Want to Help Your Employee With Work-Life Balance? Start With How You Recruit.

Much has been written, and thankfully so, about how workers can better manage the intersection of work and life. From calls for paid parental leave and workplace flexibility, to columns on compulsive scheduling, there is no shortage of calls to action, advice, and how-to's related to work-life balance. And National Work and Family Month brings awareness to the work-life movement annually each October. This dialogue is great and certainly needed. However, many readers are often not in a position to implement many of the suggestions advocated by work-life experts. For example, workplace flexibility is likely not an option for nurses and teachers. A nurse cannot decide to duck out of work for an hour to watch his or her child's school play. Doing so would leave patients unattended to and could cause serious problems in their workplace. Therefore, managers should consider a way to foster more work-life balance before employees are even hired.

That is why I want to briefly talk about a technique hiring managers, human resource professionals, and anyone else involved with the recruitment of new employees can use to help workers balance work and life: the realistic job preview (RJP). This recruitment technique is not new, but it has typically been used to reduce turnover, or employees voluntarily quitting. That is, prospective employees are told favorable and unfavorable information about a job so that they can opt out of the job application process if they do not like what they hear. The intention is to keep applicants from taking a position, only to quit a few months into the new job.

However, RJPs can also be used to help employees manage the intersection of work and life by adjusting their expectations. Here's how: suppose a prospective employee, a Millennial named Olivia, comes in for an interview at your workplace. As is the case with many Millennials, Olivia strongly desires balance between her work life and personal life. So, in addition to telling Olivia about all of the great aspects of the job and the organization, you might tell her about the mandatory Saturday workday each month or the required business travel away from home each quarter. By taking this approach you are helping Olivia manager her expectations for work-life balance.

Now, you might be thinking, "won't this negative information cause all the good job candidates to opt out?" Not exactly. A classic study on this showed that job applicants receiving RJPs had feelings of trust towards the company, and a second study showed that RJPs made the organization look more attractive to applicants. So the next question you may be thinking is "do you have evidence that RJPs can actually help work-life balance?" I'm glad you asked!

Research I conducted with colleagues from the University of Mississippi and Saint Louis University, and recently published in the Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, found that those job applicants who received an RJP were less likely to report imbalance between work and family. The key here is expectations. As I wrote about in a previous piece in the Huffington Post, expected negative outcomes are viewed as less repulsive than unexpected negative outcomes. When Olivia accepts your job offer and subsequently has to work a few Saturdays each month, it will not come as a shock to her. She was made aware up front that Saturday workdays, business travel, and so forth are possible. Does the RJP make Olivia excited about working occasional long hours or traveling to the other side of the country for business? Not necessarily. However, knowing this up front allows her to adjust her expectation of balancing work and life. She may also use the information about work hours and travel obtained in her RJP to begin a conversation with her spouse, children, friends, and others about how their work-life balance may look in her new job.

If you are ready to try this simple technique with those you will be interviewing in the near future, follow these simple steps:

1) Follow all interview protocol set forth by your organization. You want to be sure to NOT ask questions that would violate anti-discrimination laws (e.g., How many children do you have?)

2) Be sure to present the applicant with information about work-related factors that could potentially impact work-life balance. This may include but is not limited to:
  • work hours
  • work travel
  • weekend work hours
  • whether there is work hour flexibility or not
  • whether work-from-home is an option or not

That's it! You have provided the job applicant with an RJP that may assist them with balancing work and life! While the RJP may not revolutionize the way we view and pursue work-life balance, it is a small step we can take to help others find balance between work and life.

What do you think? Can an RJP help prospective employees with their work-life balance? I'd love to connect on Twitter and hear your thoughts: @ProfessorRWC

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