Corporate culture and work-life balance

Should corporate culture and work-life be legislated?

Where should the responsibility of work-life initiatives lie? Should the government be weighing in with legislation, companies be ponying up resources or should we be our own work-life gurus?

Corporate cultures that have cultivated programs in which work-life balance is alive and well do reap financial rewards. Think SAS software as an example. Best Buy famously has employees set their own schedules – a retail organization? Really?

3 Critical Issues

There are 3 issues behind the questions posted by Judy Martin in her blog article Judge: Work-Life Guru Is Within, Not In Bloomberg C-Suite that deserve thought:

First, what is the “collective” responsibility for the individual well-being of a family? This is an argument that will never be won as long as we have a capitalist economy and people who can freely speak. Personally, I believe freedom creates a higher level of personal responsibility, and in that light all of us – women and men – must make hard choices and trade-offs – that’s the beauty of a truly free society.

Second, in a global economy increasingly challenged to compete in almost every industry, every leader is tasked to continuously “do more with less.” Unless you have been practicing Lean process principles for years, this can feel like a mission impossible – and results primarily in shifting bigger workloads to fewer employees. This stress is indeed a gender-neutral issue. American workers average approximately ten paid holidays per year while British workers average twenty-five holidays and German employees thirty. Americans work twelve weeks more a year in total hours than Europeans. Even when vacation time is offered in some U.S. companies, some choose not to take advantage of it. A 2003 survey by Management Recruiter International stated that fifty percent of executives surveyed didn’t have plans to take a vacation. They decided to stay at work and use their vacation time to get caught up on their increased workloads. [via Wikipedia on Work-Life-Balance]

Women OR men who choose to attend soccer games, leave work to take kids to doctor appointments, or keep to the 40 hour week to be home for dinner (and don’t take work home) will be naturally by-passed for promotion in comparison to those who are putting in 70 hours. Seems fair – ROI for individual effort should be rewarded. The leader faced with the hard choice to promote the Gen Y single gal working 70 hours every week v. the family-guy working 40 hours – when both are ambitious, insightful, and deserving in different ways? Not a call I’d want to make … but it’s the wrong place to put attention.  The right place is to put attention on cultivating more clarity of priorities so workloads don’t require 70 hours to get done. Further, the corporate world is not simply about the choice between family and work, but also the choice about whether you can stomach the ruthless games and sacrifices the corporation makes – including the lack of cultural value we place on truly collaborative styles of managing that allow everyone to share the load via give-and-take approach to supporting everyone’s work and life.

Supportive corporate cultures will better bottom lines

But the third issue is most central to the cause of improving business performance AND reclaiming people’s lives: True innovation of work-life balance will come from leaders who see organizational culture as a driver behind business performance and as a critical element of their business, like air and water are to growth in nature. Culture is the unseen element of what makes a company great. To invest in it as you do new technology or capital improvements is an ROI you can see and count on.  This means examining “work-life balance” beyond black-and-white, either/or policies – ie, and following through on the promise that people are what makes your business work. And people come with families and lives and they aren’t always convenient for the corporation.  A person’s outside life is not an invisible nuisance but an integral part of “Who I am and what I bring to your company.”  Remember the guy who worked nights and weekends for your product launch? Are you willing to delay a deadline so he can stay home with his newborn a couple of weeks (and not make his wife schedule a c-section to fit birth into the project deadline)? Life stages and phases are always in play for people, whether it’s attending grandma’s 90th birthday or staying home to breast-feed a newborn. Supporting employee’s whole lives – regardless of age or gender – is more than lip service. It means giving real teeth to policies that honor  fluidity of a give-and-take balance.

And that effort will always improve the overall financial position of the organization, because balanced people are happier, and happier employees work harder at work.

Demands will change old-guard corporate cultures

The good news is the younger generations will not only demand work-life balance innovation in the workplace – they will create it. They were raised by baby-boomer parents who gave up everything for “the almighty job” – to be rewarded with no job security and continuous layoffs. The “internet generation” believes they have a voice in everything – and will raise that voice to stand for what’s right.

“Who says I have to give up family to be an effective employee?”

In the meantime, I think raising our collective voices and spotlighting this subject is crucial. We are a stressed-out burned out society, and part of the reason is we’re all work and no play … making us perhaps richer in our bank accounts but perhaps poorer in what really counts – health and well-being.

