The drama over the next Speaker of the House gives an unexpected boost to work-life integration

Work-life integration, and the work place flexibility necessary to enable it, received an unexpected boost from Republican Congressman Paul Ryan last week. He announced that if he agreed to be Speaker of the House, it would not be at the expense of time with his family. The Congressman is married with three children.

Most U.S. workers would agree with him. On average, they work 49 hours a week[i], put an additional 9 hours into household chores, and face a commute of a nearly an hour a day[ii].  It all adds up, and something has to give. The majority of U.S. workers (79% by one study)[iii] want an opportunity to telecommute or have more flexibility with office hours. They want to save wasted commuting time and be able to integrate the important components of their private lives when they conflict with traditional office hours, such as taking an elderly parent to her doctor’s appointment or seeing a child’s recital at school.

Promoting long hours isn’t sustainable

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many employers, including well-established high technology companies, promote a culture of long hours at the office and being connected 24/7. Innovation is often the prominent reason given. But, even new design teams don’t need to be locked in a room together 24/7 to be innovative. Although teams need time to build relationships and thrash out new ideas and solutions, their best innovations won’t necessarily occur when they are together. Innovation requires time interacting with customers in their environment. For many innovators, it also requires time alone to think—especially for introverts.

The companies that hire new grads, surround them with free food and other perks, work them hard, and inspire them with a promise of shared future equity, need to face reality if they want to stay competitive. Eventually, most of those workers will settle into long-term relationships and have children. In order to be good spouses and parents, they need time—time away from work for intimacy. If their employers do not allow that time, the best of those employees will move on to work for companies that do.

Many jobs can be done at home or as mobile workers

In my own research and experience, 45% of most businesses have jobs that can be done 3-5 days from home or between home and the customer or suppliers sites. These jobs include analyst roles, software, sales, brand marketing, clinical research, supply chain work, recruiting, technical writing and accounting, to name a few. With some jobs, the worker does have to be physically on-site four or more days a week.  These jobs include ones closely tied to technology and machines in a lab or factory floor or jobs where the information needed to do the work cannot leave the office.

On the other extreme, there are many companies that are totally virtual. Their office is the post office. These companies do just fine using virtual technology and clearly defined processes for onboarding, aligning employees to company purpose, building customer relationships, developing goals and setting operating norms.

Flexibility improves productivity

In my own implementation of a flexible workplace environment, we gained 22% improved productivity from our home office workers. By not having to commute to work every day, those workers added 59 minutes of work time to their day and gained an additional 38 minutes for personal time. They also reported 98% job satisfaction. The company saved $1.2 million a year in real estate costs—money it invested in R&D, which did more for the bottom line than leasing real estate.

There is a large body of research and experience showing that flexible work arrangements lead to higher employee productivity, improved morale, less turnover and lower real estate costs. Companies are more successful when they provide their workers the time, technology and space for when and where they need to work.

For example, Kate Lister and Tom Harnish at Global Workplace Analytics have worked with both public and private employers on teleworking and have examined over 4,000 documents, case studies, and research models. Their analysis indicates that when managers focus on managing to results and incorporate flexible work arrangements, it leads to the following benefits:

  • Saves companies $10k to $20k per employee per year by lowering real estate costs, turnover and absenteeism and increasing employee productivity.[iv]
  • Reduces company/employee carbon footprint and fuel usage.
  • Attracts the best and the brightest workers, regardless of where they live.
  • Engages workers who would otherwise not be available (e.g. caregivers, part-timers, the disabled, military spouses, retirees).
  • Improves continuity of operations.
  • Increases staffing efficiencies.
  • Saves employees thousands of dollars per year in commuting costs[v].

I could provide a multitude of other studies as well

Will Paul Ryan be Speaker of the House? Only time and politics will tell. If so, perhaps allowing the hard working U.S. work force more flexibility to integrate their busy work lives with their private lives will gain support from both sides of “the aisle.”

What has been your experience with work-life integration? I would love to hear from you.

Victor Assad is a strategic human resources consultant and coach who works with key decision makers and human resources leaders on talent management, accelerating change, leadership development, and other strategic initiatives, such as mergers and acquisitions, strategy implementation, and flexible workplace. Please e-mail Victor at victorassad6@gmail.com or visit Victor’s website at www.victorhrconsultant.com to download his free whitepaper on Flexible Work Place.

[i] Lydia Saad “The ’40-Hour’ Workweek Is Actually Longer – by Seven Hours. Full-time U.S. workers, on average, report working 47 hours weekly.” (August 29, 2014). Found at http://www.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx.

[ii] “Average Commute Times,” WNYC. Retrieved from http://www.project.wnyc.org/commute-times-us/embed.html#5.00/42.000/-89.500

[iii] Global Workplace Analytics, by Kate Lister. http://www.globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics. May, 2014.

[iv] Workshifting Benefits: The Bottom Line, May 2010, by Kate Lister and Tom Harnish, Global Workplace Analytics, sponsored by Citrix Online.

[v] Kate Lister and Tom Harnish, (2010) Results-Based Management. The Key to Unlocking Talent, Increasing Productivity. Global Workplace Analytics. PDF downloaded from http://www.globalworkplaceanalytics.com.

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