August 23, 2019 – Even as some organizations ponder shorter official work weeks, more and more jobs are coming with the expectation, sometimes unspoken, that employees should be available at any time. Bosses may think they’re squeezing extra productivity out of their direct reports, but it’s that type of pressure that can depress employee engagement.
In one recent survey by LinkedIn, in fact, 80 percent of working adults say they feel increased job stress on Sunday nights. In one notorious example, the CEO of one firm said she texted prospective job candidates at random times on Sunday and ruled out those who don’t respond promptly.
“Juggling work and personal responsibilities is a continuing concern in sustaining engagement and performance,” said Mark Royal, senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory, in a new report. In a recent Korn Ferry survey, 36 percent of employees surveyed expressed concerns about their large workloads and questioned whether their employers were helping them achieve a reasonable work/life balance. The data has implications for employee retention as well. Among employees committed to staying with their current employers for more than five years, 72 percent said they are getting support for work/life balance. Among those thinking of leaving in the next year, however, the number falls to just 40 percent.
Smartphones and apps have made the idea of the five-day, 9 to 5 work schedule as antiquated as a rotary telephone. “Sure, those tools give workers more freedom to choose where and when they work,” said the Korn Ferry report. “But they have also contributed to a rise in anxiety and a feeling that work can invade their personal lives at the push of a send button.” In another Korn Ferry poll, nearly one quarter of workers said they’re either always or frequently feel burnt out on the job.
Striking the Right Balance
The challenge for leaders is to strike a balance between the fast pace of the continuously changing global business cycle and creating a culture that values employee well-being. “Clear norms and expectations are likely to cut through the dread somewhat,” said Mr. Royal. “If the organizational culture values giving employees time to recharge on the weekend, then leaders and managers need to model accordingly by refraining from sending email messages or issuing work. But, if the nature of the business or role requires employees to be continuously connected, then that expectation can be communicated clearly — perhaps with extra flexibility afforded to employees in handling personal responsibilities during the week.”
How to Best Balance Work and Summer Holiday Time
Nearly two-thirds of professionals (63 percent) say they have cut short vacations because of occupational demands and pressure to perform at work, according to a Korn Ferry survey. The study also found that nearly three quarters (73 percent) said they would prefer a higher salary over more vacation days.
“To be sure, the nature of work is much more unpredictable now and taking time to plan and reflect on the week ahead can be beneficial,” said Nathan Blain, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global leader for organization strategy and digital transformation. “Work is also much more collaborative these days, with employees working across multiple teams often in multiple geographies.”
For some employees, finding those moments where they can think about what needs to be done can be a valuable driver of engagement, Mr. Blain said. For instance, roughly 20 percent of respondents to the Korn Ferry survey said they check in with work at least once a day while on vacation because they “enjoy it.”
“Long-term solutions to work/life balance issues “need to focus on helping employees work smarter,” said Mr. Royal. “Enabling more efficient work environments can increase engagement and motivation. Even when workloads are heavy, employees are likely to feel far better about staying late or coming in early if they are working on tasks with a clear and compelling purpose, provided with adequate resources and support from colleagues, and given the authority necessary to make decisions about how best to accomplish their objectives.”
Top Recruiters Weigh In
“We routinely assess the ability to think creatively, critically and productively about the issues facing our clients which we will have to respond to,” said Mark Firth, managing partner at Taplow Executive Search. “As well, we discuss these issues with both our clients and prospective candidates for senior roles. The notion that thoughts, creativity and communication should only happen during the work week is naïve and truly out of touch with reality. What we read, think about and share with our colleagues outside of normal business hours is part of what we see as differentiating committed and inspired professionals and executives from merely competent or capable executives,” he said.
“Very few executives and senior professionals would even begin to think that the best ideas for innovation, new or better approaches or product development are developed within the confines of the so-called normal work week,” said Mr. Firth. “The objections that individuals have about maintaining quality of life and quality work-life balance when they are trying to advance based on competency ignores the reality that getting measurable work done during the normal work week is only part of what leads to personal and professional success.”
The leader who calls, emails or messages over the weekend or other non-office time is merely demonstrating that he or she does think over the weekends about how will we grow, how will we improve process or how will we otherwise enhance the success of our business, said Mr. Firth. “Professionals and executives receiving these messages can choose – am I part of the way forward or otherwise. Work/life balance inherently means that there will be times during the normal work week when we might need to excuse ourselves but that is a privilege and reward for being part of strategic and operational ideation and communication at other times. If we do not adapt to the changes in work, we and our organizations might well become irrelevant,” he said.
