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LTT Business Bulletin - July 2014

Don Holley, Chair of our Senior Executive Group, talks about

The Balancing Act – Working to Live.


What makes a valuable employee? What is the difference between someone who works long hours and has little time for the “outside” world, and a truly engaged worker? These questions are at the heart of a social revolution currently underway in workplaces across the world. For some time academics and social scientists have noted an interesting shift in employee’s priorities: as a general rule more and more workers are choosing careers and positions that enhance their personal lives rather than the traditional “living to work” mentality of previous generations.

There may be several reasons for this change in attitude and behaviour, including:

* The advent of internet-based technologies, allowing more and more people to work from home
* More women going back to work after having children, giving men the ability to step away from the primary bread winner role
* The willingness of companies to offer flexible working conditions as incentives

It has also been argued that Generation Y are forcing companies to change their expectations of workers simply because they place more emphasis on their personal lives – they expect more from work but are less willing to devote themselves to a company. While this is a generalisation, it does indicate how the perception of employees and their needs are changing. From the sheer amount of research and thought leadership devoted to the concept of happy, effective workers, it is clear that companies and their HR departments are increasingly ready to embrace the idea of “working to live”.

The question remains, however, does having a work/life balance make for more effective employees? Many studies such as the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index have found that happier employees are more effective. They are more productive, more willing to take on extra work or to seek out challenges, and ultimately more loyal and committed to the organisation. This is particularly true if they feel as though they are valued as a “complete” person – someone with a family, friends and important personal interests – rather than simply a worker who does not exist outside the company.

In order to create a workplace that values the individual as well as business goals is to have appropriate HR policies and procedures on work/life balance that apply from the recruitment stage, through development, performance assessment and mentoring of employees. Other effective ways to align the requirements and values of the business with those of individual workers include:

* Senior management “walking the talk”: good intentions and HR policies mean little if employees are getting mixed messages from their managers on having a good work/life balance. Management should ensure that they provide good examples when it comes to policies such as flexible working hours.
* Having resources and assistance available in times of personal crisis or emergencies
* Encouraging workers to solve problems creatively and streamlining work to ensure the most efficient use of time, rather than relying on long hours or overtime to finish projects or tasks.
* Conducting regular career conversations with employees to determine personal goals and aspirations.

Having happy, motivated and effective employees is rapidly becoming a key point of difference between businesses as younger generations enter the workforce and society moves from a “live to work” mentality to one in which work should enhance and support personal lives. Companies need to not only be seen to value individuals and their needs but also reward those who have achieved an ideal work/life balance.

Don Holley chairs our Senior Executive group SE1 and he has brought together a dynamic group of execs who meet on the 3rd Thursday of each month. Know someone who would benefit from membership in a group like this ? Contact Don at don.holley@leadershipthinktank.com.au