Category Archives: work/life balance

More Work/Life Woes?

In late June, we used this space to highlight study results implying that maybe, just maybe, employees are gaining real ground in the battle for work/life balance.

Now, not quite two months later comes research that suggests the battle might still be far from over.

The RAND Corp., Harvard Medical School and UCLA recently conducted the American Working Conditions Survey, which polled 3,066 U.S. adults. Among these respondents, roughly 25 percent say they have too little time to do their jobs, with this complaint being most common among white-collar workers.

Given this finding, it’s not surprising that many employees feel that the “intensity of work frequently spills over into their personal lives,” according to RAND. Just over 50 percent of those surveyed report feeling this way, saying that they perform at least “some work” in their free time in order to meet workplace demands.

RAND notes that many workers say they must sometimes adjust their personal lives to take care of job-related responsibilities. The opposite doesn’t seem to be true, though, with 31 percent of employees finding it “somewhat” or “very” difficult to adjust their work schedules to accommodate their personal lives.

Generally, women were more likely than men to report difficulty arranging for time off during work hours to address personal or family matters, according to RAND. Younger workers feel the strain as well, with more than one-quarter reporting a poor fit between their work hours and their social and family commitments.

Not exactly encouraging figures on the work/life balance front. But the news from this research isn’t all bad. Many employees can at least count on having some kind of support system on the job, with 61 percent of women and 53 percent of men saying that they have “very good friends at work.”

Participants were also asked whether they felt their immediate supervisor trusted them, respected them, offered praise and recognition, gets people to work together, is helpful, provides useful feedback, and encourages and supports professional development. Ninety-five percent of respondents agreed with at least one of those seven statements, with 58 percent agreeing with all seven.

All in all, “the many striking and complex findings regarding American working conditions will give social scientists, policymakers, employers and workers themselves much to consider,” the authors write, noting that they “hope … these data will contribute to a constructive debate on how to improve working conditions … .”

Indeed, the numbers to emerge from this study “suggest that there is ample scope for modifying work environments,” they conclude, “to keep workers healthier, happier and more productive.”

The Telltale Text

Erika Nardini says she learns a lot about job candidates by how quickly they respond to text messages. And if you want to work for her, you better not leave her hanging when she sends you one.

Last week, I started seeing article after article focusing on Nardini—CEO of Barstool Sports—and a unique exercise she uses to get a sense of how devoted an applicant would be if hired by the New York-based sports and men’s lifestyle blog.

Earlier this month, Nardini told the New York Times about the random text messages she sends to prospective hires at odd times—9 p.m. on a weeknight or 11 a.m. Sunday morning, for example—just to see how long it takes them to get back to her.

The idea, of course, is that those who respond promptly would be more apt to show around-the-clock commitment once on the job, according to Nardini, who told the Times that she typically likes to see a reply within three hours.

(A quick sidebar … Considering the time that passed between me first reading about this unconventional hiring test and sitting down to write about it, it’s dawning on me that I should probably never apply at Barstool Sports. I’m guessing that I would screen out of the hiring process in pretty short order.)

Now, you can question whether Nardini—who admits to thinking about her job “all the time”—gives a rip about her employees ever achieving anything resembling work/life balance. But the former AOL chief marketing officer with a self-described “punishing” leadership style claims she’s just looking for others who share a similar preoccupation with their work.

“It’s not that I’m going to bug you all weekend if you work for me, but I want you to be responsive,” Nardini says in the Times interview. “Other people don’t have to be working all the time. But I want people who are always thinking.”

I’d be interested to hear how applicants who have been on the receiving end of a text from Nardini feel about being assessed in this way. I’m sure many are more than willing to go above and beyond to land a job. And you could argue that one quick text from a would-be boss isn’t that much of an imposition anyway. Still, could some qualified and talented candidates be scared off by the possibility of sacrificing even a little bit of their precious personal time should they get the position?

In fact, countless surveys have in recent years found that many employees would like to think less about work when they’re away from the office, but feel increasingly obligated—pressured, even—to stay connected in some way.

