For decades, we’ve heard a lot about work-life balance. Employers eager to retain valuable talent were schooled about the many reasons why employees didn’t want to engage in daily rounds of “last soldier standing” to prove their commitment or value. Companies implemented a range of ideas—everything from flex schedules and lunchtime yoga to job sharing and bring your dog to work—in an effort to help employees de-stress and reclaim valuable time for themselves and their families. While these ideas are great, the benchmark has evolved.
Today, the discussion about work-life balance is passé. Work-life integration is the new mantra. While “integration” isn’t a sexy word, it makes sense. Work is, after all, an integral aspect of most people’s lives—at least in the lives of the nearly 100 million individuals who hold full-time jobs in the United States.
The Connection Conundrum
We’ve seen how integration can yield big rewards when done right. Apple’s most definitive success has been fueled by the seamless integration of the telephone, camera and video recorder/player into one streamlined digital device people take with them everywhere—a business strategy that has sent financial shockwaves through some of the world’s most iconic electronics companies.
In many ways, the smartphone and other technologies have already taken care of the tactical component of work-life integration. Employees are virtually connected to their workplace, managers, coworkers and clients 24/7. Still, just because they are technologically connected doesn’t mean they are emotionally connected.
In an economic and political climate where millions are unemployed and individuals who do have jobs live in fear of losing them (along with their healthcare benefits), work-life integration is a precarious reality in which employers seem to have the upper hand. Yet, despite the uneven balance of power, the latest findings by the Department of Labor reveal that the average tenure of an employee in the U.S. is only 1.5 years. Employees aren’t hesitant to actively look for better opportunities. And companies pay—big time.
There are reams of data that validate the very real costs associated with hiring and training new employees. A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that the typical cost is 20 to 21 percent of an employee’s salary. Complex jobs and those that require higher levels of education have much greater turnover costs—up to 213 percent of the individual’s salary.
Connectivity Cuts Both Ways
So what are employees looking for? What truly engages their hearts and minds? How can work-life integration really work? Two recent surveys by Gallup and Dale Carnegie reveal that millions of employees say they want a manager or supervisor who cares about them as a person, not merely as an employee. It’s an important revelation that should be an “ah ha” moment for every organization. After all, work-life integration can’t really work if it doesn’t cut both ways. How can employees be expected to care about a company and its well-being if its leaders don’t care about them? It’s a fair question, and one that some companies may grapple with because “caring” is organic.
“Good leadership, caring leadership is rooted in small things,” says Scott Shibley, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Inspirus. “Good leaders know employees’ names, they look them straight in the eye and greet them in a genuine manner. They actively listen to what their people have to say, and make time to learn about them and their families. Most importantly, they personally thank them and publicly praise them for a job well done.”
For good managers and supervisors, Shibley’s advice should be easy—they may already be doing it. But for toxic managers who drive away disengaged employees in droves, it will not. And weeding out the bad ones may be painful, but it’s got to be done to build and protect a healthy workplace culture.
Companies that understand and embrace the two-way nature of work-life integration must install caring leaders throughout their organization. When they do, their employee engagement efforts will be greatly strengthened because employees will intrinsically know they come from a genuine place. Companies will be rewarded with employees who are loyal, more productive, more innovative and invested in the financial well-being of the organization.
Melissa Gatchel-North is a national Emmy-nominated and award-winning writer who has profiled some of the nation’s most interesting companies and their maverick founders—including FUBU, Hard Candy Cosmetics, Human Genome Sciences and many others.