Editor’s Note: This article is one of the top 10 business lessons of 2015. See the full list here.
What do Google, MongoDB, Uber, and Pimco all have in common? Over the last year, each has had a C-level executive leave by publicly declaring his need for work-life balance.
That’s great for them, but executives who publicly lament their out-of-whack work-life balance and ceremoniously quit do nothing to help millions of people with the same stress and imbalance. The majority of overworked employees, like these executives, just crave quality time with their families. But they can’t quit. There’s no golden parachute to save them.
MongoDB’s former CEO, Max Schireson, kicked things off in August 2014, “stepping back” after citing the conflict between being a dad and CEO. Pimco’s CEO, Mohamed El-Erian, resigned after his daughter gave him a list of 22 childhood milestones he’d missed because of work. Google’s former CFO, Patrick Pichette, resigned in March to spend more time with his family.
Uber’s CFO, Brent Callinicos also resigned in March, mentioning his wife, as most have. “It is time to do what I have desired for a very long time; time to keep a promise to my wife . . . To admit that every day I work, I lose time with my family . . . It is simply time.”
Isn’t it nice to have the option to make that time?
Unfortunately, this diminishes the millions of workers who struggle, with far fewer resources, to cram a bit of balance into their work-packed days.
That’s why executives, rather than cashing out, should use their experience and frustration to change corporate policies and improve work-life balance for all workers. The most compelling reason for businesses and boards to pay attention? It’s good for the bottom line.
Companies have historically viewed flexible work as a “perk” for employees rather than a smart business decision. Yet, as Carol Evans of Working Mother said at a past Work-Life Congress, speaking to a room of business and HR leaders from top U.S. companies, flex is good for finance, management, HR, and employees.
Here’s how flexible work policies benefit companies:
- Companies on average save $11,000 per telecommuting employee per year.
- Flexible work options, like remote work, lead to higher employee engagement. In one study, remote arrangements created more engaged workers than those without. “Active disengagement” was lower in remote workers as well.
- HR professionals say HR-related improvements include improved employee satisfaction (87%), retention of current talent (65%), and better recruiting efforts (54%).
Imagine a solution that makes the economy more productive, saves companies money, and helps engage the workforce. Here’s how to make it happen, with insight from SAP and Kaplan Test Prep, two companies with strong flexible work programs.
Take stock of your company’s current situation and needs.
The first step is determining what problems flexible work might resolve. Don’t guess at what those problems or solutions might be—collect data. Survey employees to understand which options would help them alleviate ongoing work-life balance problems. Maybe only 20% of the staff value working from home, but 75% would like more flexible start and end times. Those differences are important, and options can be gradually added in.
Know that change takes time.
Create a strategy to test the new policies, and communicate them clearly to your team. You don’t have to jump into the deep end, but commit to moving forward. Start slowly, perhaps offering flexible work options one day a week for three months with a plan to evolve from there. Gradually introduce, evaluate, and solicit feedback to help build trust among your team.
Lead from the top.
It’s not enough to announce a formalized flexible work program for employees. If they don’t see managers and executives using the program, they won’t feel safe to do so themselves. Imagine if, after years of working late each night, your manager tells you it’s okay to leave at 5 p.m., but he still works late. Would you be comfortable leaving early?
Jewell Parkinson, head of human resources at SAP North America, says: “At the end of the day, our talent is one of our most critical assets. Not only do we need to have the policies in place to support our people, but we need to lead from the top.”
Equip managers with the best techniques.
Managing by “face time” simply isn’t working. Productivity doesn’t equal showing up on time and being on-site all day. Rather, the most effective managers of flexible workers focus on strong team development and clear goals. Train managers in skills like proactive communication, goal setting, results management, and remote collaboration. “Flexible work options only work if senior leadership support them with clear communication, realistic expectations, and authenticity,” said Lorin Thomas-Tavel, chief operating officer for Kaplan Test Prep.
Abandon passive management techniques altogether, because these “new” skills work well for both traditional and flexible employees.
Potentially half of all workers may work remotely by 2020. Give people more control over where, when, and how they work, and employees will be more productive, healthier, and more satisfied. They’re also more likely to work longer hours than traditional employees, finding better balance at the same time.
For the long-term viability of companies and our economy, it makes sense to adopt flexible work programs. So, to C-suite professionals thinking of walking out the door, why not stay and spur change where you are? The impact will be felt, not just by you and your loving wife, but by millions of workers who have no choice but to stay in their jobs and hope for better work-life balance.