Work-life balance is the exclusive property of your employees. It's another situation in which you can facilitate, but not cause, the outcome.
What constitutes an appropriate balance varies from employee to employee. Early careerists have a different set of problems than new parents or employees with kids leaving for college. Salespeople who travel intensively need entirely different things than the 9 to 5‘ers at the satellite office.
Blending the demands of the life we call work and the work we call life requires moment by moment adjustment. For some, the answers will involve finding a safe place to rest. For others, the answer may be professional development. Some will migrate towards fitness, while others need access to financial management tools, more than 3 vacation days in a row, or a back-up babysitter.
Your company’s work-life balance program needs to involve a basket of choices that, in combination, address both the work and life issues that affect your team.
The very first order of business is to try to understand the stressors in your workforce. The very same things that cause your employees stress are the things that decrease productivity. Financial anxiety, obesity, couch potato syndrome, lack of rest, too much to do in too little time, an overbearing boss, divorce, disease, a family death or illness, dependents who require extra care, new children, moving, and a host of life transitions all fall in this category.
A good work-life balance program tries to reach out to the largest areas of concern first. Built on a solid assessment of the things that are driving your people to distraction, the program should first focus where stress aggregates in your workplace. Provide solutions to the big ones and watch what happens. In other words, a work-life program works by reducing the overall negative stress on the workforce.
Here are five examples of innovative programs to help any employer:
1. Dunk the Boss Day
Once a year (or once a quarter if things are really tough), stage a day in which the employees get to turn the tables on their managers. The name of this tool comes from the practice of using a dunking booth as a release for employee frustrations. On DTB Day, the bosses serve lunch, are sold into momentary slavery to the highest bidder, wear funny clothes or sit in a dunking booth for charity. The idea here is that everyone, including the boss, can always do with taking themselves a little less seriously.
2. The Yoga Room
In San Francisco's new Virgin America terminal, there is a yoga room. Dimly lit but still safe, the room is insulated from the airport noise and provides a place for a traveler to catch his or her breath and maybe practice a little yoga. You can catch people hiding out there for a moment or two as they navigate another day of travel. Provide a safe little escape hatch where quiet is the norm and interruptions are minimized. Letting people catch their breath, for just a minute or two, can provide exactly the break that unleashes productivity.
3. Heavy Traveler Perks
It's really hard to navigate any company's travel expense reimbursement program. It's even harder to figure out where to draw the appropriate line between travel time and productive work time. Worse yet, all of the policies regarding these road warriors are written by people who don't travel. Most businesses owe their revenue generation (sales) and customer relations to people who spend a lot of time on the road. Make a point of saving them from stupidity. If you've traveled all day and the only meal available is the $75 Caesar salad from room service, let them have it. Otherwise, you're just teaching them to lie on their expense reports and that's even more likely to lead to imbalances. Make life easy for your heavy travelers.
4. Physical Fitness, Anti-Obesity,& Smoking Cessation
Tools like the Fitbit or the Pebble are being used in some progressive organizations to tackle problems that range from the average body mass index of the workforce to competitive movement by department, to smoking cessation. Poor physical fitness, obesity, diabetes and a host of other diseases are the symptoms of lives that are out of balance. In many cases, workforce wide (voluntary) programs to wrestle with these issues actually decrease the overall stress in the workplace. Put a Fitbit in the hands of each of your team members and see what happens.
5. 10% Technology Free Days
One of the biggest things that blurs the distinction between work and life is the ever present digital communications device. Declare one full weekend and one day each month to be 'technology free days'. Disable the blackberries. Prohibit all email. Shut down non-essential digital tools. Cause people to talk to each other. One full weekend and one workday is 10% of the days in a month. Liberate your people from their electronic balls and chains.
As well intentioned as most work-life initiatives are, participants often find themselves marginalized. By trying to be more productive through setting boundaries, they become less committed or important in the eyes of management or coworkers. That's the reason that most of these initiatives fail.
Instead, look clearly at what is making your employees fall apart. Then find creative ways to support them to make changes. By stretching beyond the normal stuff, these five targeted interventions can help you build the right momentum for your project.