The economic downturn has placed tremendous pressure on employees over their long-term job security. Employees are responding by seeking out employers that offer a better work-life balance, and research shows they work harder for those that do.
In the current economic environment, work-life balance now ranks as one of the most important workplace attributes—second only to compensation, according to research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board among more than 50,000 global workers. And employees who feel they have a better work-life balance tend to work 21% harder than those that don't.
The critical need to ensure an adequate work-life balance for employees in the downturn is largely being neglected by employers as more and more pressure is put onto employees. In 2006, 53% of employees felt they had a good work-life balance; that number fell to 30% in the first quarter of 2009.
Several misconceptions prevent organizations from optimizing their ability to deliver on the work-life balance promise. For example, most organizations mistakenly provide costly services, such as an on-site gym or health-care services when, in fact, fewer than 20% of employees actually value these types of benefits.
Instead, the best organizations recognize that the most appreciated service they can provide their employees is the "gift of time." In fact, more than 60% of the employees polled in the CEB study identified flexible schedules as the most important work-life practice their employer could provide.
In addition, most organizations focus on the actual consumption of work-life services they offer. Ironically, boosting workforce productivity does not hinge on employees actually participating in the work-life services offered by their employer. Employees just need to be reassured that the service is there and that they have the option to participate if they want to. In other words, the option value of work-life balance practices is more important at improving employee effort than the actual consumption of those same work-life balance practices.
The fact that nearly 60% of HR executives polled felt satisfied with the work-life services of their organization, while just 16% of employees felt the same, illustrates a fundamental disconnect when it comes to work-life benefits. The companies who most effectively address and close that gap stand the best chance of achieving the high levels of employee attraction and retention they seek.