Companies around the globe are looking at ways of creating a work-life balance for employees. While HR/benefit managers most likely have a solid understanding of what their U.S.-based employees expect, what does this issue mean to global companies?
There seem to be two different arguments on work-life balance: The first, employees who wish to work for a company in the United States should expect to be treated as other employees. The second, do employers gain a competitive edge by offering work-life balance benefits that mirror an individual's expectation?
The answer, as you can imagine, depends on the circumstances. What are companies and countries doing to address work-life balance?
Google set the corporate world on fire when it started sharing its way-beyond-the- basics benefits via YouTube and beyond. Soon after, the brightest minds were drawn to Google's platform of rewarding employees in atypical ways. From massages to sushi, Google has its employees covered. Further, if you're an employee at Google, you'll enjoy the similar "way beyond the basics" benefits whether you're in Mountain View, Calif., or one of its non-U.S. locations.
Follow the French?
I've been hearing the "French people only work 35 hours per week" and "They don't like to work" jokes for years. Humor aside, The Business Inside writes that "the French are the most productive workers in the world." There is a rational logic behind the restricted workweeks. Despite their high productivity, France has had one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe in the last decade. The French system's viewpoint on health, education and employment is that all individuals have the right to a fundamental quality of life.
One way that the government has attempted to reduce the number of jobless individuals was to reduce the hours worked so another person can work those hours. Every seven people working 35 hours allows another individual to work a 35-hour workweek. When it's all said and done, it's more about quality, not quantity. Thus, the shortened workweek has nothing to do with work-life balance (even though the French are, historically, very family-oriented.)
Maybe your company wants to partake in the Google phenomenon and likes France's philosophy on shortened workweeks. Or, maybe just more flexibility is what's in order to bring work and life into balance.
I've read case studies from Mexico about supervisors that fired employees in the maquiladoras (manufacturing plants near the U.S. and Mexican border) because they were asking for time off. One supervisor finally got so frustrated with employees quitting and leaving early that he asked employees what the company could improve upon. He learned that many workers felt they didn't spend enough time with their families, so they took extra time off to be with them. Shortly thereafter, the company held regular picnics (families were invited) and implemented a flextime policy to accommodate family obligations. Turnover dropped and employees were happier.
Whatever approach best fits your company culture and employee characteristics, there are a lot of elements to consider when implementing work-life policies: What your company can afford, your corporate culture and values, the measurable results on HR decisions and what value is being added to the company. In addition, there could be benefits, union and overtime implications.
Before making any decisions on work-life balance, think about the short- and long-term impact of your changes and how many resources it would take to maintain. There's an old saying that "happy employees are productive employees" and that starts with your benefits team evaluating work-life balance.
Contributing Editor Emily Chardac has spent over four years in an international recruitment office serving individuals of over 80 nationalities. She's been working in the international HR/benefits field since 2007. She holds a Master's in HR with a focus on international business and French. Emily can be reached at email@example.com.
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