All that said, how many potentially valuable performers wind up leaving a job in the early-going because they feel they weren’t given a true picture of what life would be like at the company?

Ultimately, employers have to find ways to provide interviewees with an honest, accurate preview of the organization’s employee experience before they come on board. And, however you feel about the approach she’s taking, you have to at least give Nardini points for doing just that.

Unlimited Vacation and Productivity

Since the earliest days of unlimited PTO policies, supporters have argued they are more likely to help productivity than hurt it. A new analysis of data supports that claim.

In a report titled HR Mythbusters 2017, developers of the HR technology platform Namely analyze their data from 2016 to test the notion that unlimited vacation does more good than harm.

The result: Employees with unlimited time took an average of 13 days off, during the year, compared to 15 days for employees with a traditional allowance.

“The data prove that on average employees with unlimited PTO plans do in fact take less time off than employees with a set amount of vacation days,” the report authors write. “This calls for a change in the way HR teams and managers communicate about time off.”

In a related finding, the Namely analysis compared vacation-time usage with job performance. The result: “High performers tended to take an average of 19 vacation days per year, while individuals who scored lower took only 14.”

The Battle for Work/Life Balance

Maybe there’s room to have a flourishing career and a fulfilling personal life after all?

It’s easy for many employees to feel like they’re forever losing ground in the work/life balance battle. But if a new survey from Menlo Park, Calif.-based Robert Half Management Resources is any indication, workers are finding ways to reconcile workplace demands with their responsibilities outside the office.

The poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults who currently work in office environments found more than half (52 percent) of these professionals saying they feel their work/life balance has improved from three years ago.

This number should come with a bit of a disclaimer, though, as younger employees seem to have been much more successful at finding professional and personal stability in that time. For example, respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 were more than twice as likely as those 55 or older to say their work/life balance has gotten better in the last three years.

These numbers make sense when you consider that familial duties—raising kids and caring for elderly parents, for example—generally take up more of our time as we get older, making it harder to juggle work and home life.

What’s a little more surprising, however, is the finding that it’s actually managers—who tend to be north of 30 and are typically expected to work long hours and assume more responsibilities—who are leading the way toward better work/life balance.

For instance, 54 percent of workers told Robert Half that their manager was “very supportive” of their efforts to achieve work/life balance. (This number spikes to 62 percent among employees between the ages of 18 and 34.) And, overall, 74 percent of respondents said their manager sets an “excellent” or “good” example in the work/life balance department.

“Employers and employees alike are emphasizing work/life balance,” says Tim Hird, executive director at Robert Half Management Resources, in a statement. “Managers can help by giving their teams more freedom over where and when they work, if possible, and providing greater autonomy. These efforts go a long way to improve job satisfaction and retention rates.”

Managers and HR leaders should also rely on the input of employees—all employees—to determine how to help workers achieve equilibrium in their lives, he says.

“Many companies view work/life balance as being particularly relevant to millennials, but employees of all generations are under pressure to meet both work and personal obligations,” says Hird. “Businesses should promote work/life balance initiatives broadly and make sure all staff have the opportunity to weigh in on the perks that will best help them meet their goals.”

A Call for Digital Mindfulness

Is social media ruining our lives? I guess ComPsych would say so — gone unchecked, that is.

That’s why the Chicago-based employee-assistance-program-services provider is offering a new training course to its more than 33,000 organizations covering more than 89 million people worldwide focused on tackling the problem.

The course is designed to enhance people’s “digital mindfulness,” which suggests — in the words of Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, founder, chairman and CEO of ComPsych — that “people examine priorities and set limits around time spent on social media so they can be more effective at work, and also find more satisfaction in life overall.”

In a survey of more than 1,200 respondents, ComPsych asked employees how many times, per day on average, they checked social media while at work. The telling result: Almost 20 percent said they check it more than 10 times during their workday. Specifically, their answers were:

  • “0 times per day” — 12 percent
  • “1-5 times per day” — 60 percent
  • “6-10 times per day” — 10 percent
  • “10-plus times per day” — 18 percent

This, according to Chaifetz, is no light-hearted or laughing matter. As he puts it:

“Social media can be a significant distraction both at work and during personal time. This leads to lack of focus and a constant changing of gears that can negatively impact performance, relationships and the ability to be fully present.”

