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Work-life balance initiatives help to reduce work-related stress in a global economy

Background:

In a 21st century business environment, working professionals in some cases deal with work on an ongoing basis, work that is face paced and seemingly never ending. This seemingly never ending work cycle is in in-part due to 21st century technology, which inadvertently links us to our work 24 hours a day. In the age of the internet, blackberries, and e-mails we are constantly connected to our jobs. Employers often blur the lines between business and home life; which often leads to stress with no escape. In addition, “restructuring, downsizing, and increased global competition have contributed to longer work hours and more stress.” (Organization Development & Change, Cummings & Worley, 8th ed., p. 409). Stress has been linked to hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes, asthma, chronic pain and the list goes on (Organization Development & Change, Cummings & Worley, 8th ed., p. 419). What this means to employers are “high rates of absenteeism, turn-over, productivity, and health insurance costs”; “the estimated cost from stress-related ailments is more than $200 billion a year” (Organization Development & Change, Cummings & Worley, 8th ed., p. 418).

In saying that, technology has allowed us to do things that were unthinkable in the 20th century. We have developed some unconventional approaches create a work-life balance that provides that necessary separation required to reduce employee stress levels.

Objectives:

Following my discussion you will:

• Understand how work-life balance programs help to reduce stress
• Show how technology and environmental awareness and energy efficiency [in some sectors] play a role in achievement of work-life balance initiatives
• See why employers have embraced the work-life balance concept and it becomes a win/win scenario
• Understand why the U.S. Government has stepped up its efforts in establishing these programs

Discussion:
Employers realize that their employees are valuable assets that they need in order to maintain a successful business. High rates of absenteeism, productivity, and turnover are all parts of work that in some form or fashion can all be attributable to some form of workplace-related stress. As we’ve known for awhile stress manifests itself in many forms and physical symptoms that cause employees to miss work. In attempts to be proactive many employers have established programs that allow employees “gym time” during work be it 30 minutes during the workday or in the case of the U.S. Air Force one hour additional hour, three times a week, generally taken with lunch. The intent remains the same to allow personnel time to de-stress, get exercise which increases the overall well being, and reduces the risk factors for such things as high blood pressure and heart disease (www.webmd.com). “Studies show that successful work-life balance strategies have reduced stress levels and increased employee job satisfaction, while increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism and turnover for the employer – a win for both the employee and the employer (www.sbnonline.com/2007/09/achieving-work-life-balance-what-employees-and-emp...), 09.26.2007 | Pittsburgh)

Technology and environmental awareness have played a significant role in work-life balance initiatives and their various applications in the U.S. government and private industry. Technology has provided the means to implement some of these programs, for example, telework programs allow some personnel to work from home, while this is not applicable to every job a large number of positions can benefit from this initiative. The internet has allowed us to access data from anywhere in the world; a lot of jobs utilize the internet and computers to do their jobs. What this does is allow personnel more flexibility in how they perform their jobs; as long as they are productive it shouldn’t matter where they physically conduct the work.
The environmental applications are directed more toward governmental jobs than private sector, by using telework programs it offers other benefits such as fewer vehicles on the highways during peak times reducing emissions. Where companies and government do share a common benefit are along the lines of energy efficiency. If telework was incorporated throughout the federal government and all agencies closed down their offices on a Friday, while employees worked from home the government [as well as private industry] could save a great deal on utility costs for that one day shutdown over a year’s time.

Some managers still live in the past and want eyes on their employees; however, in this ever changing workplace dynamic those times are quickly changing. Executives are looking at the long term strategic benefits of these work-life balance initiatives; which include higher productivity, low turnover and absenteeism. “Employees who feel they have a better work-life balance tend to work 21% harder than those that don’t” (www.businessweek.com/managing/content/mar2009/ca20090327_734197.htm?chan...) by The Staff of the Corporate Executive Board, March 27, 2009). These work-life balance initiatives are a win/win scenario for everyone.

The U.S. government, specifically the department of defense, has used these types of programs for awhile. They typically offer civilian employees compressed work schedules depending on the job. These programs are generally into the following:

OPM is also pushing agencies where feasible to employ the telework program. As mentioned previously it reduces emissions and congestion during the heaviest periods. If utilized the way it is intended, offices may be able to shut down one day a week reducing utilities costs.
Here are some additional examples of work-life initiatives being utilized in the private sectors.

Private Industry
*Sabbaticals
*Dependent care
*Telework Programs
*Additional time for exercise

Important Points:
• Stress in the workplace leads
o Reduced productivity
o Increased Absenteeism
o High turnover rates
o Increased health insurance costs

• Employers have recognized and taken proactive steps toward eliminating stress in the workplace through the introduction of some of the following work-life balance initiatives;
o Compressed work schedules
o Telework programs
o Authorizing gym time to reduce stress

Summary:
Technology has provided employers a means to allow employee’s to utilize various work-life balance initiatives to help manage employee stress. It also helps employers cut down on save on absenteeism, high turnover within the organization, which results in increased productivity not to mention lower insurance costs. These initiatives are a win/win scenario for both employers and employees and these initiatives will ultimate become the norm throughout industry.

References
Organization Development & Change, Cummings & Worley, 8th ed., p. 409
Organization Development & Change, Cummings & Worley, 8th ed., p. 419
Organization Development & Change, Cummings & Worley, 8th ed., p. 418
Web MD, www.webmd.com
www.sbnonline.com/2007/09/achieving-work-life-balance-what-employees-and-emp...), 09.26.2007 | Pittsburgh
www.businessweek.com/managing/content/mar2009/ca20090327_734197.htm?chan...) by The Staff of the Corporate Executive Board, March 27, 2009
www.opm.gov/oca/aws/html/appendc.asp), U.S. Office of Personnel Management [OPM], Handbook on Alternative Work Schedules

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