"I cannot and will not give up my family time," said Paul Ryan.
With these words, this candidate for Speaker of the House, who has three children at home, caused a stir not only on Capitol Hill, but across the professional world. Many older politicians and pundits scoffed at the mere idea of a House Speaker having work-life balance-two decades ago the idea would've been jeered and dismissed by everyone. But many more pundits and commentators cheered Ryan's statement, using it as a springboard to talk about one of their favorite topics.
Yes, work-life balance is a thing. And it's more than just a feel-good initiative from the people in Human Resources. It sometimes mistakenly becomes just about benefits (Ex: on-site healthcare, on-site childcare, tuition reimbursement) but more and more research is uncovering that work-life balance goes much deeper into a company's (and Congress') workings.
It's about how much flexibility companies give their employees in when and how they work. It's about how much paid time off they provide for illness, parent-teacher conferences, vacations, etc. It's about efforts to curb the need for overtime or communications after hours. And the effects of poor work-life balance are much more far-reaching than we thought.
Coincidentally, I've recently been on a research team studying the effects of poor work-life balance. In a study we released last spring, we found that 85% of employees thought they had good work-life balance. Upon asking more questions, however, we found that two out of five of them had missed important life events, like weddings, anniversaries, and births, because of work.
And then our new 2015 State of Enterprise Work Report, released earlier this month, discovered that overtime is rampant for U.S. workers. In fact, 82% of office workers confessed to logging in to work outside of standard business hours on weekdays. "Nothing wrong with getting caught up with email once the kids are in bed every now and then," you say? Then consider also that 52% of workers did this every day.
At too many companies, bad work-life balance has become a habit and a coping mechanism. "That's a shame for these companies," you say, "but what does that have to do with me, as a consumer?"
Put plainly, companies where poor work-life balance abounds are not the kind of companies you want to do business with. On the other hand, companies that excel at providing a strong work-life balance for their employees tend to be more customer-friendly. Here are four big reasons why:
Companies that struggle to enable good work-life balance tend to have their priorities on other things, like profits or cutting costs-definitely not on their people. Poor work-life balance has real dangers. Whether consciously or subconsciously, these companies regularly make decisions that place the physical and mental well-being of their employees at risk in favor of increasing profits. If this is how they view the people in their organization, you can imagine how they might treat you as a customer.
If they treat their employees like widgets to be burned out and then replaced, they will probably treat their customers similarly.
One sad example of this phenomenon is DISH Network. It's no secret that the cable company has become synonymous with bad customer relations. In a recent survey of employees at various Fortune 500 companies, however, DISH also scored among the ten worst places to work, with employees complaining of unrealistic workloads and being forced to wear heavy black outfits during the summer, among other indignities.
Thankfully, the opposite is also true. Verizon, where employees are able to work out during the day and work remotely from home, has quickly taken the lead over its competitors for its more customer-friendly plans and its better customer service.
According to the recent "Work-Life Imbalance Report," the number-one cause of poor work-life balance was bad bosses. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine the effect a mean or over-demanding boss can have on your work-life balance.
Making matters worse, these bad bosses are often completely oblivious to this problem. The recent Workplace Flexibility Survey, for instance, found that two-thirds of bosses felt their staff had good work-life balance. Sadly, less than half of employees agreed with that assessment.
Unfortunately, bosses who are this out-of-touch with their employees' needs are usually out of touch in other areas, as well.
That being said, managers and executives who are in-tune enough to sense the work-life needs of their employees are usually well aware in other areas of their business. Managers who are strong on work-life balance issues tend to be better managers overall. And that makes for the kind of company that will deliver the products/services you need, when you need them.
What effect does poor work-life balance have on customer service? According the "Work-Life Imbalance Report," the biggest negative consequence of poor work-life balance was poor morale. In other words, where work-life balance isn't nurtured employees generally feel bad about their jobs-and this is a recipe for a customer service disaster.
To see such a disaster, one need only look to the recent snafu aboard an American Airlines during which a flight attendant asked a passenger to sit down and clear the aisle, the passenger allegedly didn't hear, and the flight attendant proceeded to unceremoniously remove the passenger from the plane. The whole thing was caught on video, including the passenger sobbing and the other passengers booing and cursing American Airlines.
Not a great customer service moment for American Airlines. As of yet, we don't know who the flight attendant is, what his situation was, or what preceded the incident, but we do know that his reaction to the non-compliant passenger was extreme.
Note to American Airlines and every other company: Customer service is not for the tired, the stressed, or the impatient. Only companies with happy, calm employees are likely to perform well in this challenging area. And happy, calm, patient employees can come only from workplaces with strong work-life balance.
According to the same study, poor work-life balance inevitably breeds fatigue, burnout, and lackluster productivity. On the other hand, study after study has confirmed that employees who get the breaks and rest from work they need experience higher levels of creativity, focus, and productivity in numerous studies.
So who do you want building the products you use or serving you at your favorite restaurant? Who do you want serving you on your next flight or doing quality assurance on your next automobile?
It's clear that you, as a consumer, are going to get better products and services from companies where work-life balance is in order.