Those taking the course, he says, will come out able to understand the impacts of consumer and digital overload, identify priorities and ways to simplify their lives, and recognize how becoming digitally mindful can lower stress and improve their well-being.

Granted, many of us need to be using social media as part of our jobs. Here at HRE, we’re tweeting, sharing stories and posting on LinkedIn, and checking our Facebook site or others’ for pertinent news.

But the message of the survey and course is a good one and shouldn’t be ignored: Keep it under control lest it control you. In the words of the course description:

“In today’s digital age, people are exposed to a vast number of choices about what to read, watch, listen to or purchase. The result is that people often are more distracted, confused and stressed by the increasing complexity of consumer choices and online social-media activities.”

Whether I do anything with its course or not, I’m glad ComPsych is raising this red flag.

Sad State of Parental Leave

Tuned into a pretty interesting, if not depressing, Facebook Live session on Wednesday. Seems the at-least-slow progress in paid parental leave we’ve been writing about here on HRE Daily and on our HREOnline website isn’t as promising as some think.

At least that’s according to the Society for Human Resource Management, which released during the session its National Study of Employers — a self-described “comprehensive look at employer practices, policies, programs and benefits that address the personal and family needs of employees.” (Here’s the press release for those of you who don’t have the time for an entire study right now.)

Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, talked during the session about the study’s key findings — namely that, despite reports from well-known companies (such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Ernst & Young — see our own posts linked above) announcing their expansions of paid-parental-leave benefits, the average amount of caregiving and parental leave provided by U.S. employers has not changed significantly since 2012.

Specifically, over the past 11 years, the number of organizations offering at least some replacement pay for women on maternity leave has increased from 46 percent to 58 percent. But the study also found that, among employers offering any replacement pay, the percentage offering full pay has continued to decline, from 17 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2016.

In fact, of all employers with 50 or more employees, only 6 percent offer full pay. In addition, daily flexibility, the kind needed for emergencies, has gone down actually, from 87 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2016, a statistic Galinsky called “critical.” She added:

“The fact that that kind of flexibility has gone down is a critical [and alarming] finding.”

According to Galinsky, HR has a major role in turning this around. As she put it during the session:

“Flexibility is now the norm. HR should be thinking this way. It used to be, ‘Should or shouldn’t we provide flexibility?’ Now it’s a given that we should.”

Unfortunately, she said, HR needs to do a better job of telling workers what is offered at their organizations. The study found only 23 percent of companies making a real effort to communicate the programs they have.

Here are some other key findings:

  • Small employers (50 to 99 employees) were more likely than large employers (1,000 or more employees) to offer all or most employees 1) traditional flextime, the ability to periodically change start and stop times (36 percent versus 17 percent), 2) control over when to take breaks (63 percent versus 47 percent) and 3) time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (51 percent versus 33 percent).

  • Growth of workplace flexibility has been stable over the past four years. Out of 18 forms of flexibility studied, there were only four changes:

  1. An increase in employers that offer telework, allowing employees to work at least some of their paid hours at home on a regular basis (40 percent in 2016 versus 33 percent in 2012).
  2. An increase in employers that allow employees to return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption (81 percent in 2016 versus 73 percent in 2012).
  3. An increase in organizations that allow employees to receive special consideration after a career break for personal/family responsibilities (28 percent in 2016 versus 21 percent in 2012).
  4. A decrease in organizations that allow employees to take time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (81 percent in 2016 versus 87 percent in 2012).

In Galinsky’s words:

“Whether high-profile companies offering paid [parental] leave are out of step with the majority of employers or leading the way remains to be seen. Given our findings that 78 percent of employers reported difficulty in recruiting employees for highly skilled jobs and 38 percent reported difficulty in recruiting for entry-level, hourly jobs, these high-profile companies could be leading the way in the strategic use of leave benefits.”

