Can You Really Have It All?

When it comes to employee retention, a new survey finds work/life balance is more important to workers than pay, and experts say HR leaders need to recognize that workers need more than just a flex-time option to achieve that balance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012
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Human resource managers should take note that both men and women now care more about work/life balance than pay, according to a recent survey by the Washington-based American Psychological Association.

The Workforce Retention Survey, to which 1,240 employed adults ages 18 and older responded, examined the factors that contribute to employee retention. Although 60 percent of working Americans said they remain with their current employers because of benefits and 59 percent reported staying because of the pay, more than two-thirds (67 percent) said they choose to stay because their jobs fit well with the other aspects of their lives.

"While pay and benefits are still important, once they reach a certain level, it's not enough to keep employees at their jobs," says David W. Ballard, head of APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. "Employers used to rely on a decent benefits package and competitive pay to attract the best and the brightest, but now they really have to pay more attention to the work experience that people are having."

Work/life balance policies should not only include flex-time schedules, telecommuting and job sharing, but also make available support resources to help employees better manage their work/life obligations, such as onsite concierge services that will take care of employees' dry cleaning, Ballard says.

The APA's survey meshes well with the second annual Labor Day Survey of Working Adults that was sponsored by Mom Corps in Marietta, Ga. In that survey of more than 1,000 working adults, two-thirds responded that they can "have it all" when it comes to work/life balance -- and the percentages of men and women responding were nearly identical.

In the ABA's survey, the employees who plan to stay with their current employers for more than two years responded that the biggest drivers of expected tenure were enjoying the work, having a job that fits well with other life demands and feeling connected to the organization, according to the survey.

Indeed, there is a link between employee well-being and organizational performance, Ballard says. In March, 11 organizations received the American Psychological Association's 2012 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award for demonstrating such a link. Those employers reported an average turnover rate of 11 percent in 2011 -- significantly less than the national average of 36 percent as estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor. Only 24 percent of employees at these organizations reported experiencing chronic work stress, compared to 41 percent nationally, and 80 percent of employees reported being satisfied with their job, compared 70 percent in the general population.

Additionally, 78 percent of employees said they would recommend their organization to others as a good place to work, compared to 63 percent nationally, and only 14 percent said they intend to seek employment elsewhere within the next year, compared to 28 percent nationally.

"Those high-performing organizations are paying attention to work experience because it's not only good for the employees, but it's smart business," Ballard says.

While more women than men (72 percent versus 62 percent) in APA's survey cited work/life fit as a reason why they remained with their current employer, Ballard says the high percentage of men citing that reason demonstrates that the roles of women and men both in their workplace and their home are becoming much more common. As such, both sexes feel the need to balance their work/life activities.

Carol Sladek, a partner and work/life consulting leader at Aon Hewitt in Lincolnshire, Ill., says the survey's findings that both men and women care about work/life balance jibe well with her two decades of experience in the field.

"When we started this whole thing, it was about getting moms to come to work after maternity leave, but now every employee wants help balancing or integrating their job into their overall full life," Sladek says. "It's not just employees who are parents of babies or pre-school aged children, it's a young person interested in getting a master's degree, or an empty nester looking to take up golfing on Fridays."

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As such, HR managers should devise flex-time policies that are broad enough to meet the needs of every age sector, as well as other types of diversity in the workplace, such as varying religious preferences that celebrate their holy days at different times, she says. Time-off policies should also become more flexible, as some people prefer more vacation days, while others may need more sick days to care for elderly parents.

When hiring, organizations also need to clearly communicate their expectations for the specific position, and encourage candidates to question them about their work/life balance policies, to determine if they are a good fit, says Judah Kurtz, manager of leadership and team development at BPI group in Chicago.

For example, reporters at a daily newspaper with tight deadlines or trial attorneys at a law firm might not be able to have as much flexibility with their work hours as a management consulting firm or software firm.

"HR leaders should also ensure the person has resilience, especially if the job is stressful or if it has a lot of ambiguity," Kurtz says. "Moreover, if they have disclosed that they have a new baby, HR leaders can ask them about their expectations around work/life balance."

Max Caldwell, managing director at Towers Watson in Stamford, Conn. says that managing stress and achieving work/life balance is more important to workers as employers operate much leaner, with the same number of people expected to handle more work.  
These and other insights are included in the consulting firm's 2012 Global Workforce Study being released later this month. Caldwell says, "The study also shows that work/life balance goes hand-in-hand with a healthy work environment to create overall employee well-being. 
"A healthy, productive work environment needs to be viewed holistically," he continues. "It means a workplace where there is not too much stress and employees are given the tools and support they need to do their work and live healthier lives. And, where people have the flexibility to balance their lives with their work."

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