Employee Retention Tactics, Part 5: The Pros and Cons of Work-Life Balance Policies
My series on employee retention strategies comes to an end with this last entry focusing on the pros and cons of select work-life balance policies, and the potential overall impacts they can have on your teams and organization.
Employers need to be quick to ensure they recognize and address the changing needs of their workforce, and one topic that is increasingly becoming a focus of that discussion is work-life balance.
Although many young companies have some form of work-life policies in place, one might wonder how beneficial these policies are to employees or if they are just another tactic to attract and retain top talent. That said, I wanted to take a moment to think about these policies and understand the true benefits or potential disadvantages they impose on both employees and employers.
Unlimited Vacation Policy/Personal Time
A lot of young companies are moving towards providing employees with the option to take unlimited paid vacation as opposed to providing them with a set amount. The only criteria or caveat is that it should not prevent employees from achieving their goals or targets.
The benefits of this policy are obvious – having more time off is always refreshing and allows employees to take longer vacations or not be concerned about adding a couple of days to their weekend and rejuvenating after a long project.
A potential downside would be employees taking advantage or abusing this privilege, which could result in lower productivity and performance.
Additionally, in many cases, not having a mandatory set vacation policy (e.g., 2-3 weeks/per year) can actually be used as an excuse for some employees not to take any time off at all and over exhaust themselves. This could result in several negative outcomes leading to higher stress levels, health issues, and lower overall productivity levels. One argument for providing employees with a set amount of vacation time is that it allows them to plan ahead and enjoy their holidays, whilst being cognizant that they are required to take time off during the year.
About Those Personal Days
In addition to vacation and sick days, some employers choose to provide their employees with personal days (e.g., taking time off for health appointments, emergencies, moving, errands etc.). This is a great incentive for employees as they can decide how to use this time and not have to be forced to run their errands or schedule appointments outside of office hours or use their vacation time. This can also save the organization costs of having unproductive employees if they are performing personal errands during the workday. It is important for the organization to emphasize and monitor that these days are not to be used towards or appended on to vacation time, as that would defeat the purpose of this policy.
Working from Home/Flexible Hours
Working from home has always been a contested topic amongst employers and employees. Many organizations choose to implement this policy with the hopes that it allows some employees to save time from commuting far distances, avoid relocating, or in some cases accommodate their needs to be at home for personal reasons (e.g., taking care of a child or family member).
This can be advantageous for some employees, as they may be more likely to take a job where they have the flexibility to work from home on occasion or on a regular basis. It also portrays that the employer has a vested interest in ensuring that the employee remains happy in their role.
Another similar offering is flexible time. Given that our lives no longer revolve around the 9-5 concept, this allows employees to manage their day by arriving and leaving early or vice versa, in order to accommodate to circumstances related to their personal lives.
Both of these options have their benefits, however if not managed correctly, they can also lead to disastrous outcomes. For example, some employees may presume that by working from home they don’t have to work the full amount of hours in a day. They may take longer breaks, not remain engaged with their teams, and potentially even use the time to establish their own businesses (as was recently discovered to be the case by Yahoo executives with some of their employees).
Additionally, if you as an organization are attempting to establish a team or corporate culture, which revolves around team building, innovation, exchanging of ideas, and organizing social events, having employees work from home might impede your efforts to do so.
Catered Meals/Fully Stocked Kitchens
Lastly, most (if not all) employees consider catered meals and fully stocked kitchens a great privilege. They don’t have to spend time preparing meals or snacks beforehand and can allocate that time elsewhere. They can also save big on the costs of purchasing their own meals and snacks.
However, all health reasons aside (that is a completely different discussion), if not implemented correctly, this too could also have the opposite effects than initially intended.
By providing employees with catered or take out lunches and other meals, the intention is to foster a sense of team culture by taking breaks and having meals together. Additionally, it also allows for employees to manage their workday by not wasting time/effort seeking out their food options on a daily basis.
However, from personal experience, although of course most people enjoy engaging with their teams during their breaks, in a lot of cases, they choose to put this extra time towards their work or performing personal errands, which of course is understandable at times. Thus, perhaps hosting regular lunch and learns and other similar activities to bring everyone together is an even better way to help increase employee engagement in the work place.
Finding the Right Balance in Work-Life Balance Policies
In my view, although employers are beginning to understand the changing needs of their workforce, employees should recognize that certain privileges were virtually non-existent for the previous generations within the workforce. By providing your employees with additional incentives such as unlimited vacation time, flexible time, work from home/telecommuting options, and catered lunches, it will allow potential and current employees to perceive your organization as an employer of choice and facilitate higher levels of work-life balance amongst employees.
However, in order to have these policies remain effective and avoid becoming abused, companies should establish clear policies and guidelines to avoid adverse outcomes outlined above. This entails regular monitoring and evaluation of current policies by obtaining feedback from employees participating, and deriving the benefits or those observing the implications of these policies on organizational priorities. Based on the data collected, organizations should adapt the policies accordingly to ensure mutual benefits are being attained.
What work-life balance policies does your company provide? Have they been successful?
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