High-tech regions such as Silicon Valley have a reputation for encouraging workaholics, with some people resorting to an army of helpers to get them through their day and let them devote more time to their jobs. But recent trends are causing companies and employees to look more carefully at work-life balance.
Earlier this year, Google CFO Patrick Pichette resigned to spend more time with his family. And unlike other, similar announcements that may have been questionable, he meant it. “Yeah, I know you’ve heard that line before,” he writes. “The short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell [his wife] Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road—celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid-life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.”
Pichette isn’t the only high-profile tech worker to resign to spend more time with his family. Anand Iyer, formerly chief product officer at Threadflip, did the same thing. “I recently left my job primarily to spend more time with my two-year-old daughter,” he writes. “I didn’t want it to be too late before I realized that I had spent very little time with her; I was starting to establish some patterns that I wasn’t proud of, and it was stemming from my inability to balance work and family well.”
A Pew survey, Modern Parenthood, found that since 1965, the roles of men and women in paid work, homemaking, and childcare have been converging. Women are spending more time on paid work and less on housekeeping and childcare, while men are spending less time on paid work and more on housekeeping and childcare.
Not that this makes the balancing act any easier, Pew found. “When asked how difficult it is for them to balance the responsibilities of work and family life, 16 percent of working mothers and 15 percent of working fathers say it is very difficult,” Pew writes. “Overall, 56 percent of working mothers and 50 percent of working fathers say it’s either very or somewhat difficult for them to balance work and family.”
This interest in achieving a better work-life balance is particularly true of millennials. A recent survey found that nearly half of respondents in every region said they would give up a well-paid and prestigious job to gain better work-life balance—with spending time with family ranked among the highest of priorities in every region surveyed. Some companies are even offering unlimited vacation time to appeal to millennials.
So how do you get work-life balance in your current job? Some describe changing their work schedule so they do more while their kids are asleep. Similarly, athletes and people who love the outdoors talk about taking extensive breaks in the middle of the day to train or go on a bike ride or run.
One way that companies and employees are achieving a better work-life balance is for more people to work from home. Despite efforts by companies such as Yahoo! and HP, telework and telecommuting are on the rise.
In fact, studies have shown that people who work at home are more productive than those who work in an office. “We found that people working from home completed 13.5 percent more calls than the staff in the office did,” writes Nicholas Bloom in Harvard Business Review, meaning that the company under study got almost an extra workday a week out of them.
And despite the conventional wisdom of the telecommuter working fewer hours, employees actually worked more and reported much higher job satisfaction, he found. “They started earlier, took shorter breaks, and worked until the end of the day,” Bloom writes. “They had no commute. They didn’t run errands at lunch. Sick days for employees working from home plummeted.”
Telecommuting doesn’t just offer benefits for the employee, either. Another advantage of supporting telework and telecommuting is that you can hire people, either on staff or as contractors, from different geographical regions. Increasingly, people—particularly in the knowledge work field—are first picking the area they want to live in, and then looking for a job there. Opening your horizons to hiring people in other regions gives you access to more talent—perhaps at lower prices.
This is particularly true as we move to the “gig economy,” where subject-matter experts are hired for specific assignments. The best person for a project may not be available for or interested in a full-time job, but would be willing to work on the project around other clients.
Encouraging a healthy work-life balance also helps with retention and recruitment. “By encouraging a healthy work-life balance — such as instituting flexible schedules, the option to work from home or even fostering managers to recognize employees are people with lives outside of work — employers can build a really solid company culture that employees appreciate and want to be a part of, leading them to stay longer and, oftentimes, be more productive as well,” noted Allyson Willoughby, senior vice president of people for Glassdoor, which produces an annual survey of the best companies for work-life balance.
On the other hand, dissenters note, Pichette was replaced by Ruth Porat, former CFO of Morgan Stanley and another workaholic. So perhaps the work-life balance pendulum hasn’t completely swung all the way over yet.
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