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Work/life balance: Good for employees – good for business

The innate desire for one to achieve a work/life balance need not be pursued in private. If ever it was a secret, the secret is out. Most people want professional success while maintaining a fulfilling and happy life outside of work.

But in pursuit of that desire, life often intervenes. There are joyous occasions, such as the birth of a child, that require one to be disconnected from the office. There are unexpected detours, such as an automobile accident or an illness.  Or quite simply, a major project at the office doesn’t allow for a much needed jog or bike ride.  We don’t always get to choose.  

Thankfully, employers are recognizing that finding the right balance is good for people –and good for business.  It’s an idea that’s widely embraced, and a topic widely discussed.  Consider an article in Harvard Business Review (“Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life” by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams, March 2014).  The authors suggest that while a work/life balance can be an “elusive ideal,” executives are getting better at finding that balance.  More specifically, “By making deliberate choices about which opportunities they’ll pursue and which they’ll decline, rather than simply reacting to emergencies, leaders can and do engage meaningfully with work, family, and community,” they said.

Peter Brunault, Esq., is a member of the legal team at the Employers Association of the Northeast (EANE), a nonprofit organization that traces its roots back to the early 1900s.  EANE considers its goal, “to promote sound employee/employer relations.”  With more than 900 members in a wide range of industries, such as manufacturing, finance and medicine, much of what Brunault does centers on the quest for work/life balance.

“The employee wants to have a job where they can contribute, be engaged, and be appreciated while having time for outside interests that might be personally important to them,” said Brunault. “As employers seek to attract and retain the very best talent for their organizations, they need to recognize this concept. Employers who take a proactive role in promoting the idea of work/life balance are making strides in attracting and keeping the best talent.”

Of late, achieving work/life balance has become an integral part of the Human Resource landscape.

“Organizations are seeking to have highly engaged employees,” he said. “Engaged employees are demanding a culture that not only meets their work needs but their life needs from talent management strategies, health and wellness initiatives, and employee recognition programs. HR is in a leadership role to strategize these needs for both the employer and employee.”

More than ever, employers and employees are more cognizant of the importance of the work/life balance.

“Employers are more willing than ever to recognize needs of an employee beyond the work place. Employers have created policies and dedicated benefits resources to employees’ overall well-being,” he said.

A Key to Employee Retention

That is certainly the case across Rhode Island’s accounting profession landscape where firms are implementing flexible work schedules, providing high-tech resources, instituting morale-boosting activities, and above all, listening to their employees.   

Kristin Fraser, Managing Partner of KPMG LLP’s Providence office, describes a corporate culture that serves to retain and attract employees.

“We believe it’s important to respect the person as a whole. Keeping up with interests outside of work allows our people to recharge and bring varied perspectives to their work,” said Fraser.

KPMG, for example, has had flextime for many years and allows workers to manage their personal and professional responsibilities.

“We have a culture of flexibility where our people are expected to get their work done, but frequently have control of when and where it gets done,” said Fraser.

Fraser said KPMG makes work/life a point of emphasis with all of its new hires.

“We talk about work/life balance throughout people’s careers and provide tips to help our professionals develop personalized strategies that work for them,” she said. “This varies depending on the role they play in the firm and their personal circumstances. We also emphasize that work and personal commitments ebb and flow. There will be times over the course of a career that work may require extra effort, and times when an individual’s personal life may require more attention. We recognize this and support our employees over the long-term.”

Fraser believes open lines of communication between employees and their supervisors go a long way toward achieving a work/life balance.

“Employees are encouraged to speak with their managers about the flexibility they need for personal commitments, while ensuring client needs are still being met,” she said.

 Renee Aloisio, a partner and Chief Operating Officer at LGC+D in Providence, has broad experience in human resources, negotiation, and conflict resolution.

“Experts advise us to consider work/life balance in terms of work/life integration.  This concept eliminates the word “balance” in attempt to mitigate the pressure of trying to achieve continual balance between work and personal life,” said Aloisio.

Like Fraser, Aloisio too points to the importance of building true lines of communication with employees.

“We strive for continuous improvement in communication and advocacy,” she said.  “It is important for those who desire and those who provide flexibility to have the confidence to ask for what they want and need.  There are times when asking for and accommodating needs for flexibility can add pressure, that’s when effective communication and negotiation skills can be used to create win/win solutions.  Taking the time to talk and collaborate with our employees adds significant value to the employee/employer relationship.”

LGC+D’s Women Count initiative is a unique and expanding program specifically designed for women by female leaders of the firm.  It was formed around a simple premise: to support women in business and in life, to eliminate the glass ceilings that prevent career advancement, to serve as a network of support, guidance and mentorship and to help other women in and around the community.  

Jessica Santamaria of LGC+D leads the planning and execution of events and programs for Women Count, including writing and maintaining the Women Count blog.  She is also actively involved in internal efforts to re-engineer the firm’s culture to support work/life integration.

Forums created to seek insight from employees resulted in initiatives that have helped create a culture where life outside of the office matters.  For example, LGC+D has a flextime policy and “early release Fridays” which allow employees to start their summer weekends at 2 p.m.

“Employees have expressed great appreciation and enthusiasm regarding the strides we have made in this area,” said Santamaria.

Flexible work schedules represent just a piece of the puzzle when it comes to meeting the challenge of work/life balance.

“At LGC+D, we have our eyes on the future,” she added. “We are constantly surveying and researching trends in business, the economy, societal shifts, advancements in technology, and work behaviors.  We have been ahead of the curve and have created an environment where our employees want to succeed.”      

Work/Life Always a Work in Progress

Efforts on the part of employers to promote a culture where work and life find balance seem to produce a win-win situation. There is universal agreement that happier workers are more productive workers.

Fraser at KPMG believes that because the desire for work/life balance is shared by both employee and employer, it has become a more attainable goal.

“What has changed is that people are more upfront about their needs and desire for it,” said Fraser. “They discuss with their manager and teams about how to achieve it.”

As a result of this communication, CPA firms are getting better at meeting employee needs.

“Flexibility gives people options,” she said. “Our people utilize day-to-day flexibility with their direct manager to determine how to deliver to clients while managing needs in their personal lives.”

Aloisio agrees.

“Businesses are more comfortable with the concept and seem to be more effective when it comes to addressing employee needs,” she said. “While change is not always easy, organizations with a desire to be successful must be resourceful and find ways to accommodate the evolving needs of employees to benefit all parties involved.”

Brunault, of the EANE, sees progress. But he suggests that the quest for work/life balance will always be a challenge.

“Workers will work long and hard to preserve their lifestyle and meet their individual and family needs,” he said. “Work/life balance has and will always be a work in progress.”