Posts belonging to Category work/life balance

What Does Today’s Teleworker Look Like?

teleworkThe answer found in a recent survey may not be what you expected.

In a national survey of 556 employed adults, Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc. found 31 percent of respondents saying they do most of their work away from their employer’s offices.

No great shock there. The study also found, however, that 71 percent of teleworkers were men, which may come as a surprise to some. And that wasn’t the only finding that could startle those who picture the average teleworker as a busy mom trying to balance work responsibilities with the rigors of raising kids or a young millennial who eschews the confines of stuffy corporate offices.

To wit, the survey saw no significant statistical difference between the number of remote workers with kids and those without children. The poll also found no significant difference in the age groups of teleworkers.

Despite such findings, too many employers still “treat telework as a disposable option,” a la Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, said Cali Williams Yost, CEO of the Madison, N.J.-based Flex+Strategy Group, in a statement.

“Telework is not a perk, and it’s certainly not just for moms and Gen Y,” said Yost. “Rather, it’s an operational strategy. Think of it as anything less and organizations ignore what has become a vital part of their business and the way their people actually work.”

The study also includes some statistics that suggest cubicle life is taking a significant toll on employees back at HQ.

For example, on-site employees reported doing most of their work either in a private office (30 percent) or a cube or open office space (33 percent). In comparison to their remote and private office counterparts, this group reported having less work/life flexibility than they did at this time last year, the survey found.

In addition, remote workers were more likely to receive training to help them manage work/life flexibility, with 47 percent of this group saying they had undergone such training. Only 35 percent of those working primarily in cubes or open office spaces said the same.

Companies that still resist offering telework options to more employees “will be increasingly confronted with the limitations of open office plans and forced to accept that work/life flexibility is a solution to where, when and how employees can get their work done with greater focus and performance,” according to Yost.

“Whether they work remotely or together on-site, we need to help employees develop the critical skill set needed to manage their work/life fit, so they can successfully capture the best of collaborative and remote work environments.”

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Two different surveys showed up recently with some employment-related things to think about this Thanksgiving.

89319425-- thanksgivingThey’re not related … er, then again, maybe they are.

One, a new Thanksgiving survey from Chicago-based CareerBuilder, finds one in five workers (19 percent) plan to spend Thanksgiving this year with co-workers either in or outside the office. Most of them (14 percent) have to work the holiday.

Which brings us to the second poll from Menlo Park, Callif.-based OfficeTeam that finds 24 percent of workers are most thankful this holiday for — aside from salary — their friendly co-workers. (This was followed by a good benefits program, 20 percent; easy commute, 16 percent; challenging assignments, 15 percent, supportive manager, 11 percent; other, 9 percent; flexible hours, 3 percent; and don’t know/no answer, 1 percent. (Here is a report on the survey, and an infographic.)

So safe to say, if that many employees have to be working on our heaviest-travelled, family-focused national holiday, then at least it’s a consolation that they value the friendship and pleasantness of the employees alongside them in the same boat.

If you think about it, says Robert Hosking, executive direction of OfficeTeam, it makes a lot of sense that co-worker relationships are this important.

“Many full-time workers spend more than half of their waking hours at the office,” says Hosking, “so having friendly colleagues can make all the difference when it comes to job satisfaction.”

So what can HR leaders do with this information? I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to encourage behaviors and nurture environments that allow employees to do more of what OfficeTeam recommends they do to increase workplace happiness: socialize with co-workers, step away from the desk, explore flexible-scheduling options, take advantage of perks, and set goals and meet them.

Who knows, with enough focus on the above, maybe “friendly employers” will top next year’s gratitude list.



The Steep Cost of Long Hours

200212196-001By now you’ve surely heard the story of Moritz Erhardt.

On Aug. 15, the 21-year-old Bank of America intern was found dead in a shower cubicle at a student residential facility, after reportedly working for 72 straight hours at B of A Merrill Lynch’s investment banking division in London.

In the days since, many questions have been raised surrounding the work culture of the fast-paced financial sector, where employees—particularly junior-level associates—may feel compelled to keep punishing work schedules in hopes of securing their spot in a very competitive and profitable industry.

Bank of America is raising some questions of its own, recently announcing it had commissioned a “formal senior working group” to examine the organization’s working practices, with “a special focus on junior members of staff,” according to The Guardian.

Erhardt’s passing is certainly an extreme example, but the financial services realm is far from the only place where employees are working themselves ragged, sometimes to the point of putting their own physical and mental well-being at risk.

So, where’s the threshold? What’s the right amount of work? In a recent study, a Kansas State University researcher attempted to answer such questions. And, if her findings are any indication, the sweet spot may be in the 40-to-45 hours-per-week range.

Sarah Asebedo, a doctoral student at K-State, analyzed the association between “workaholism” and physical and mental health. Asebedo found that employees working more than 50 hours a week were more likely to experience diminished mental health—as measured by self-reported depression scores—and reduced physical well-being.

On the other hand, another study suggests spending less time at the office may not do all that much for employees.

Robert Rudolf, an assistant professor of economics at Korea University in Seoul, recently used data from an annual survey of 5,000 Korean households to analyze overall job and life satisfaction before and after changes in South Korean labor regulations reduced the workweek to five days and 40 hours a week. (Prior to 2004, employees in South Korea put in six-day, 44-hour weeks.)

According to the New York Times, Rudolf used a five-point scale—ranging from “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied”—to determine workers’ happiness with their jobs and home lives. He found a reduction in hours had no bearing on either job or life satisfaction for employees of both sexes.

So, it seems there is no magic number of hours that will keep your workforce at its happiest and healthiest. But, a degree of flexibility may be the best option employers can offer, says Rudolf.

“I am a big fan of flexible working solutions with flex-time, part-time options, etc.,” he told the Times. “In my opinion, higher personal freedom about their work flanked with well-designed performance targets will make workers both happier and more productive.”

Yahoo Cracks the List of Top 25 Companies for Work/Life Balance

worklifeYahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took plenty of heat for her decision earlier this year to revoke that company’s telecommuting policy. So it must be sweet justice indeed for her that Yahoo has just made its first-ever appearance on Glassdoor’s Top 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance 2013. Ranked at #16 on this year’s list, employees commended Yahoo for “great for work/life balance,” “flexible working hours” and “free food that’s better than Google’s!” (Mayer joined Yahoo from Google, where she’d been the 20th person hired, its first female engineer and helped create the firm’s search service and its famous white-background home page, among other things.) Yahoo’s work-life balance rating was a 4.0 out of a possible 5, with 5 being the best and 1 .0 “very dissatisfied.” Other companies making their first appearance on the list were MasterCard and NetApp.

No. 1 on the list is Cary, N.C.-based SAS Institute (with a 4.5 rating), a software firm that’s been winning kudos for its employee-friendly policies since well before “work/life balance” became the buzzword it is today. SAS was followed on the list by National Instruments, Slalom Consulting, MITRE and Orbitz Worldwide. Seven companies have made the last for the past three years, including SAS, MITRE and Agilent Technologies. In order to qualify for the list, companies must have at least 50 work-life balance ratings on Glassdoor within the past year and at least 10 the year prior.

The survey also suggests that, for employees, maintaining a good work/life balance is becoming increasingly difficult: the average work-life balance rating has dropped over the years, from a 3.5 in 2009 to 3.2 so far this year. That’s not good news for HR, considering that a survey earlier this year found that employees who perceive their companies aren’t interested in helping them balance work and family are more likely to jump ship.

Lean In and Hear What Holds Women Back

496065AX.TIFFacebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was just released last week. Conversation about the book, however—in which she “cut[s] through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women,” according to—has been heating up for a while.

Last month on The Leader Board, our own Andrew McIlvaine offered a snapshot of Lean In, in which Sandberg shares her views on what often impedes women from achieving leadership positions within their companies. For example:

We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Sandberg’s perspective is certainly not shared by everyone, as McIlvaine pointed out, referencing a New York Times article in which business consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox opined that Sandberg “does what too many successful women before her have done: blaming other women for not trying hard enough.”

The Times also references Princeton professor, former State Department official and Sandberg’s “chief critic,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, noting her claim that Sandberg—and feminism, for that matter—has been guilty of holding women to unrealistic professional and personal standards.

So, it’s safe to say that Sandberg has her detractors. But she may also have a point, according to an online poll being conducted by The Economist.

The still-open survey (you can vote here if so inclined) asks readers if they think that women derail their own careers. The answer? Yes, at least according to 64 percent of the 9,564 voters who have participated in the poll since it opened on March 15.

Interesting. This is a thorny subject, and a complex argument, to be sure. But it seems Sandberg is far from alone in the views she puts forward in Lean In, and she has started a dialogue that may only be heating up. In fact, if you want to feel some of that heat, take a look at the six-plus pages of comments on The Economist’s poll page and watch the opinions fly.

Survey: Members of Congress Work 70 Hours a Week

SHRM-Logo2Amidst all the news about the budget impasse, sequesters and partisan gridlock, it’s easy to think of Congress as a bunch of do-nothings more concerned with scoring points than getting actual work done. In fact, a new survey by SHRM and the Congressional Management Foundation finds that the average member of Congress puts in 70 hours of work per week when Congress is in session, spending 35 percent of a typical week on legislative/policy work when Congress is in Washington, 32 percent on constituent services work when in their districts, and 17 to 18 percent on political/campaign work (i.e., fundraising) at all times. When Congress is on recess, members report an average 59-hour workweek.

“Members of Congress get very frustrated, really angry, when they hear reports about them going home on recess and not working,” says Bradford Fitch, president and CEO of  the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit that works to improve Congressional operations through research and training. “They work long hours regardless of whether the House is in session.”

The survey was released today at SHRM’s 2013 Employment Law and Legislative Conference and was conducted jointly by SHRM and the CMF to, as Fitch says, “improve the effectiveness of Congress by shining a spotlight on Congress as a workplace.”

The report also showed that members rated “staying in touch with constituents” as the aspect of their job most critical to their effectiveness, with 95 percent rating it as very important. A majority of the members also gave their job high marks in the satisfaction it gave them and the important work they feel they are doing. For example, 89 percent listed feeling “satisfied” in response to the statement “Feeling that you are performing an important public service.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, work/life balance is not a part of their lives members are highly satisfied with: While 68 percent cited “Spending time with my family” as very important, only 16 percent were satisfied with this aspect. Nearly nine out of 10 feel they spend too little time with family and friends and too little time on other personal activities. In fact, the overwhelming majority of House members (85 percent) report that their spouses/families live in their home district, not with them in Washington, and regularly fly home to spend time with them on weekends.

“The fact that many keep their families at home has probably contributed to the lack of relationship-building among different members of Congress from different parties,” says Fitch. Interestingly, he says, some of the work/life benefits implemented in Congress in recent years (such as a daycare center operated by the Senate and a lactation center set up by Nancy Pelosi when she was House Speaker) have in some cases led to bipartisanship friendships among Congress members and their staffs, he says. “In many cases, they get a chance to interact and get to know one another outside the formal workplace,” he says.

Lisa Horn, coleader of SHRM’s Workplace Flexibility Initiative, says SHRM and the CMF plan to conduct training for members of Congress and their staffs in the next few months on best practices in work/life balance in areas such as flexible hours, telecommuting and job sharing.

The report, “Life in Congress: The Member Perspective,” is based on a survey conducted of 25 members of the House of Representatives and is augmented with focus groups, interviews and data collected by the CMF during its 35-year history of working with Congress.

Best Buy’s Farewell to ROWE

We often joke about how many companies have to actually do something before we can safely call it a trend. Three? Five? Ten?

In the realm of telework practices, we now have at least two companies that have announced a change in course in the past couple of weeks.

Best_Buy_20070222On the heels of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision a couple of weeks ago to nix telework, Best Buy announced earlier this week that it had cancelled its much-publicized Results Only Work Environment program. As most of you already know, the big-box retailer essentially gave birth to the approach in 2005. (HRE last revisited the ROWE concept in detail in 2010, with a story titled “Anytime, Anywhere.”)

Apparently, Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly wasn’t a huge fan of the policy. In February, the Star Tribune quoted him as saying that the ROWE policy was “ ‘fundamentally flawed from a leadership standpoint’ in that it effectively assumed the only acceptable way to lead is by delegating.”

Erin Kelly, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied the effectiveness of ROWE, told that same paper more recently that companies are unfairly scapegoating flexible-work programs for their subpar performances. “I’m concerned that these flexibility initiatives and telework initiatives are getting blamed for what may be other problems those organizations are facing in the broader market.”

(No secret both Yahoo! and Best Buy have had their share of troubles lately.)

So should we expect another shoe to drop on telework in the coming weeks? Your guess is as good as mine. But even were that not to happen, I suspect the debate over the pros and cons of telework is going to continue to have some legs.

FMLA as an Early Indicator

It’s understandable that many employers might view the 20-year-old Family and Medical Leave Act as a serious thorn in their sides, considering the administrative challenges and costs associated with the law. But research released this week by the Integrated Benefits Institute suggests companies might want to set such criticisms aside and look at the bigger picture.

97690329The study, titled “Early Warnings: Using FMLA to Understand and Manage Disability Absence,” found that employees who had a continuous or intermittent FMLA leave in one year were also more likely to submit a short-term-disability claim the next year. Prior use of such leave also predicted slightly longer STD durations.

The findings show that “FMLA is the first indication something could be wrong,” said IBI President Tom Parry during a Forum session detailing the results. Roughly 520,000 employees at 160 employers participated in the research, which looked at data over five years.

