Talent Management

Work-Life Balance? It’s a Bottom Line Issue for You and Your Workforce

Work life balance11

“You are a great model of work-life balance, Ron. Thanks for showing me.”

Last week I linked to an article titled Why the Work-Life Balance is Now More Important Than Ever. It was a UK-based article on work-life balance and it cited five (5)  countries and how each of them approaches it. The comment was based on the article.

The identity of the commenter brought a huge smile to my face. It was from one of the most inspiring people that I have ever worked with during my career.

Her name is Maggie Mistal, and she is now described as one of the nation’s best known career coach by CNN, where she normally appears. We worked together at Martha Stewart Living, where she developed our training, coaching, and career development programs. She later went out on her own and built a media career around it. She can now be heard every Friday on Sirius XM Radio.

My first intro to work-life balance

My first exposure to work-life balance was during my tenure at IBM. I had never given it much thought, but I did know that once I left work, I LEFT work. Everyone knew that my phone was turned off as I left the building.

When my daughter was in primary school, I would pick her up from day care on Friday. For probably five weeks straight, I was always late. The last Friday, the manager of the facility told me that I was only getting one more chance and if I was late again, I would have to find another facility.

I had basically worn out my welcome by being the last one to pick up a child every Friday.

My daughter was the only one in the room when the director told me this, and she started to cry and said she liked her school and did not want to go to another school.

My problem was that I worked in New York City, lived in the suburbs of New Jersey, and had to catch the subway to get to the bus which took me to my drop-off point in New Jersey. From there I got into my car and drove about 15 minutes to the school. On a good day, this would not be a problem, but Fridays being Friday, it did not work.

Problem stated, problem solved

On the Monday following this discussion with my daughter’s day care director, I spoke to my manager and explained the situation I was in. I will never forget his thoughtful reply. He asked me the question, “what do you need to make this work?

What I needed was to just leave on time, which for me would be by 3 pm. So, my new deal was that on Fridays, I would leave at 3 and get to my daughter’s day care no later than 5 pm.

That’s how it went. Problem solved. There was no company policy amended, no major pronouncements. My manager handled the situation by asking me for the solution.

The lesson I learned from that episode has carried forward with me to this day.

Forget about one size fits all

When anyone that worked for me ever had an issue, I would let them settle it. There is no one-size fits-all solution for work-life balance. In some cases, amendments can be made to policies to adjust to a core group of employees.

At one company where I worked, we noticed that we were losing a lot of first time moms. They would come back at the required time but could not make the commitment to the full-time work week.

At that time, we did not have (or believe) in tele-commuting or working from home. But once we realized that some of our top talent was walking away, we knew we had to make some changes. Not only had that, but the demographic of our workforce meant that this was just the tip of the iceberg if we did not solve the problem.

There can be a business case

So, we changed the policy to have them make adjustments on the days they were in the office. This was based on each individual working with their manager to come up with a solution.

In the end, it was a win-win for everyone involved.

My day care problem was my problem; it was not a company problem. The new mom situation was an organizational problem. In each situation, we approached it with the people that were directly involved and worked with them to arrive at their solution.

While a certain organizational mindset is needed for support of work-life programs, organization’s must realize that the workforce is different today.

Every time I hear of the work-life balance dilemma, I am reminded of the quote by Ralf Schneider, formerly of PwC:

“Companies flounder today because first generation leaders are working in second generation companies working on third generation problems.”

Work-life balance is a bottom line issue

Organizations will have to shift from the “one-way street” mentality of getting more out of people to investing in meeting people’s core needs so that they are pumped up and inspired to bring all of themselves to the job.

Policies must be created that will allow employees to better manage their workload, have a more balanced life, and give them some flexibility when it comes to how and when they get their work done.

Yes, policies that focused on flexibility and working remotely contribute to a more energized workplace.

Work-life balance has to be discussed in the C-suite. Your bottom line would look kindly on your organization if you do.

Ron Thomas is a Chief Human Resource & Administrative Officer currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He formerly was Director, Talent and Human Resources Solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company) and is certified by the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He's also worked in senior HR roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. Ron serves on the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He also serves as a Faculty Partner and Executive Facilitator at the Human Capital Institute. He has received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence by the World Human Resource Development Congress in Mumbai. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Ronald_thomas.
  • KMErickson

    Thanks for the post – great points. I also believe leadership attitudes need to shift from flexibility being the exception, to being the norm. Because of smart phones, etc. work can be accessed any time, from anywhere. So old ideas about where one needs to be to do work are in serious need of a re-boot. I’m hopeful that as the younger generations begin to tip the balance in the workplace, they’ll also make an impact in affecting this balance as well – I think its much less a gender-based/parent-based issue for them and more just a human one.

  • Diane Dobish

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, Ron. I heard a statistic on a morning news show that mentioned couples were buying bigger beds so they could spread out all their paper work because that seems to have become a new workspace. Somehow though, I believe that is not what I’d refer to as a good work-life balance.

  • Allison O’Kelly

    What a wonderful lesson you learned from the example set by your boss at IBM. There is strong value in a little leeway when it comes to managing employees and allowing them to find a level of alignment between work and life. The reality is, your workforce will deliver so much more when you extend to them some freedom in workday than if you insist to adhering to a strict eight hour day.–Allison O’Kelly, founder/CEO of Mom Corps