In our parents’ or perhaps our grandparents’ day people worked to a fairly strict schedule: Punch the clock by 9:00 AM, ½ an hour for lunch and out by 5:00PM. Need some personal time for a doctor’s appointment or another professional visit? Schedule it on your own time before or after work. Not feeling well and you want to work from home? Use a sick day. The concept then was to shape your life around your work. I remember a manager I had a number of years ago chiding me when I was late for work …I had an appointment with my son’s teacher at 9:00AM – and it was important. He told me that I “would have to decide between my work and my family” … seriously that really happened!
Boy, things have certainly changed in the past 20 years or so. The expression “work–life balance” was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and subsequently emerged as an HR buzzword that is very common nowadays all over the world. Today, most employees have been given and even seem to demand a lot more flexibility to fit work around life. Young people graduating today pretty consistently rank work-life balance as one of their top career goals.
It’s a vague term, but broadly speaking, work-life balance is achieved when you can effectively juggle the duel agendas of your work and personal schedule; be it relationships, family, fitness, volunteering, or any other priority outside of work. The way it plays out in day-to-day life is often in flexible scheduling. The best simple definition I could find is: Work-life balance is the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family doing what they need done including things you enjoy.
Experts say there is no single definition for work-life balance and some don’t even like to use the phrase. But generally they agree work-life balance translates to satisfaction with one’s entire life — professional and personal — and it can be reached even while working long hours.
So, how can you demonstrate to anyone considering a job with your municipality, that you are committed to the idea of work life balance? If you offer any or all of the 8 work-life factors listed below you may be on the right track. If you offer all of them you may be on your way to demonstrating your willingness to offer a healthy work-life balance to your employees and future employees.
- FLEXIBLE HOURS
Offer work hours of 7 to 3 instead of 9 to 5. Or perhaps10 hours one day, and 6 hours the next. This type of schedule opens your employees schedule for life’s essential tasks: doctor appointments, dry cleaning, and afternoon baseball games.
- WORKING FROM HOME
Your employee is expecting the cable guy anytime from dawn ’til dusk? We’ve all been there. Tell your candidate that working from home is acceptable on occasion, when you’re feeling under the weather, or perhaps on Fridays.
- COMPRESSED WORKWEEKS
Many municipalities now offer shorter workweeks and not just in the summer. The idea is you’re still working 40 hours per week, but squeezing it all into fewer days, such as working 9-hour days with every second Friday off.
- FLEXIBLE LUNCH
This may seem trivial, but does the municipality dictate when employees take lunch? Do they have 30 minutes, 1 hour, or is it up to them? Having a sliding lunch time indicates a municipality trusts its employees to manage their own schedules.
- PAID TIME OFF
Getting paid time off provides a bank of hours in which the employer pools sick days, vacation days, and personal days that allows employees to use as the need or desire arises. PTO is becoming pretty standard, but how you can use these days varies from municipality to municipality. If you only allow staff to use PTO at certain times of the year, have a set number of hours designated solely for “sick days”, or need to give three to four weeks’ notice for all scheduled time off, your municipality may be seen as inflexible.
- ONSITE FACILITIES
For no or little cost, offering onsite gyms and fitness facilities (since recreation facilities are readily available in most municipalities) is a great perk that shows a municipal employer cares about staff’s needs outside the office and their mental and physical well-being … Providing employees with cafeterias, or employee assistance programs (essentially onsite counseling) is also a wonderful benefit for staff that will keep them happy and working for you. Also, whether you have kids or not, if the municipality has an onsite daycare it’s a good sign they are understanding of family life.
- TUITION REIMBURSEMENT
This is so common amongst municipalities today that I’d have to say you have fallen way behind if you don’t offer at least some reasonable education tuition refund program. Tuition reimbursement programs can be a big financial help for continuing an employee’s education. Some employers even invite universities to provide onsite classes at convenient times after work.
- EMPLOYEE RECOGNITION
While recognizing employees is an important part of the way some municipalities work, it may not always be seen as a work-life balance proposition. Think of it this way: not only is recognition good for employee engagement but it makes a regular good day at work, an even better day at work!
It is true that people may like different ways to have appreciation shown, it’s in our basic human nature to want to be recognized for the good things we do. Regular recognition tends to increase morale, productivity and commitment to one’s work and organization. Recognizing each other’s contributions helps create a happier work place.
Now that you have had an opportunity to look at some of the work-life balance elements that some employers offer their staff, you may see the wisdom in making some or all of them “official” policies and programs of your municipality. I can tell you that from a recruiting perspective these incentives are all valuable tools when you are trying to land top talent. And as ‘baby boomers’ leave the room … and they are in record numbers, the competition will stiffen even more. In a recent negotiation on behalf of one of our clients several of the work-life balance perks discussed here became VERY important points of negotiation since, in that case, the salary offered was a little lower than the candidate was hoping for.