“If the discussion with employees stops with less time in the office, or if remote, connected hours, it falls short,” said Jason Hanold, CEO and managing partner of Hanold Associates. “This is more about the expectation of balancing with work/life integration. Too many employers give the perks but do not address the expectation shift. Added perks without change in expectations is a significant issue for employers. As new days off or flexibility comes, there is an initial excitement, but soon people adapt, and then come to expect more, especially if there is not a discussion about enhanced accountability or responsibility within the construct of the new reward,” he said.
“Our team has decided that we work from home on Mondays. This is a great day to stay responsive and connected, yet tackle the things that you could do over the weekend without taking away from your time with family,” said Mr. Hanold. “This integrates our lives into our workday. With supreme flexibility throughout the week, the expectation balance is that every now and again, we may need to address a client need on the weekend. The team feels a less stressed environment throughout the week, enabling better performance and engagement. This extends to how we model our firm in teams, rather than as individual contributors. It allows the individuals to take a relaxing vacation without feeling as though their work back home has stopped, or is not progressing, because their team moves it ahead. There are lots of freedoms and flexibilities, and the team in turn responds with a strong willingness to integrate work into their lives,” he added.
No one really seems to question planned PTO, remote access, flex hours, childcare needs and ‘summer Fridays,’ said Mr. Lamster. “While all of our ‘devices’ make it easier to be on-call 24/7, informal limits are being set, particularly by Millennials who seem to view work less as a necessity and more as a daily inconvenience to be managed. It is only in companies who have not dealt with substantive work/life balance issues that this is an actual issue. These companies are also fewer and farther between,” he added. “Most companies are clearly focused on hiring key talent and most have made tremendous strides in order to attract and retain talent at all levels.”
“The most important thing to consider when discussing work/life balance is that it means different things to different people, or at least it should,” said Jose Ruiz, CEO and managing partner of Alder Koten. “It starts with the employee’s circumstances and what he or she values the most. Some employees may want a clean cut between work and non-work schedules. They don’t want to be bothered outside of work and they are willing to have a rigid schedule to achieve that,” he said.
“Others may prefer a highly mixed and integrated schedule that blurs the lines between work and personal life,” said Mr. Ruiz. “Some employees don’t mind responding to an email on the beach because…they are on the beach! It means they are not tied to a desk most of the day. It’s all about a match in what the employee and employer want and expect. There is no single formula for success in work/life balance. The best companies know that and will accommodate different circumstances,” he said.
“Nordic concepts of lagoon (Swedish for living a balanced life) and Niksen (Danish for doing something without a purpose) are encouraged to reduce stress, create life balance, and promote creativity in problem solving,” said Tom Spry, founder and leader of Tom Spry Executive Search. “We should look at our time off and vacation as a means to ‘recharge our batteries’ and come back to work with a fresh outlook and renewed hustle. The time our connected workforce takes to achieve this is different and not uncommon to need a ‘break’ from their break,” he said.
“As a recruiter for the higher education sector, candidates are still certainly interested in the professional opportunity of increased salary, career upward mobility, increased position and responsibility, but more frequently they are asking about the quality of life issues and the culture and climate of an institution,” said Alan Medders, search consultant at Higher Education Leadership Search. “When we prepare a position profile, our firm always features the benefits of the communities; i.e. lakes, parks, recreation, arts, music, community festivals, etc., where these colleges and universities are located. The institutions want these ancillary benefits to be attractive for potential employees but the institutional leaders, at all levels, must then afford the time for their employees and their families to utilize these valuable commodities that represent a quality of life,” he said.
“No matter what these additional benefits may be, if an employee is continually interrupted by their supervisor/s, over business matters outside normal business work schedules, when they are spending time with their family or personally recharging themselves, the employee will begin to question whether to stay or leave the organization,” said Mr. Medders. “When organizations tout mottos like, ‘this is a wonderful place to live, work and play,’ they must remember that work is only a third of that equation and the other two-thirds can provide rejuvenating energy to the employee to actually work harder knowing they are valued as an employee and a person.”
“At Wilton & Bain, we are good at helping our employees have a quality work/life balance,” said Clare Elliott, group people & brand director at the firm. “From finishing early on a Friday to supporting flexible working and offering wellbeing sessions which help individuals invest in themselves. There are times where this balance can be challenging and we will continue to listen to our employees and continue to adapt to support them. The investment in healthy employees means we have a strong and happy team which can bring great results internally and for our clients,” she said.
