Work-Life Balance Is Dead: How The Best Companies Are Recognizing Employees’ Need For Work-Life Flexibility
In recent years, with advancements in technology, the lines between different aspects of people lives have become increasingly blurred, to the point that work-life balance is not possible for most modern workers. Through the analysis of the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ Fortune 500 companies to work for, this US study argues that ‘work–life flexibility’ is what is important to modern workers, and that the best companies are already recognizing and supporting this through time benefits offered to employees and governance structures used to support these benefits.
Key Topics: Work-life balance; Work-life flexibility; Time Benefits
Title of Reviewed Article: It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times: The Expiration of Work–Life Balance
Researchers: John P. Ross (New Mexico State University), Melissa L. Intindola (Western Michigan University), and David M. Boje (New Mexico State University).
Publication: Journal of Management Inquiry, 2017, Vol. 26 No. 2, pp. 202 – 215.
Setting the Scene
Since the 1980s, companies and researchers have seen the effects of growing conflicts between employees’ work and non-work lives (Beutell & Greenhaus, 1982; Burke, Weir,
& Duwors, 1980). Programs such as flexible work, job sharing, child/elderly care, and employee assistance programs began to increase in popularity since that time as companies sought to alleviate this conflict (Delunas, & Kesic, 2001). While such benefits were historically important in creating balance, the idea of attainable work-life balance has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as facets of workers’ lives become increasingly interconnected.
With advancements in technology, the worker of today is often simultaneously ‘plugged in’ to multiple facets of their lives, both work and non-work related; they are hyperconnected (Fredette, Marom, Steiner, & Witters, 2012). When employees leave work, due to modern technology, they are bringing work with them and this ‘job creep’ has become the norm (MacCormick et al., 2012). While there are benefits to companies of this, the constant access to work can lead to increased employee stress and burnout (Schaufeli, Leiter, & Maslach, 2009; Trougakos, Beal, Green, & Weiss, 2008).
The hyperconnected worker poses complex challenges to companies, as companies have to compete for the focus of their employees more than ever. This hyperconnectivity also means that attaining work-life balance, where work and non-work life are separated from each other, is no longer possible for many modern workers and most now strive for work-life flexibility rather than balance. Work–life flexibility involves the merging of work into life and life into work, such as taking work phone calls and emails in the evening, or going to the dentist during designated work hours; it is about controlling time rather than balancing and compartmentalizing time.
A company’s response to employee hyperconnectivity and their desire for flexibility plays an important role in employee outcomes such as performance and job satisfaction (Grandey, 2000), and company-level outcomes such as recruitment and retention (Emhan, 2012). In light of this prior research and the changing nature of employees’ relationship with work, the current study sought to answer the question of what company benefits do employees report as valuable in managing their multiple work and non-work obligations?
How the research was conducted
For their sample, the researchers randomly selected seven of the ‘best’ and five of the ‘worst’ workplaces appearing on ‘Fortune’s Best Companies 2014’ and ‘24/7 Wall St.’s 2014 Worst Places to Work’, respectively. Both lists are determined based primarily on employee feedback.
The ‘best’ companies selected were Google, SAS, Edward Jones, Quicken Loans, Genentech, Salesforce.com and Intuit. The ‘worst’ companies selected were Children’s Place, Family Dollar, hhgregg, ADT, Books-A-Million.
Review from Indeed.com were assessed for these companies. There were 479 reviews for the selected ‘best’ companies and 706 reviews for the selected ‘worst’ companies.
The researchers assessed the reviews using Leximancer, a qualitative analysis software tool, to assist in identifying themes from the data.
Key Research Findings
Analysis of the data identified two key differences between the best and worst companies to work for, which were time benefits and work–life governance structures.
The best places to work had a strong emphasis on benefits, while the worst companies did not. In addition, 80% of the references to benefits at the best companies related to time related benefits, or 'perks' as the reviewers often referred to them. These were benefits that saved employees time not just in their work-related life but also their personal life, such as employee concierge services, free internet, company provided transportation, company facilitated recreational clubs, and onsite meals and gyms.
Another key theme at the best companies to work for was the presence of structured work-life governance through formal policies and procedures, such as flexible working policies that allowed employees some choice over where and when they carried out their job. Employees at the best companies to work for appreciated the work-life support from management as it supported their ability to choose their lifestyle. On the other hand, the worst companies had very limited formal work-life governance policies in place, with several employees noted that the lack of structure led to management abusing power in relation to such activities scheduling work, which can then cause conflicts outside of work as non-work life can be interrupted.
The “Best Places to Work” prioritise helping employees balance their hyperconnected lives. Through the provision of benefits and a work-life governance structure, these companies support the increasing interconnection between aspects of employees' work and non-work life. In turn, this support is met by greater loyalty and job satisfaction by employees.
The results validate the idea that technology, as well as companies placing increasing demands on employees, has almost completely removed the barrier between work and non-work life, and as such the concept of balancing work-life has moved on to be more one of finding the appropriate flexibility to allow employees to engage in the various aspects of their increasingly complex lives more flexibly, and companies facilitating this through time benefits policies and governance.
While the best and worst companies have high demands of employees and their time, the best companies support employees in organising their lives in order to create more time for them. The best companies accept the demands on employees outside of work and rather than focus on reducing the encroachment of non-work on 'work time', as the worst companies do, they work with employees to help them manage their lives in work and outside.
Organizational and Reward Implications
This study gives valuable insight into how companies are dealing with the increasingly complex and hyperconnected lives of their employees. What is clear is that the best companies are actively supporting employees' needs for increased flexibility and companies failing to recognise this need are likely to see a number of negative employee outcomes such as higher employee turnover, burnout, lower performance and job satisfaction (Grandey, 2000; Rafaeli & Sutton, 1989).
Companies would be well advised to acknowledge that employees have complex lives and that their employing company is only one of multiple factors demanding their attention. Time benefits and the governance structures supporting those benefits are primary factors considered when an employee evaluates an organization.
Companies should consider offering time benefits such as flexible working arrangements, onsite food, Internet, transportation, and gym memberships to assist employees manage their lives. On-site meals, for example, allow employees to save some money but also gives employees the opportunity to save time by allowing them to grab a quick meal without having to go offsite or prepare meals themselves and sacrifice valuable work or non-work time.
While there may be cost associated with the introduction of such time benefits, companies should also consider the benefits they themselves can reap. This study highlights the value employees place on time benefits and prior studies link them to increased job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and organizational citizenship behavior while reducing quitting intentions, stress, and work–family conflicts (Henderson & Boje, 2015; Meyer et al., 2002).
This study indicates that employees greatly value work-life flexibility. While the study is a signpost for the changing nature of work and the role of work in the lives of employees, it also provides valuable insight into how companies can meet the changing needs of employees; insight which companies would do well to consider.
Source Article: Ross, J. P., Intindola, M. L., & Boje, D. M. (2017). It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times: The Expiration of Work–Life Balance. Journal of Management Inquiry, 26(2), 202 – 215.
Published by: SAGE Publications
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