January 11, 2011

What Are Employers Doing About Work-Life Balance? And What are the Employer Benefits?

Work/Life Balance

– part 2

In December we looked at some tips for people to achieve work-life balance and put forth our own survey. Click to view the results of the Redfish survey. This month we focus on various approaches companies are taking to address work-life balance, and reap benefits from the mobility and flexibility that technology facilitates and more and more employees desire.

What Are Employers Doing About Work-Life Balance? And What are the Employer Benefits?

This month, there are several articles on strategies that companies are employing to not only help their employees achieve better work-life balance, but also impact the company’s bottom line. BestBuy, Citrix, Microsoft, Google, and more companies than you think have programs to address work/life balance and employee satisfaction, many include some form of telework (a.k.a. telecommuting, workshifting, remote work, location-neutral work, and doubtlessly some other terms).

Every company is different in its culture, constraints, and opportunities. Not all companies can or are willing to, but more and more companies are allowing or even promoting remote or telework. Telecommuting has been the subject of many studies (see further reading below) and is a growing trend that has great impacts to the bottom line for companies in terms of: Human Resources, Real Estate, Technology, and the Environment. But even if your company isn’t set up for telecommuting, there are ways to increase productivity and satisfaction in a traditional office setting.

Human Resources: Are your Employees Happy?

Remote Work: Studies Show that Giving People Flexibility Gets Productivity Results

It is commonly accepted that happy employees are more productive employees. The question is how can I ensure that my employees are as happy and productive as possible? In the recent downturn, there have been stresses of understaffing, bonuses and raises that may not have met the expectations of staff. In all economies, there can be issues with office politics, interruptions and over-communications in terms of meetings and email, and simply the ability to flexibly accommodate both professional and personal endeavors in the best way for all.

Telecommuting is generally viewed as a perk, this is a measure towards helping employees achieve work/life balance. Flexibility on hours and location even within an office-based setting, such as shifting from traditional hours, should be viewed as part of the talent retention strategy; it is generally considered a very tangible benefit by employees.

Onsite, offering a work environment that is pleasant both physically and psychologically will increase productivity and employee loyalty and retention.  Some companies offer “quiet time” for employees to work uninterrupted, and the streamlining of resources sharing. Google offers free gourmet lunches and unregulated working hours. Some companies have programs to allow issues of office politics to be reported in a safe environment and have policies to address them. Best Buy offers flexible hours and location under their Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) approach.

Companies need to create a culture of trust that emphasizes productivity and goal achievement. This can be done by acknowledging non-work priorities and by offering flexible work & scheduling arrangements. Productive companies have minimized the stresses of politics and over-communication by discouraging mass emails and unnecessary meetings, and focusing on vision communication and enrollment. When employees are energized and motivated, they are productive and loyal – it is a win-win situation for all.

BestBuy’s ROWE is a location-neutral, flexible hour program that the company believes to have saved their headquarters $13 million a year simply in employee turnover costs, and increased the productivity of these employees by 35%.  Sprint has addressed the changing workforce desires via a flexible and mobile work approach, to which they attribute a 40% impact to their bottom line consistently, and has documented their savings at $25 million. Absenteeism was reduced by 3.7 days/year at Citrix, and they were able to reduce employee turnover by 25%.

What of the other three bottom line factors? Real Estate, Technology, and the Environment

Real Estate

Many large companies have incredible costs associated with real estate and facilities management. In addition to the costs of owning or renting a building, the costs of securing, maintaining, cleaning, heating, cooling, furnishing and outfitting it are enormous. When workers are physically present less, those costs go down. A virtual workforce engenders very little of the costs of a traditional office site, some physical server locations, and occasional meeting spaces are a small fraction of the package. Sun Microsystems saves $68 million annually in real estate costs and $3 million a year in IT costs, attributed to flexible work options for 17,000 employees. The US Patent Office was able to skip the cost of new real estate expenses thorough telework to the tune of $11 million. And IBM has saved $700 million annually in real estate costs teleworking 80,000 employees. The results are stunning (see the Citrix paper “Workshifting Benefits: The Bottom Line”.

