Every organization wants “A” players on its team. Further, a company’s ability to get maximum performance from the minimum amount of staff is always a great challenge. In the war for talent in the 1990s, many companies embraced a variety of work-life balance initiatives to recruit and keep top employees. While foosball tables, gyms and onsite daycares may not be in vogue anymore, employers are still facing a new generation of workers with different views and expectations about work and life balance. The lines between work life and personal life are not as clear as they used to be.
During these lean times, it would be easy for management to take the position “my employees should just be thankful they have a job.” While that may be the reality, it is also shortsighted. Decisions made now will impact the long-term performance of your company, especially as we eventually pull out of the current recession. Studies consistently show that most companies only tap a small percentage of the true potential of their employees. For years, forward-thinking organizations having been experimenting with how to harness the potential of their teams through work-life balance initiatives. For those innovative organizations, this often results in being named to “Best Places to Work” lists. Interestingly, studies have shown that public companies named to these type lists have outperformed the overall market.
One example of a Mississippi firm employing these type initiatives is GranthamPoole, a sixty-five employee public accounting firm based in Jackson. The norm for years in the world of accounting has been for employees to slave away long hours during the long spring tax season, which usually runs from the beginning of January through April 15. Recognizing that this can have a detrimental impact on both employees and their families, the firm tried a bold initiative last year to limit everyone to 45-hour work weeks and only four pre-specified work Saturdays during tax season. According to one of the founding partners, Jim Poole, “We wanted to pro-actively improve the quality of life for our employees, which has resulted in a more balanced and happier workforce.” Poole acknowledged that the shift has not been easy and has taken a lot of commitment from the firm to try and create workflow that is more evenly distributed throughout the year. Poole further noted that “we have been pleased with the results and believe that it is helping us attract and keep talented workers.”
As more jobs are based on intellectual know-how and service standards, creating win-win partnerships with employees will be critical. Many pioneering companies in the work-life arena found that even though they were putting in good programs, it still was not creating the intended results. The problem is that work-life balance programs are not “one size fits all.” It really involves a dual commitment from employees and employers. I believe that successful companies should be creative and innovative in their work-life structure and in return expect employees to contribute maximum effort to achieving the company goals. On a practical note, a best practice that is evolving is to make training courses relevant to both life and work. Research indicates that strategies for time management, planning, etc. that can be taught from a whole life perspective significantly increase adoption and execution in the workplace.
For employers, these type work-life changes may mean breaking with years of habit. As GranthamPoole demonstrated in tackling the longstanding tradition of working brutal hours during tax season, positive change can be made with winning results. As your company is looking for that competitive edge, perhaps it is time to honestly think about the output of your team and the opportunities to improve performance and attitude with some bold work-life initiatives. Companies that do will be best poised for the challenges of 21st century employment.
Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.