On any given day as you walk down the streets of Manhattan — or any streets for that matter — you will probably see people engaging in conversations or texting on their cell phones, checking and responding to e-mail on their PDAs, etc. Even during what should be a breather for lunch to escape the work day, you see the same behavior. Think about it. Do you have work/life balance or imbalance?
I saw some research that indicates broad categories that lead to work/life imbalance:
1. Role overload (demand on time/attention exceeds time/attention necessary to perform your role adequately). We can all relate to this, especially in this current economy. What company isn’t expecting to get more done with fewer people and resources, right?
2. Work-to-family interference (work demands — including long hours, pre-occupation with work, work-related stress evident in the home environment — make it hard to fulfill your family role). Have you ever heard your spouse, child or significant other exclaim, "When are you going to stop working!" or "Can I get you to focus on me for a change, and not work?"
3. Family-to-work interference (family demands make it hard to get your work done). For example: a child's illness leads to attendance problems, conflict or stress at home makes concentration at work difficult, responsibility for care or assistance to a family member who needs it. Sometimes you do have to check out from work, hoping everything will be fine until you can focus on it again.
So, I started thinking about programs at my company that could directly help with work/life balance. As I went down the list, I was pleased to find that it touched nearly every category, except the one titled role overload. Clearly, that is a manager and company challenge – not one that I will focus on now.
Let’s see. We have the standard Employee Assistance Program, time off policies (paid time off, short-term disability, family and medical leave, bereavement, holiday, military and personal leave). Then there’s what some may consider the golden ticket — flexible time. Flexible time can take several forms such as varied start and end times for the work day, part-time that may include job-sharing, compressed schedule for the week or virtual working. And I can’t forget our Habits for Life program that provides resources for employees on how to better care for themselves and loved ones. We also have a unique policy called Volunteer Time Away that gives employees up to 40 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer in their communities.
I think all of this does help; however, I wonder whether we invest enough time promoting and educating employees about these policies/programs — and letting them know it’s "okay to use them," no stigma attached.
What are your thoughts? Do policies and programs help employees with work/life balance? Can they make a difference? Or is work/life imbalance the new American Way?