Lack of Work/Life Balance Driving Employees Out

Thursday Jan 26th 2006 by Sharon Gaudin
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A new survey shows that one in five workers wants to quit their job this year to pursue a more balanced life. What are companies doing wrong and how can you retain good people?

Now that jobs aren't as scarce as they were just a few years ago, a lot of workers are sitting back and assessing just how happy they are in their current positions.

And a big part of their decision will center around whether they have a balance between their work lives and their home lives. Are they spending too much time at work? Are they waking up or coming home stressed? Do their bosses give them time to go see their kid's school play or softball game?

For many workers, that balance is off -- way off -- and the solution may very well be to find a new job.

According to a new survey commissioned by Key Group, a management training and consulting company based in Pittsburgh, Pa., one out of five workers plans to quit their job this year to pursue a more balanced life.

''That is a high number but I actually think it's higher in some places,'' says Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky, chief executive officer and founder of Key Group. ''I always joke about standing outside a corporation and stopping employees to ask, 'Are you happy to be here today?'. ''I believe work places miss the mark when they don't need to. If you think about what most people need at work, it doesn't always cost money. It isn't always a big deal. Some of the things we don't do as executives take less time than some of the things that we do wrong.''

The Internet-based survey, which was conducted by MMc Marketing Research and Consulting, polled 1,727 workers. It shows a high level of frustration among employees across various industries. The high tech sector, says Sujansky, is no different.

''I see this finding as an early warning of a huge turnover issue soon to face the U.S.,'' she says. ''Many companies simply don't have a culture that emphasizes work/life balance. There's a prevailing attitude among employers that employees are there to work and their personal life, or lack thereof, is irrelevant. Let me bluntly say that if you think this way, it will harm your company. Guaranteed.''

And Ryan Gilmore, who is with Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm based out of Menlo Park, Calif., says now that jobs are more plentiful again, the time is ripe for unsatisfied workers to start moving around.

''Having gone through the high-tech crash from '99 to 2003, those were tough times,'' says Gilmore. ''It impacted many, many different working professionals. At that time, people who did keep their jobs felt very fortunate... And people weren't treated so well during those times. Companies weren't generating revenue so there was a lot of pressure to perform and work extra hard because there was such a fear of losing that job.''

And those workers who weren't laid off had to deal with more than stress. They often had to pick up the extra workload left from their departed colleagues. In a lot of cases, IT workers had to say good-bye to their friends who had been let go and then they had to turn around and take on a second set of responsibilities. And with budgets tighter than ever, tech workers had to struggle to keep older systems running and to keep users happy with it.

But change is in the air.

''There's been a shift. The pendulum has gone the other way,'' he adds. ''As the economy started to expand again in 2004 and up to today, a lot of people did some soul searching and realized there's a lot more to life. Maybe they changed their outlook on what is really important to them, whether it's family or personal time.''

That means CIOs and IT managers better be thinking about what they can do to keep their employees from looking for greener pastures.

''Retention is critical,'' says Gilmore. ''These people are not easy to find, and turnover is very costly, in terms of productivity lost, intellectual capital and training expenses to rehire people. It's never a good time to lose an employee but when things are expanding so, the productivity has to go up and you need more people. If someone is well-skilled, you can't afford to lose them.''

Read on to find out what steps you can take to retain good employees.

Sujansky says now is the time for companies to be creative. They don't necessarily need to double workers' salaries (though that wouldn't hurt). There are a lot of things they can do for employees that won't drain the budget, but will make their people happier... and more productive.

''People leave because of pay and benefits, of course,'' says Sujansky, who notes that Baby Boomers are tired of the employment roller coaster so are less apt to put up with management nonsense, and the incoming Generation Y workers have seen their parents get laid off and lose their pensions so they have no interest in sticking it out with an employer that doesn't fit just right with them. ''There are things to do that don't cost so much money and it could really cause people to stay. When things get out of sync, people shake themselves off and say, 'Where are my priorities?'.

Retaining Employees

Here are some things that managers can do to make their employees happier and help them find that work/life balance:

  • Allow flexible work hours. Some people might find it easier to work longer hours Monday through Thursday and then have Fridays or every other Friday off. Maybe they'd rather come in really early and leave early to avoid rush-hour traffic. Find out what works for them and figure in how it can work for the company, too.
  • Recognize good work. Recognize and reward people for doing a good job or for trying something new. ''Coaching has to be a continual thing,'' says Sujansky. ''It's not just a six-month appraisal... A person needs to believe that you're invested in their growth and development.
  • Help employees who are struggling. Yelling and sarcasm aren't good management tools. Help workers correct what's wrong.
  • Communicate clearly. Sujansky points out that most companies have a very diverse workforce -- whether it's a mix of old and young workers, men and women, or people from different socio/economic backgrounds. ''Understand that what you say may not be what is heard by everyone,'' she says. ''There is a dire need to communicate in a way that you're sure that people get it. Say something four different times in four different ways.''
  • Encourage innovation. People like to be creative and some enjoy being on the cutting edge of technology. Support that.
  • Consider telecommuting. If a big report needs to be written, a worker might get it done faster and better if she's at home wearing her pajamas instead of in a bustling office with a lot of distractions. Maybe some employees can work at home on certain days of the week so they can be there when their kids get home from school, or simply to take a break from the commute.
  • Look at work hours. Are you simply forcing employees to put in too many hours at work? Al Borenstine, president of Synergistics Associates, a 34-year-old retained IT recruiter based in Chicago, says IT executives used to put in 45 hours a week. Today, that's often easily 75 or 80 hours. ''That's just a huge change,'' he says. ''I think it's pushing some people out of the profession.''
  • Location. Location. Location. Marjorie Bynum, a vice president with the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a major high-tech trade group based in Arlington, Va. says when company execs are considering where to open an office, they should consider how happy workers will be to live in the area. Does it have a good school system? Are there good universities or colleges in the area so employees can advance their own skills? Are there cultural benefits -- museums, sports teams, concert venues?
  • Offer in-house counseling. Some companies have internal counseling programs, where employees can seek advice without word of it going back to their bosses, says Bynum. Workers might appreciate advice on family problems or dealing with elderly parents.
  • Get in touch. Gilmore says it's critical that managers are tune with how their employees are feeling. Talk to people on a regular basis. Institute a regular survey where employees can anonymously list what they like about their jobs, along with what needs to be improved to make them happier.

    ''We need to concentrate on making the workplace a good place to be,'' says Sujansky. ''What's a shame is that we are losing really good people and work/life balance is one of the top issues over and over for why people leave... There's usually not one straw. Most places could be more productive and people could be more resilient but executives make all these little decisions that show that their employees are not important.''

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