And, apparently, that’s not happening. Not yet anyway.

‘Flexing’ to Close Gender Gap

Seventy percent of working mothers say having a flexible work schedule is extremely important to them, according to a Pew survey. (So do 48 percent of working fathers.)

To that end, a new job board is looking to leverage workplace flexibility to help close the gender gap, according to this new piece in the New York Times Upshot section:

A new job search company, Werk, is trying to address the [gender-gap] problem by negotiating for flexibility with employers before posting jobs, so employees don’t have to.

Facebook, Uber and Samsung are among the companies with job listings on the Werk site, in which all the positions listed “are highly skilled jobs that offer some sort of control over the time and place of work. People can apply to jobs that let them work away from the office all the time or some of the time, and at hours other than 9-to-5, part time or with minimal travel.”

Another option the site offers gives workers the freedom to adjust their schedules, no questions asked, because of unpredictable home and/or family obligations.

The story quotes Gerard Masci, founder and chief executive of Lowercase, a start-up eyeglass maker in Brooklyn, who just hired a vice president for communications on Werk. The company’s new hire works part-time and remotely, except for monthly in-person meetings.

“I don’t care if this week you work less if in a month you work more, and whether they work in the space or not is irrelevant,” Mr. Masci said. “All I care about is the productivity in the end.”

The full story is well worth a read for any HR leaders who are looking for ways to improve flexibility efforts without sacrificing productivity or quality talent.

 

Make Those Vacation Plans Today

Just a heads up that, if you’d like to join forces with the Entertainment Benefits Group and Project: Time Off in encouraging employees to take all their vacation time, today (Tuesday) is the day to get them poring over their calendars.

Both groups have joined together in a Jan. 31 “call to action” for more American workers to get a “jumpstart on planning their vacation,” according to this release from the EBG. In the words of Brett Reizen, president and CEO of EBG:

“[Our] mission is to bring fun and happiness to people’s lives by providing employees nationwide direct access to special offers on top travel and entertainment products across the country. Living in a work-driven culture where vacation and time off is essential, we embraced the chance to … foster work/life balance, boost employee happiness and increase productivity in the workplace.”

(EBG, a U.S. corporate travel and entertainment benefits program, will support the initiative by providing employers and their employees access to exclusive offers on premier travel and entertainment experiences through its corporate programs division — TicketsatWork, Plum Benefits and Working Advantage.)

PTO’s release on the big day tomorrow is full of some stats from a recent survey it conducted that you might find interesting — if not alarming — such as:

“Americans leave 658 million days unused each year. The single-most important step workers can take is to plan their time off in advance. Yet less than half — 49 percent — of households set aside time to plan the use of their vacation time each year.”

Also, according to the PTO research, 51 percent of those who plan their vacation took all of their time off, where just 39 percent of non-planners did, and 69 percent of planners took a week or more of vacation time, where just 46 percent of non-planners did.

We’ve posted our own vacation red flags and statistics for employers here on HRE Daily, including the huge number of “under-vacationed” employees and some of the reasons for it, such as the fact that others in the workplace — managers and co-workers — tend to shame vacation-takers.

If reading up on the merits of enforcing or, at least, encouraging the taking of all allotted vacation time, consider these additional stats from PTO’s research:

  • The time spent planning correlated with greater happiness in nine categories, including:

    • 85 percent of planners report they are happier with their relationships with their significant other, compared to 72 percent of non-planners.
    • 69 percent of planners, compared to 60 percent of non-planners, report being happy with their relationships with their children.
    • 81 percent of planners say they are happy with their financial situation, compared to 71 percent of non-planners.
    • 90 percent of planners are happy with their professional success, compared to 82 percent of non-planners.

Now, whether taking vacations led to this increased happiness and success or happy, successful people are the ones more likely to take all of their vacation time is unclear.

What is clear, to me anyway, is employers have nothing to lose and a lot to gain, including in employee productivity and engagement, by making sure employees are getting out of the office as much as they’re entitled to.

