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Dec 15, 2016

Work/life balance has been a hot engagement topic for the last five years or so, with several employers rushing to offer fringe benefits and time-saving perks to staff in an effort to keep them longer and build a positive culture.

But how are we actually doing at following through with those promises and giving employees the balance between home life and work life they require? Well, there’s good news and bad news – let’s do the bad news first:

The bad news

Workplace stress is still a big problem – an even bigger one than it was 10 years ago, costing American businesses up to $300 billion a year in lost productivity. Around 70% of the workforce is still disengaged, and progress has been stagnant lately. Furthermore:

  • A 2016 survey of 500 working Americans by Public Policy Polling found that nine in 10 of them are stressed about their personal finances, especially part-time workers.
  • Robert Half also found that only 52% of women feel they are paid fairly compared to 58% of men.
  • In April CareerBuilder reported that 2 in 5 workers have gained weight at their current job, and that the percentage overweight they became was directly correlated with the severity of their workplace stress.
  • Staffing firm OfficeTeam showed that while 63% of executives think they are doing great at work/life balance, only 34% of employees feel the same, reporting a lack of flexible schedules and adequate vacation time.

The good news

You’re going to be glad I gave you the bad news first, because there is great progress to report on in other areas.  Work/life balance is actually improving in certain industries, and the studies showing improvements are far from outliers, so there’s reason to be optimistic. Here are the highlights:

  • A study from Unify showed that 50% of knowledge-profession employees feel their work/life balance conditions have improved over the last five years.
  • According to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, the top drivers of business success for the largest cohort in the workforce are still employee satisfaction, loyalty, and fair treatment.
  • Gallup reports that 37% of the workforce now telecommutes at least two days per month, and a 2015 WorldatWork/Flexjobs study found that 80% of employers offer flexible work arrangements or schedules when possible.SHRM satisfaction chart
  • In SHRM’s 2016 Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report, 88% of U.S. employees surveyed reported overall satisfaction with their current job, the highest level recorded over the last 10 years.

Final grade

Put it this way: we’re not doing terrible, but there’s definitely room for improvement. Does a “C” seem fair? If you care about work/life balance for your employees, now is a good time to do a status check-up yourself and find out if there are things you can do to better align efforts:

  • Offer remote positions – 64% of companies with flex programs have no formal or written policy, so there’s no excuse to not give it the old college try. The fact is the demand for telework is only going to increase, and as much as 86% of employees desire to work independently.
  • Increase reward and recognition efforts – In a recent PwC survey, only 36% of employees reported feeling appreciated for their work, and there is a growing communication gap between executives and employees. Rewards and recognition are the easiest way to close that gap.
  • Balance your own efforts – Favoring one side of the work/life balance equation too much can send the wrong message. Balance your work programs with things like gym reimbursements, health savings accounts, and Friday hours to save employees time and money, lowering stress and increasing engagement.

One day, when the world stops changing, we’ll finally figure out how to do this work thing for good and all. Until then we can do our best to make sure everyone gets what they need to be safe, productive, and happy.