The bookstore shelves are lined with the latest and greatest memoirs from all the business gurus and major CEOs in the country. It seems each years offers a new lexicon of buzzwords and best practices whose goal is to keep companies at the competitive edge of their marketplace. One trend that is gaining traction is the idea of implementing policies that help employees keep their work from dominating too much of their personal time. Called work-life balance, this is a strengthening movement gaining support at all levels of the employment hierarchy.
Some of the more common privileges of yesteryear have evolved into standard operating procedure at most firms across the Bay Area. Casual Fridays are the norm and in many workplaces employees are given the choice of working later days during the week so they can take every other Friday off. The practice of taking a sabbatical, once reserved to the upper echelons of college professors, has now made its way into the world of business suits and neckties. Tweed coats and horn-rimmed glasses are not required.
Then, of course, they are the companies that have come up with an unusual set of perks to make life easier for employees. Google, always at the forefront of creative business practices, has laundry facilities available on-site and employees are encouraged to bring their dogs to work. This unique approach doesn’t stop once the regular workday is over. For people who are out on maternity or paternity leave Google will reimburse them up to $400 for take-out food. Clif Bar, a company known for its commitment to environmental causes, offered employees forgivable loans for purchasing hybrid vehicles. If the employee stays with the company for a specified time after the loan is disbursed they are not required to refund the money. It essentially works out to be a cash subsidy for agreeing to help out the earth.
Employers have also realized that monetary methods aren’t the only way to incorporate work-life balance practices into the office. Since the survival-of-the-fittest days of the Great Depression are no longer at the forefront of our cultural consciousness, workers today are looking for more than just a paycheck when they head out the door each weekday morning. Finding meaning in their work and being able to give back to the community are two other components of the package that makes an employee want to come to work each day. Many of the healthcare companies, for example, hold health fairs in low income sections of the city. Employees use company time to donate their skills to the needs of these residents who otherwise might not have access to primary healthcare services.
The increased popularity behind the idea of making work more bearable has created its very own cottage industry of consultants and advocacy groups that work to promote wider acceptance of this growing trend. Organizations such as Take Back Your Time promote increasing the amount of time Americans take off from work each year. Compared to statistics from Europe, Americans take about two-thirds the amount of vacation time as most Europeans. As such, this non-profit has developeda holiday every October 24th called simply, Take Back Your Time. This date is significant since it represents the point at which the typical American has spent the same number of days at work as the average European will spend in an entire year.
Another addition to the work life balance movement is a website and blog entitled, Escape From Cubicle Nation. Started by Pamela Slim, a Bay Area native, the website serves as a resource for people who looking for a way out of the box, so to speak. She founded this cyberspace community as a result of her experiences working as a management consultant for large multi-national corporations. After spending years giving advice on how to make employees happier, but rarely seeing the suggestions implemented, Slim realized the lack of business practices that allowed people more time away from the office was pandemic across most of the country. Her website, escapefromcubiclenation.com, is source for how to survive the workplace while you plan your way to a more enjoyable day job.
The very concept of work-life balance is a new one. As recently as one generation ago workers were grateful for any opportunity that helped them keep food on the table. They didn’t worry too much about how many floating holidays were in their contract or whether or not they were given comp time for working on the weekends. Times have changed, however, and the average employee is looking for a workplace that respects their right to have a life outside of the office. While Americans have a ways to go before they reach the vacation levels seen by most Europeans, it is clear that this trend is much more than just a passing fad.