The Tall Costs of Short Workdays

Fans of shorter workdays may not like the recent news out of Sweden regarding the country’s attempt to scale back the length of the workday there.

A two-year experiment cutting working hours while maintaining pay levels for nurses at an old-age home in the Swedish city of Gothenburg is now nearing the end, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

While the take away was largely positive, with nurses at the home feeling healthier, which reduced sick-leave, and patient care improving, Bloomberg reports the city “has no plans in making the measure permanent or broadening it to other facilities.”

To do that, Bloomberg reports, it would need much more money and even help from the national government. To cover the reduced hours for the 68 nurses at the home it had to hire 17 extra staff at a cost of about 12 million kronor ($1.3 million).

“It’s associated with higher costs, absolutely,” said Daniel Bernmar, a local left-wing politician responsible for running the municipality’s elderly care. “It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.”

The Gothenburg experiment has been closely watched globally, with labor activists touting progressive Sweden as a role model in shortening working hours.

For those of you wondering if such an innovative idea could take hold here in America, Bloomberg’s got your answer here.

Walking the Talk on Time Off

thinkstockphotos-163664798Bad bosses discourage workers from taking time off. Good bosses encourage it. The best bosses also get out of the office and use their own vacation days.

That’s the takeaway from the latest report by Project Time Off, a feisty little offshoot of the U.S. Travel Association that likes to remind us of how bad Americans are at taking vacation.

As we’ve noted here before, Project Time Off has chronicled the startling decline of vacation usage in the U.S.  In 2015, the estimated average for an American worker was 16.2 days a year, down from a long-term average of 20.3 days from 1976 to 2000.

The group’s latest report — produced with analysis by Oxford Economics of government data and survey results from marketing firm GfK  —  looks at the evident hypocrisy of managers who pay only lip service to the idea of taking time off.

The good news is that 93 percent of managers surveyed say they believe employees benefit from vacations. Almost as many say they actively encourage workers to take time off. But only 41 percent used all their own time in the previous year.

Why that matters: Research makes a compelling case that how managers treat their own vacation time has a powerful effect on workers, says Ron Friedman, a psychologist, author and consultant who studies the subject.

Writing last year in the Harvard Business Review, Friedman summed it up like this: “When managers forgo vacation time, it not only places them squarely on the road to burnout, it also generates unspoken pressures for everyone on their team to do the same.”

And that not only deprives workers of a break that helps them perform, but also deprives the organization of “fresh perspectives and creative solutions” they bring back, he writes. “Simply put, you’re far more likely to have a breakthrough idea while lounging on a beach in St. Martin than you are while typing away in your office cubicle.”

There’s also a financial cost, in the form of accrued vacation time as a balance-sheet liability. The Project Time Off study looked at 10-K filings by public companies to conclude they collectively have $272 billion in vacation liabilities on their books.

Why are so many managers unwilling to use all their time? Of course some people really do have crushing loads of work that no one else can do. And sometimes — if you’re launching a company, say — it really does make sense to power through a tough year with few days off.

But those cases are rare. If Reed Hastings of Netflix, Jim Moffatt of Deloitte and Barack Obama of — well, you know — can take vacations, c’mon — what’s so special about the rest of us?

Here are some of the real reasons, I suspect, that some managers routinely skip vacation. And none of them, I’ll warn you, are flattering:

  • They’re inefficient and unproductive. They tend to run around in circles and waste everyone’s time. They don’t get much done. So they feel a need to catch up by skipping their vacation.
  • Obsessive tendencies. They spend every day pushing their folks to compete. They can’t take time off or their numbers will tank. So they don’t.
  • Free-floating anxiety. The world is changing. Who knows? Their job might disappear overnight, or a rising star might replace them. Or someone might notice they are dispensable.
  • They really don’t have anything else to do. It’s sad, but I’ve known managers who gave everything up for work. They really don’t have much of a family or a life outside the office. For them, vacation is no vacation.

None of those apply to you, right? So do yourself — and your people — a favor. Take that time.