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Is Work-Life Balance Dead?

Many in today’s workforce seek flexibility not because they’re trying to get away with something, but because they so closely integrate work efforts into their overall life.

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I recently read an article titled “Work Life Balance is Dead” by Ron Friedman, a social psychologist and author of the newly published book, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. For many reading this, I probably don’t need to get too heavily into the details; you’re already nodding based on the title alone. As I write this article from my home, very early on a Sunday morning while the rest of my family sleeps, I am nodding as well.

In his article, Friedman argues that, while work-life balance is increasingly becoming a myth, employers should be having frank discussions on how to better address employee needs within this modern cultural standard. Friedman says that allowing for schedule flexibility actually improves the quality of work employees engage in, while allowing for a work-life situation that becomes more amenable to quality of life.

I tend to agree with Friedman, that many in today’s workforce seek flexibility not because they’re trying to get away with something, but because they so closely integrate work efforts into their overall life. The days of ‘clocking out,’ for many of us, are buried in the distant memories of work before email. But while Friedman stresses the idea of work flexibility, I couldn’t help but wonder how businesses with more stringent scheduling requirements might help address employee wants and needs. For example, functional areas like customer service, warehouse, or even sales often require a specific set of hours in order to ensure the right resources are allocated: Somebody has to be there to pick up the phone, pack for same-day shipping or see that the client’s service levels are up to par when the order arrives.

So, if you can’t improve flexibility for certain workers, what can you do? I’d encourage you to visit IMPO's sister publication, Industrial Distribution's page 16 of their January/February print issue to read about HUB Industrial Supply, a FL-based distributor of industrial products. HUB has grown like wildfire over the last ten years, and company president Gabriel Curry spent much of our interview talking about the role employees have played in the company’s success. Curry especially stressed the concept of empowerment: HUB employees are trusted to make business decisions in situations a lot of companies would wrap in red tape. Additionally, incentive-based pay means HUB offers monetary growth while still tying compensation back to metrics that relate to customer service improvement objectives and revenue goals. Like the concept of work-life flexibility, these efforts result in a culture that’s motivated, and employees who often prove their worth in hard work and loyalty. And done right, these valuable opportunities pay for themselves.

So, I’m curious to know: What soft benefits do you provide in order to keep a happy, balanced workforce? If you can’t think of one or two right off the bat, I’d encourage you to sit down with a few key employees to get their feedback on what kinds of efforts – cultural, or otherwise – would mean something to them. We see the talent gap getting worse, not better, and distribution is feeling this challenge acutely. Businesses will lose good employees – existing or prospective – if they don’t take seriously the value of the total package. As we kick off a new year, now would be a good time to take a fresh look at your policies, with the understanding that compensation is not the only benefit an employee may be looking for. If work-life balance is truly dead, you’ll have to weigh the ‘life’ part equally and, in many cases, find a way to address worker needs in a more nuanced way.

Feedback? Email me at [email protected].