The Case for Addressing Work-Life Balance Systemically

Instead of dealing with seemingly perpetual employee work-life balance issues on an individual, one-off basis, research suggests companies should make systemic changes to their traditional work policies that address this issue across their business.
This suggestion published as part of a recent Harvard Business Review article comes with stress levels tied to trying to achieve that balance climbing to an all-time high. At least in the United States. Seven in 10 American workers struggles with this issue, and those who are parents generally have the hardest times, finds a study published in American Sociological Review and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers conducted an experiment into potential solutions within a Fortune 500 company, specifically focused on 700 employees in the organization's IT department. The participants were generally middle-aged, highly skilled workers: more than 25 percent of them almost always worked more than 50 hours per week.
As part of the study, these employees were divided into two groups: one in which managers were specifically empowered to design policies and structure work arrangements that offered much more flexibility than in the past, and one that was subject to business-as-usual, with workers required to request special considerations to handle family matters.
It probably won't surprise you to hear that overall stress levels within the first group and the "sense of being pulled in two directions" was noticeably reduced during the six-month experiment.
"The people in the experimental group who were given more control over when and where they worked, almost doubled their average hours of work at home (from 10 to almost 20 per week," HBR reports. "These technology workers had the tools to telecommute prior to the workplace experiment, but they either had not been given discretion to do so or had not felt comfortable doing so. The 'permission' granted by the experiment freed workers to think about new ways of working, and many did so. The experiment also 'unfroze' managers from old ways of doing things."
IT services companies are faced with a particular challenge when it comes to managing work-life balance challenges. That's because many service technicians and solution architects are expected to put in "face time" at both client sites and at their home base back at headquarters.
But by addressing this reality head-on and coming up with viable solutions that are appropriate for the business – rather than leaving this up to individual workers and adding more stress to an already stressful situation – your company can both ameliorate both the short-term problem and create a supportive culture that could very well become a point of differentiation for talented new hires.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles,