Talent Management

Workplace Flexibility and Work-Life Balance: It’s a Benefit, Not a Burden

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Long gone are the standard 9-to-5 work days.

If an email comes in on Saturday morning, a response is often expected by noon. We have the flexibility to work outside the office – and a similar expectation that we ARE working when we’re outside the office.

Constantly connected, for better or worse.

There is very little separation between personal and professional responsibilities. Life is integrated.

As a society, we are largely of the opinion that if we’re not accessible via smartphone or email, we’re simply not working as hard as our co-workers who are. That mentality is dangerous.

Two sides of the story

Last month, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s work schedule made the news.

This article from Pete Cashmore on CNN.com summarizes the story well. Sandberg makes it a point to leave the office everyday at 5:30 p.m. so she can be home for dinner each night.

Why was this news? Because it defies expectations.

Another related story recently caught my eye as well. The Families and Work Institute’s 2012 National Study of Employers revealed an interesting, but not-so-surprising trend – more U.S. companies are offering flexible work arrangements for employees.

Paired together, these two stories are powerful commentary.

The Lesson

I talk with companies every day about work-life balance and employee productivity. I know for a fact that Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg is an exception. There are a lot of expectations at the top. There aren’t too many executives committed to being present at a family dinner every night with their children.

When I saw her story in the news, I smiled. She is a shining example of what’s possible.

Work-life balance is a term that’s often discussed, but not always embraced. Companies offer flexibility programs and benefits to make employees more productive – better able to cope with the demands of their job and life outside the office.

The fact that more employers are looking into flexible work options is not breaking news. According to our 2011 Global Men’s Study, both men and women seek more personal time for family, hobbies and exercise. In terms of solutions, flexible work arrangements dominate the list of most valued options.

Consequences … and balance

But all too often, this flexibility means increased connectedness, less separation between work and home, and more expectations that employees are available and accessible outside the office.

This is not why these programs are implemented. Studies show that employees who work longer hours have a greater chance of experiencing depression.

Consequences come when balance disappears, and a company is only as good as its workforce.

It’s the employer’s job to make it very clear to their staff that the connectedness and flexibility that technology provides is a benefit, not a punishment.

This is a point that’s often lost – and one that needs to be emphasized regularly.

Dean Debnam is CEO of Workplace Options, a leading global provider of work-life programs and employee benefits headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., that serves more than 32 million employees in over 20,000 organizations across 170 countries. Contact him at dean@ddebnam.com or follow Workplace Options on Twitter at http://twitter.com/workplaceoption.