Lisa Jackson and Gerry Schmidt are corporate culture experts. They teach leaders a proven method for evolving their corporate cultures to perform better, innovate faster, and show they truly care about people in an unprecedented era of rapid change and transformation.

Visit them on the web at www.CorporateCulturePros.com or follow them on Twitter at http://twitter.com/corporatecultur

5 Responses

  1. Hi folks,

    Oddly enough your post inspired me to write a new post. You talk about raising our collective voices in your article. And that means not only in the external venue of media and advocacy, but also internally in our organizations. That’s a difficult conversation. There doesn’t seem to be a fool proof way to do it across sectors but some companies seemed to have scored. That means they’re designing a workplace where they can foster an environment where they can “co-create conscious conversations” with employees. Corporate culture needs to shift in order to do that. Posts like yours, start the conversations that need to take place.

    @JudyMartin8

    • Lisa

      Judy, I appreciate you kicking off this dialogue – and really resonate with what you say. Your view that “co-creating conscious conversations” is both essential and difficult in our workplaces. There is no “cookie cutter” solution for work life balance or for any of the challenging dilemmas we face in a global economy. But “we the people” – the same species who put men on the moon and invented the internet – can surely innovate work environments that are both efficient and caring through courageous and participatory conversations. Thank you for being an affirming voice in this conversation! Lisa Jackson

  2. […] a recent post at CorporateCulturePros.com the authors address the monumental task of convincing companies to embrace the family part of the […]

  3. Well done, Lisa. Your blog on Corporate Culture and Work-Life Balance couldn’t be more timely. It hits home on two levels for me, personally and professionally.

    Until recently, due to the impossible demands of an under-staffed Fortune 500 corporation (I’ll leave un-named) my husband was coming home over-stressed, unfulfilled and bereft of spirit. He’d always dreamed of working for this company, and once achieved, he was unable to contribute to his full potential and desire due to the “old-guard culture” you describe. He expressed his dissatisfaction and proposed solutions over the course of five plus years to no avail. When he decided to throw in the towel, mourn the loss of his dream, and began to search for someplace to work that would take advantage of his unique talents, he recieved two excellent offers (and even a pointless counter-offer from his now old employer, as they couldn’t address his rationale for leaving). Now he is (and I am) hopeful that the new organization will provide an environment responsive and supportive of the innovative and productive person that he is when free from the shackles of the old culture.

    For myself, as a professional Leadership, Career and Life Coach, I work with individual clients who are struggling with these same issues. They seek me out, independent of their organization’s internal offering of coaching, because they don’t trust their employer or internal coach to work with them in a way that is best for them. There is a lot of the “old guard culture” packed into that perception. While some of these clients have coaching outcomes to assist them with managing themselves to stay within the organization in a healthier way, just as many are seeking to manage their transition out of the organization into a more balanced employer relationship, working on their own work-life balance “way of being” as well. Yet these organziations don’t seem to recognize this as a dire symptom of a life-threatening illness within the organism that is the organization.

    I am engaged in my Michigan professional coaching community around this issue and hope to influence organizations and individuals to get engaged as well. Thank you for contributing so well to the conversation and leading the way as you are as corporate culture change-makers . Sincerely, Kathy Igoe

  4. Until recently, due to the impossible demands of an under-staffed Fortune 500 corporation (I’ll leave un-named) my husband was coming home over-stressed, unfulfilled and bereft of spirit. He’d always dreamed of working for this company, and once achieved, he was unable to contribute to his full potential and desire due to the “old-guard culture” you describe. He expressed his dissatisfaction and proposed solutions over the course of five plus years to no avail. When he decided to throw in the towel, mourn the loss of his dream, and began to search for someplace to work that would take advantage of his unique talents, he recieved two excellent offers (and even a pointless counter-offer from his now old employer, as they couldn’t address his rationale for leaving). Now he is (and I am) hopeful that the new organization will provide an environment responsive and supportive of the innovative and productive person that he is when free from the shackles of the old culture.
    +1

    • Wow, what a heartening example of the misalignment between a person and the organization they dedicate themselves to.
      So glad you are finding a better corporate culture for your talents!

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