full battle gear requires a lot more than flexibility.
Whether you're an employer or an employee, during National Work & Family Month, dedicate yourself to these seven principles of work-lifeeffectiveness.
1. Take Time to Care for Your Dependents - Today, families need all hands on deck to survive, financially as well as psychologically. Men, you are in trouble. Not only are you earning fewer college degrees, but you have lost a disproportionate share of jobs in this Great Recession. The most recent findings from the National Study of the Changing Workforce reveal that men are now experiencing more work-life conflict than women. Fathers, be more involved in your families, both childcare and eldercare. Understand your employer's policies on paternal leave and support for dependents, and take full advantage of them. While many corporate programs are open to all employees, studies show that men use them the least. Step up to the front lines and take your stand as full partners in the defense of your hearth and home.
2. Prepare for the Worst - With the threat of a swine flu pandemic more imminent as fall approaches, find out what your organization's telework policies and programs are for salaried as well as hourly employees. Knowing if your job qualifies for telework will come in handy because even though you may not get sick, if you have young children they may have to stay home from school. Work out a battle plan with your spouse/partner right now, so you are prepared should one of you be laid low while the other soldiers on.
3. Be Flexible - Mothers, give up the guilt. Studies have shown that the development of young children is not hampered by their mothers joining the workforce. Guys, real men flex a lot more than their muscles, so get with the program for the good of your own well-being and that of your family. With many flexible working options increasingly available (yes, even in this economic climate), there is an option (or combination of options) that is sure to meet your needs, including compressed workweeks, telecommuting, job sharing, and part-time schedules. KPMG, the audit, tax and advisory firm, won AWLP's much coveted Work-Life Innovative Excellence Award earlier this year for their program that encourages teams to arrange a rotating schedule for employees to use the gym during lunch, or for each member to choose a day of the week to leave early. By encouraging KPMG's professionals to work together to achieve work-life and career satisfaction, the team realizes flexibility while offering the highest level of service to clients. Now that's an offensive maneuver that scores!
4. Find Financial Support - In this time of economic stress, the balancing act extends to your checkbook. Many companies are providing financial management resources and coaching to help with foreclosures, loan modifications, college planning, etc... Pepsi Bottling Group is another award winner, offering a free service called HealthyMoney Program that empowers PBG's 35,000 employees with the knowledge, tools and confidence to build life-long financial stability. Employees have access to the HealthyMoney Call Center and receive a HealthyMoney Workbook that includes self-assessments, helpful tips and targeted activities to walk employees through key financial decisions and build personalized action plans. Take a page from Pepsi's book and use any and all resources provided by your employer to get your own finances in gear.
5. Take Time Off - Time to spend with loved ones and in one's community is the most fundamental element of work-life. Even if you can't afford a real vacation, at least take some time off to relax and enjoy a "staycation." Many employees, especially members of Gen Y, are concerned about their job security and are addressing their layoff concerns by cutting back on vacation time. Why win the battle and lose the war? Bone up on the facts about how people who don't take vacation die at significantly higher rates and younger ages. If this is your idea of a life, then you owe it to your family to bulk up on life insurance.
6. Get Involved in Your Community - Corporate citizenship includes not only external community outreach, such as company giving (foundations or direct), but also a renewed focus on building a strong internal sense of community. Don't have time to volunteer? Formal ethics programs, shared (or catastrophic) leave banks, and disaster relief funds are some of the creative new ways of taking care of each other. A study by the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, a groupof multinational companies committed to global talent innovation, found that people are looking for a remixed set of rewards: flexible work arrangements and the opportunity to give back to society. That was true before the downturn hit and remains so even as its full brunt is being felt.
7. Change with the Times - Replace the words "family-friendly" with "work-life." Not all employees are married and have families. Single people have lives too, so they can resent being overlooked when it comes to access to quality-of-life-enhancing support. Help your employer ensure an equitable distribution of work-life benefits to everyone who has a life. Be quick to speak up when you encounter naysayers who have adopted Ebenezer Scrooge or Atilla the Hun as role models. That's leadership, and it doesn't always come from the top. Changing a culture to fit today's flexible, virtually distributed world isn't quick or easy, but that's why you are needed on the front lines of this battle.
In summary, become familiar with the elements of the work-life portfolio at your own company, and learn where the gaps are. Get involved (with others, of course, since you're not the only one who's battling for your life) to help address the holes in the safety net before someone falls through.
Employers, use the "Work-Life Effectiveness Self-Audit," a free and simple assessment tool to help focus an organization's work-life programs to support employee productivity and engagement. Now you have the ingredients for a credible celebration of National Work & Family Month, because you know where you are and what direction to take next.
Join the national movement by telling the story of your own work-life journey on the NWFM page on our website.