Work/life balance: Key to employee retention

Implementing flexible employee work schedules to foster a healthy work/life balance can be a nerve-wracking and seemingly unattainable goal to achieve. Through experimentation and a little trial and error, many companies have discovered how to retain employees by allowing flexible schedules.

“Inflexible work arrangements are a primary reason top talent leaves an organization.”

The top priority of most organizations is to attract top performers. After bringing them onboard, the real challenge is retaining those bright stars.

An article published last month out of Workforce Management looked at a few recent surveys indicating more employees are actively searching for better work/life benefits.

A 2005 Merrill Lynch survey showed that 16% of the baby boomer workforce was looking for part-time work, and 42% would only sign up for a job that allowed time off for leisure.

Another Pew Research Center survey from 2007 found that more than 50% of working mothers prefer part-time work, as a way to fulfill domestic responsibilities while also contributing to the family income.

Younger workers are also looking for companies that value work/life benefits. Unlike their older counterparts, Gen Y and the Millennials refuse to sacrifice family and leisure for their careers.

The article notes that implementing flexible work arrangements can be difficult, but it is possible. It may be as little as allowing time off for doctor appointments and school visits, or as much as telecommuting a few days out of the workweek.

The Workforce authors surveyed six firms to uncover how they are successfully applying flexible work arrangements.

Here are some of their key findings on the most important factors that contribute to the success of implementing flexible work arrangements at any company:

Alternative work arrangements must make sense for your organization. Not every position or company is suited for flexible schedules. It also depends on the individual, some personalities just can’t handle it. Be sure that flexible schedules will work for specific positions and people before implementing anything.

Remember that the goal of flexible work arrangements is employee retention. “If you want high levels of employee satisfaction, your organization needs to recognize the overlap between life and work.”

Keep communication lines open. “Successful implementation of flexible work arrangements takes a commitment to communication.” Commit to an open and honest line of communication with any flexible employee.

Ensure employees have the tools to succeed. Depending on the type of work, employees may need tools like laptops, cell phones or PDAs to stay in touch and do their jobs effectively. Managers and employees should set clear expectations of how and when an employee can be reached, and also allow for downtime.

Allow for an adjustment period. Self-management can be tough for some employees and may take time to learn. “It takes about three years to adjust for a flexible work arrangement. You need to learn what you should and should not be doing by going through it.”

Put all judgement aside. Working a flexible schedule is not “wrong” or a reflection of the employees dedication to the company. Flexible work arrangements should be considered “without judging the employee’s personal priorities.”

Success depends on employee satisfaction. According to one company surveyed, “for its company to succeed, their people need to succeed - not just at work, but in all areas of their lives.”

“Success takes time and experimentation,” especially when implementing a band new program involving flexible work arrangements. Managers must listen to their employees to determine what is working and what may need to be adjusted, until the program finds success.

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