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Work-Life Balance: A Strategic View (Part 1)

March 6, 2015

When Google surveyed over 5,000 employees, they found that just under three-quarters reported performing work activities, checking in with others on work projects, or just generally brainstorming about work during their non-work time. These “integrators” had little or no boundary between their work lives and non-work lives. The remaining employees were “segmentors” who kept a psychological barrier between the work and life domains. The typical assumption is that segmentors are better off and in some cases, this may be true. Research suggests that segmentation often relates to improved performance, satisfaction, and well-being.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

However, not everyone wants to segment. Although over half the integrators in the Google sample wanted more segmentation, the rest did not, meaning that a sizable proportion were perfectly content being integrators. For some, activities with family or friends may actually facilitate performance at work and vice versa. A parent who works remotely may find that being in the home allows for better fulfillment of his role as a father while the work he performs in between family-related tasks gives him a sense of energy and achievement. A young professional who discusses work tasks with friends during evenings out may gain insight while enjoying non-work interaction.

Clearly, not everyone balances work and life in the same way. If some employees are more satisfied and productive when segmenting while others benefit from integrating, what can a proactive organization do when designing work-life balance programs?

The key is understanding that differences exist and then offering options that appeal to individuals with different preferences. Like many other aspects of talent management, improving work-life balance for your top talent will involve really understanding your employees and responding accordingly.

Communication is Key

Talk to your employees about what work-life balance means to them as individuals. Save work-life discussions until after an individual is hired, as discussions of many work-life balance topics (marital status, whether or not someone has children) are inadvisable, if not illegal, to discuss prior to hire. A few simple questions should help employees self-reflect to identify their preferences by using thoughtful inquiry. What types of demands do employees have on their time at work as well as outside of work? Do they feel that any of these demands are in conflict? And perhaps most importantly, do they wish they could separate work and non-work life, or do they actually enjoy having a more fluid boundary?

If competing work/life demands are getting in the way of employees’ performance or satisfaction, then policies can be implemented that fit their desired integrator/segmentor styles. High segmentors may favor a flexible start/end schedule and a “no work emails after end of day” policy. High integrators, on the other hand, may benefit from telecommuting or on-site childcare.

Although any work-life balance efforts are better than none, targeting your efforts to the unique characteristics of your top talent can make the difference in maximizing their potential and productivity.

Andrew