Technology

Mobile technology from smart phones to online meetings has transformed the speed at which things can be done. Virtual meeting mean less travel costs and wasted time. Cloud computing and custom data storage and sharing provides access to information without delays or the costs associated with physical production and storage of paper. Technology has transformed the way we live, work and play and will continue to bring us new opportunities in ways we imagine and in ways we can’t. The productivity of the entire workforce is enhanced by the technologies employed. The use of technology by the teleworkers employees has shown productivity gains measured at 27% by Citrix. Such productivity gains are attributed to the lack of interruptions and office stresses, and by others to the Golden Rule. Telecommuting is perceived as a benefit, and so as professor at the Eller College of Management, Russell Cropanzano, said: “In its simplest form, (the Golden Rule) argues that humans are motivated, in part, by a norm of reciprocity,” he said. “You do onto others as they have done unto you.”

Environment

Many companies have adopted a green approach as part of their branding and image, which allows them to attract a growing demographic of customers, suppliers, and employees. There are very real environmental wins when companies choose to promote a location-neutral work approach. There are less carbon emissions when people work at home, less oil consumption, less wear and tear on the tax-payer funded road system. Imagine the impact of taking the cars of IBM’s 80,000 teleworkers off the streets for the home/work/lunch/work/home commute! Building less buildings for on-site work means an enormous savings in natural resources and a lighter footprint overall.

Further Reading:

The Dynamic Workplace and the Quadruple Bottom Line
We are shifting to a dynamic workplace, in which mobility and flexibility create enhanced productivity, cost savings, and environmental benefits. In order to remain competitive, companies need to learn how to manage location-neutral workers and all of the technology that goes along with it – “Adapt or Die”.
Read our summary and link to the original video 

Studies Show Teleworkers Have More Job Satisfaction than Traditional Office-Based Employees
Teleworkers are more productive and happier than office-bound colleagues. Studies continue to support the benefits to employees and employers of location-neutral flexible work arrangements. Employees have better work-life balance and more focus, employers are rewarded by greater employee effort! Win-win.
Read our summary and link to the NCA

Results-Only Work Environment
A Results-Only Work Environment is a rapidly growing management strategy that evaluates employees based on their performance, not their physical presence. In a ROWE, people focus on results and only results. The creators say that ROWE is not a flextime program such as telecommuting, compressed workweek, reduced hours, flexible schedules, or a “time off” program, but rather a that ROWE is all about accountability and trust. Nonetheless, ROWE is certainly an example of flexible workplace arrangements.
Read our summary and link to the original article  

Workshifting Benefits: The Bottom Line, by Citrix and Workshifting.com
Workshifting, a term coined by Citrix Online, is the practice working from anywhere other than a traditional office through the use of web-based technology. (The older and more traditional terms for this are ‘teleworking’ or even ‘telecommuting’.) This flexible approach to accomplishing work is an integral part of many companies’ work-life balance strategy. This paper quantifies the benefits of workshifting, specifically working from home, for employers, employees, and the community.
Read our summary and link to the original article  

Flexible Work Arrangements Promote Productivity
While balancing work and family has received a lot of attention over the years, the truth is there’s more smoke than fire. People work longer hours in downsized and super competitive work environments that pressure people to make family a second priority. Many workers feel they must choose between work and family. Either they must conform to get promotions or sidestep their career for the family–a tough and bitter pill to swallow.
Read our summary and link to the original article 

Work-Life Balance Becoming a Key Tool for Retention
This Workforce.com article, by Diane Kubal and Janice Newman, reviews the desire for flexible work arrangements by demographic preferences of workforce segments from boomers to working mothers. The article cites flexibility as key issues to both talent recruiting and retention, and offers anecdotes of various approaches from flex scheduling to telecommuting, and compressed workweeks to part-time scheduling.
Read our summary and link to the original article 

Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility
The best available evidence suggests that encouraging more firms to consider adopting flexible practices can potentially boost productivity, improve morale, and benefit the U.S. economy. Especially at this time as the U.S. rebuilds after the Great Recession, it is critical for the 21st century U.S. workplace to be organized for the 21st century workforce.
Read our summary and link to the original article

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