Some other findings from the report:

  • The chance for an STD claim was greater for employees with intermittent leaves than those with continuous leaves.
  • A person taking time-off for their own health condition is more predictive of a physical short-term-disability claim than someone who takes time-off for a family member’s condition.
  • STD durations are six to nine days longer when preceded by continuous FMLA claims.
  • FMLA requests were predictive of a future STD claim even when leave is denied. In other words, says IBI Senior Research Associate Brian Gifford (a co-author of the study and presenter at the session), “Just because an employee doesn’t qualify for FMLA when they ask for it doesn’t mean they don’t have a serious medical condition.”
  • Claimants who used intermittent FMLA for their own health conditions prior to an STD claim had a 33 percent greater likelihood of LTD use than employees with no FMLA leaves.

Claimants who used intermittent FMLA for their own health conditions prior to an STD claim had a 33 percent greater likelihood of LTD use than employees with no FMLA leaves.

In light of these findings, IBI researchers suggest that employers, at the time of an FMLA request, might want to connect employees to various resources, such as EAPs and disease-management programs, and engage them in job-accommodation and stay-at-work discussion.

The IBI research also debunked the notion that high intermittent users of FMLA would take off more Mondays or Fridays than low users. (Many often joke FMLA actually stands for the Friday-Monday Leave Act.) “We found no appreciable differences in the weekdays of intermittent leave incidences …” the researchers said.

Bring Your ‘Baby’ to Work

We’ve all read statistics about the high cost of stress on employers and employees alike and stories about specific steps companies are taking to do something about it. But have you ever considered letting new parents bring their babies to work as one of those ways?

As I learned earlier today during  a panel titled “What the Best Do Best: Benefit Practices at the Best Companies to Work For” at the Benefits Forum & Expo in Phoenix, Ariz., apparently The Ken Blanchard Cos. has. (The panel was moderated by Jennifer Benz, president of Benz Communications in San Francisco.)

For many years now, The Ken Blanchard Cos. of Escondido, Calif., has permitted parents to bring their babies to work during their first five months, pointed out Shirley Y. Bullard, chief administrative officer and vice president of human resource for the firm.

Undoubtedly, it’s not a program that’s going to work for every employer.  It’s only natural to wonder how this might play out in a much larger organization? (Blanchard employs roughly 300 people.)

But that said, The Ken Blanchard Cos.—which was co-founded in 1997 by Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager and a truck load of other best-selling titles—refers to the initiative on its website as “our most rewarding program.”

For parents, it’s “a great stress reliever,” Bullard notes. Plus, as the Blanchard website points out, the babies benefit too. “Blanchard babies become socialized and at ease with people.”

To participate, parents have to come up with “care plan” and must have access to a private office (arrangements are made for those who don’t have one).  Supervisors must also give their approval.

All in all, definitely a pretty bold idea. But apparently Blanchard isn’t alone when it comes to bringing babies to work.  In a report titled Babies at Work, an association named Parenting in the Workplace notes there are at least 170 companies with babies-at-work programs.

Burning ‘Bridges’ to Keep Vacationers Working

I didn’t realize the United States was among the world’s standard-bearers when it comes to vacation ogres until I read this story in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Seems an attempt by the Spanish government to save tons of money lost in worker productivity by moving holidays to the beginnings and ends of weeks is something we did here long ago.

I did not know that.

I guess there must have been a time when U.S. workers were doing (a whole lot more than they do now) what Spaniards have been doing for years — “deploying paid vacation days as ‘puentes’ — literally bridges — to skip town for an extra-long weekend whenever public holidays fall in the middle three days of a week,” according to the story.

For one Spanish worker, Tatiana Restrepo, that meant 36 legally mandated days off (OK, that does it, we must really be ogres) turned into more than 50 days of rest and relaxation, weekends included. But now, trying to boost productivity in a sagging economy and join with other countries trying to contain Europe’s debt crisis, Spain’s unions and business associations have agreed to suppress three bridges by moving those holidays to Mondays.

“The two sides, which rarely agree on anything, say the bridges cost the Spanish economy hundreds of millions of euros in lost production, as they result in idle plants and half-empty offices,” the story says.

Needless to say, the plan is not going over well among workers. Restrepo, a hotel marketer, calls her bridges an “escape valve” between the long breaks in August to the winter holidays. She refers to the idea as “just horrible.”

Seems the whole country is caught up in a debate now over what an appropriate balance between work and play should be in a country that relies heavily on tourism and where one government agency even “subsidizes vacations for hundreds of thousands of elderly people during the winter low season to help keep tourism workers employed,” according to the story.

But wait. Broken down, we’re talking about moving three of Spain’s 14 public holidays to Mondays. And no one’s planning to touch Spain’s guaranteed minimum of 22 additional vacation days. Is this really so “horrible”? Or is it, as one Alberto Nadal, who works on labor issues for a big business association in Spain, tells the WSJ, ”a symbol of a change in mentality, the idea that we have to change the way we do things to belong to the euro zone”? Hmmm.

And are we really just talking about the euro zone or are we talking about an entire, stingy global economy?