I received the ultimate compliment from my daughter a few years ago. We were out to dinner in Manhattan (at the time she was a college student) and she blurted out, "Mom, I want to raise my kids the way you raised me!" I almost fell off my chair since I felt that I didn't have a clue what I was doing raising children, having a career and trying to balance it all. I guess I did something right!
I started my Work/Life career in 1987 when I founded a national child and elder care company called FamilyCare. As the years progressed, we incorporated more and more service offerings including pet care, adoption, college and school assistance, wellness and concierge services. I experienced the industry morph from Child & Elder Care, Dependent Care, Work & Family to Work/Life.
Recognizing that these programs would be an excellent employee recruitment and retention tool, I worked with employers of all sizes so that employees (regardless of their geographic location, socio-economic status, race, or gender) could have full access to these benefits. Convincing early adopters was a challenge since most of the data was anecdotal (which is still the case today). However, those champion companies realized the potential impact these programs have on their employees' lives and embraced the services.
According to the U.S. President's Study of American Work-Life Balance (March 2010), work-life balance programs "can reduce turnover and improve recruitment, increasing the productivity of an employer's workforce. These practices are also associated with improved employee health and decreased absenteeism, a major cost for employers."
Numerous other studies have shown that work-life balance is an important consideration for many employees, helping to keep them healthy, productive and loyal to their companies. In fact, the Harvard Business Review published a blog post on March 15, 2012 stating that one of the keys to U.S. competitiveness could be work-life balance, as studies have shown a link between balance-friendly nations and low unemployment.
But are companies doing enough? Given the economy, why should they focus on "soft" issues like work/life policies? There are very real costs associated with inflexible workplaces -- distraction, disengagement, and attrition of valuable employees, which leads to reduced productivity. The American Management Association reports that the estimated cost of replacing employees ranges from 25 percent of their salary to five times their salary -- and that doesn't include the financial impact of lost productivity or the impact on morale.
Over the years, Work/Life initiatives have been absorbed into various departments (for example, Wellness, Diversity & Inclusion, Employee Engagement, Reward & Recognition). We need to be careful that this doesn't dilute the message and negatively affect the impact of these programs. I propose that more employers need to embrace flexibility, enhance wellness and elder care services (as a result of the aging of the Baby Boomers), provide more convenience programs (like errand running) and evaluate innovative services (like telemedicine). Also, expanding work/life services to encompass global employees is becoming a growing trend.
We've made a lot of progress but so much more needs to be done. Companies vying for recognition as a "best place to work" need to consider adding more programs to be competitive with the other applicants. The Great Place to Work Institute, which is responsible for the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, keeps track of the benefits offered by each applicant and considers these in creating the Top 100 list. For companies that want this recognition, it's another compelling argument to provide and grow work/life benefit offerings.
The message is clear: Companies that want to attract and retain key talent need to continually assess and improve their work/life effectiveness programs and policies. It is critical that we keep the focus on these issues and push the boundaries. We need to help pave the way for the next generation and make our sons and daughters proud of the work we accomplished.