Work-Life Balance

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, made headlines last week when she announced a new policy requiring remote workers to report to the office, banning flexible work at the company and sparking a national debate about the state of work-life balance in 2013.

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices,” according to Mayer's memo.

Jody Thompson, co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), argues that this model is not only antiquated but unfit for the world we live in.

“She gets the award for the CEO that doesn’t get it,” Thompson said in an interview with Healthline. “It’s 2013; the world is your office. My iphone is my office.”

Thompson’s ROWE concept goes beyond telework; it’s a management strategy in which employees are evaluated based on performance, not presence.

“As long as someone else is managing your time, you will never achieve work-life balance,” Thompson said. “In the old system, time and physical presence equals results. You can show up to work and look busy and still get a paycheck. We need to stop managing people and start managing the work.”

In a ROWE office people can work at any time, from any location, as long as they deliver measurable results.

Work, Life, and Health

Studies support the ROWE model of offering employees more flexibility in their schedules. Self-scheduled work can reduce exhaustion, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, improve mental well-being, and yield better self-rated health, according to a 2010 Cochrane research review evaluating more than 16,000 people.

University of Minnesota professors Phyllis Moen and Erin Kelly of the Flexible Work and Well-Being Center have studied work-life balance issues for years.

“Work-life conflicts are a public health concern,” Kelly said. “We absorb stress as individuals and that spills over into our family life. An inflexible workplace produces problems with employee turnover, engagement, and healthcare costs.”

In a 2006 study, the researchers examined what was taking place at Best Buy as the company moved to adopt ROWE. They collected data through observations, informal discussions, surveys, and in-depth interviews.

“We found employees were sleeping more and managing their health differently,” Kelly said. “They were more likely to go to the doctor when they should.”

Their study showed that ROWE promoted healthy behaviors among employees: increasing their odds of quitting smoking, decreasing their smoking frequency, and promoting perceptions of adequate time for healthy meals.

Parents and Singles Both Need Balance

Workers struggling with work-life balance report less satisfaction with their lives and jobs and more signs of anxiety and depression, according to new research from Michigan State University (MSU).

"People in our study repeatedly said 'I can take care of my job demands, but then I have no time for working out, volunteering in my community, pursuing friendships, or anything else,'" said Ann Marie Ryan, MSU professor of psychology and co-author of the study in a press release.

Ryan's team found that workers who are single and without children have just as much trouble finding the time and energy to manage their lives outside of work as those with spouses and kids. Childlessness among employees has been increasing in the United States, particularly among female managers, according to the study.

Traditionally, companies have focused on helping workers find a "work-family" balance. But Jessica Keeney, study co-author and recent doctoral graduate in psychology at MSU, said that employers need to adopt a broader concept of “work-life.”

"As organizations strive to implement more inclusive HR policies, they might consider offering benefits such as flexible work arrangements to a wider audience than just parents," Keeney said in a press release. "Simply relabeling programs from 'work-family' to 'work-life' is not enough; it may also require a shift in organizational culture."

Take, for example, an employee who is single and without children who wants to leave work early to train for a triathlon, Ryan said. Should that employee have less right to leave early than one who wants to catch her child's soccer game at 4 p.m.?

"We have to recognize that non-work roles beyond family also have value," Ryan said.

The three areas in which work interfered the most for all study participants were health, including exercising and doctor's appointments; family; and leisure including hobbies, playing sports, reading, and watching TV.

How to Achieve Greater Work-Life Balance

Thompson offers many tips for people who want to take control of their work time.

First, keep all conversations with your manager objective.

“Talk about the work and the results,” she said. “Don’t get into conversations about time or leaving work early or working from home. Instead say something like, ‘We are on track based on what we talked about earlier to meet the deadline, is there anything else you need from me?’”

She suggests keeping your manager informed about work progress, instead of asking whether you can leave early that day.

“Let your manager know you are focused in getting your work done,” Thompson said.

Ultimately, she recommends thinking more about what you want your whole life to look like.

“People want to know, 'How do I get my manager to give me Fridays off?'” she said. “But people really want complete control of their time. People want to own their own life.”

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