“It’s imperative that employers support a work/life balance in order to retain happy, healthy employees who enjoy their job,” said Geoff Champion, chairman, CEO & founder of ChampionScott Partners. “No one blanket strategy to achieve this goal is going to work for every industry, position or leader but keeping an open line of communication with your employees and ensuring they feel valued will help to keep them happy at work.” In today’s digital age, he added, “it’s easy to expect people to be accessible 24/7 but expectations shouldn’t be that work is an employee’s priority 100 percent of the time. Understanding and respecting that line while setting your organizations expectations up front will help employees to balance their lives and feel empowered in the process,” said Mr. Champion.
“Working from home, flexibility with employees with young children, ability to participate in children’s school programs, and personal days are part of helping our employees have a better work/life balance,” said Roland Lundy, operating partner at Buffkin / Baker. “Sometimes, through clients demands, it makes working at night and on weekends inevitable. I believe if you are overall flexible with your employee personal needs then when the time comes to work at night or even the weekend they will be more than willing to help. It is a balancing act to be flexible to protect your employees personal time but also be responsive to the clients and candidates you serve,” said Mr. Lundy.
“The concept of work/life balance is one that is very individual and also varies across different culture,” said Rohan Carr, president of the executive board and global leader of the education practice group at IRC Global Executive Search Partners. “The world of work has certainly changed and while people are looking for and achieving greater flexibility, nevertheless people in senior roles in my experience also recognize that contributions outside ‘traditional’ work hours are the norm.”
“I believe the issue of ‘work-life’ balance is often something that masks a deeper issue for the employee,” said Mr. Carr. “Is the individual being truly stretched, developed, recognized, rewarded, promoted, engaged, trained and communicated with? I think when an organization is able to engage fully with employees the need to ‘occasionally respond to the boss outside work hours’ does not really become a big issue. Engagement is the key,” he added.
“One way we seek to ensure a semblance of ‘balance’ for our team is through a ‘no work on Sunday’ policy,” said Steve Hayes, senior partner of The Human Capital Group. “This is a declared day for faith, family and rest…or whatever our team members want to focus on, but not work! It is a small but intentional gesture to ensure we all have a day to ‘re-charge’…and come into the new week with a fresh and re-energized perspective to serve our clients.”
“The problem with defining ‘work/life’ balance in concrete terms is that it varies with the individual and with their chosen career,” said Vinda Souza, vice president of global communications at Bullhorn. “Some people find their ideal balance of work time to personal time to be 80-20, others 50-50, and while there isn’t a right answer per se, I do think that both sides – employees and employers – need to be flexible and act on good faith.”
“Employees will stick around if an employer treats them like human beings with responsibilities outside the office and isn’t militant about the hours they work and how they get their work done, as long as it’s done well,” said Ms. Souza. Conversely, she added, “with the ubiquity of digital media, it isn’t that much to ask for an employee to scan their work emails in the evening or on weekends, provided they are given that flexibility to attend to personal responsibilities during work hours on occasion. It’s a quid pro quo, and it works well if there is a foundation of trust, empathy, accountability, and goodwill on both sides.”
“The riddle of the ‘perfect work/life balance’ is one that professionals have been trying to crack for eternity,” said Sam Wallace, global head of the technology practice Carmichael Fisher. “What we know now is that it’s unsolvable, understanding that rather than finding balance, we must learn to select and prioritize and in fact, it is incredibly personal.”
“For a team to thrive and achieve personal goals and the goals of the business, leadership must create an environment where individuals are empowered to make the right decision – where they are trusted,” said Ms. Wallace. At Carmichael Fisher, she continued, “this philosophy motivates our team and drives collective success. We believe that higher performance and higher flexibility are correlated. Implementing this freedom creates a stronger sense of personal and team accountability. Life and work are not isolated parts of an individual and by encouraging each person’s whole self to be present, we see deeper relationships and witness an empowering level of trust,” she said.
“When our team is focused on a task, they are immensely committed and productive as a result,” said Ms. Wallace. “There are many businesses out there that expect their staff to be ‘always-on’ and this can lead to burn out and low efficiency. Our belief is that by creating an environment of trust and accountability you empower your team supporting them as they prioritize and make the decisions that create effective results in their work and life. The net outcome of making deliberate choices and not striving for an unobtainable balance is greater personal and professional success, satisfaction and dare we say happiness!”
“No longer is the standard working hours the norm,” said David Evans, managing partner at Watermark Search International. “More and more organizations are supporting their team to work at a time that suits them. This has been accelerated by changing office environments, technology enabling much more accessible outside of the office, the evolving nature of working parents and increased focus on diversity in all its guises. Some organizations are more open than others, but we are seeing it progress to a point where executives take time during traditional work hours to be active in other parts of their life, yet work evenings and weekends,” he said.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media