How Do You Reconcile The Need for Work-Life Balance with a Culture of High Engagement?

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 29 September 2015

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Work-Life balance has long been a topic of conversation when talking about issues that need to be addressed to increase employee engagement and satisfaction. I started my career as a public accountant. Especially during tax season, it was not unusual or unexpected for auditors to work 60 to 80 hours per week. When we thought about work-life balance, it meant that for those few hours when we were not working, the last thing we wanted to do was to think about the office or our jobs. There really was a very clear line between our work and personal life and they only converged if we attended a company social event like a holiday party. So when we attended social events or got together with family or friends, we directed our conversations and discussions to other things that were important to us, like friends, hobbies, family, travel, etc. 

I have a friend who is an airline mechanic for a major airline. He works long hours and has a one year old baby at home. Despite having a pretty interesting and exciting job, he rarely wants to talk about his work when we get together socially. If I want to learn more about his company, I have to probe and try to redirect conversation from ones focused on his baby, what he does with the little free time he has, and his current home remodeling projects.

Today, with the dramatic increase in social media, mobile devices, and the increasing use of technology; the line between our personal and work lives has blurred. We check work emails on our personal phones and tablets, we use Facebook, Pinterest, and Linked In to post activities and events to our network of both business and personal associates, and we are generally accessible to anyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So how do we create a culture of high employee engagement and meet the needs of employees to balance their personal and work lives? The answer lies in our efforts to create brand and company advocates who believe in the company vision, strategy and brand promise, are excited to tell others about it and are proud to talk about the company they work for. When that happens, employees talk about their companies and jobs with the same enthusiasm they have when they talk about their hobbies or personal activities. 

Companies that have created a culture that supports a healthy work-life balance have done things like:

  • Establish collaborative work spaces and environments where people can get to know each other and share their interests
  • Have flexible work hours and options to tele-commute or work from home
  • Focus on achievement of goals and objectives rather than time driven work schedules.
  • Reward and recognize achievement and not simply time served. As a public accountant, I remember people talking about the number of hours they worked like it was a badge of achievement. There is an interesting commercial for a car company running in which an employee is the first one to leave the office, while all of the other employees are looking out the window with envy. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen employees sitting at their desks unproductively, waiting for the boss to leave. 
  • Provide opportunities for employees to share their interests (hobbies, events, families, etc.) with others with social media platforms, events, or activities. Large organizations can take a lesson from family held businesses that often create a culture that truly feels like an extension to the employee’s family.

A company that adequately addresses the need for work-life balance commits to creating a culture in which employees are informed, understand the relevancy of what they do to the big picture, commit to delivering on the strategy and brand promise, and are rewarded and recognized for their efforts. This results in a culture of high engagement in which the performance of the company improves dramatically, and the employees come to work energized and excited about their role and impact, and want to talk about it both at work and in their personal lives. Specifically, employees:

  • Are excited and enthused
  • Are less aware of the passage of time at work
  • Can identify their roles and tasks with a greater purpose or vision
  • Think about questions or challenges posed by their work in their spare time
  • Invite other into their enthusiasm

The end result is that work-life balance no longer becomes a barrier to high engagement. The lines between our personal lives and our work lives have blurred. And the more companies do to embrace that convergence, the higher probability that they will create a culture in which employees become true advocates for the company and brand in both their social and business circles.