The Organizational Benefits of Work Life Balance

Topic: Work-Life Balance
Publication: Business Horizons
Article: Embracing the whole individual: Advantages of a dual-centric perspective of work and life
Authors: Bourne, K.A., Wilson, F., Lester, S.W., & Kickul, J.
Reviewed By: Samantha Paustian-Underdahl

Researchers have found that 95% of employees rate their lives outside of work as equally or more important than their jobs (Bourne, Wilson, Lester, & Kickul, 2009). More than half of these survey respondents admitted to having a dual-centric perspective—equally prioritizing their non-work and work roles.

Bourne and colleagues (2009) compared 2,013 employees throughout the Unites States who identified themselves as either dual-centric, non-work centric, or work-centric. They identified three major advantages for dual-centric employees: (1) greater overall satisfaction, (2) higher work-life balance satisfaction, and (3) less emotional exhaustion. This dual-centric perspective is not only beneficial  to employees – research shows that when organizations embrace the needs of dual-centric employees, they can benefit through increased profits and growth. These dual-centric employees, who made up 55% of the sample, were more likely to desire more time devoted to family, health and wellness, and time away from work. They also desired more time to volunteer and to further their education than both non-work and work-centric individuals.

Companies that consistently offer these types of employee benefits are featured on Fortune’s ‘‘100 Best Companies to Work For’’ list. These companies outperform the S&P 500, with a 3-year total annualized stock market return of 37% versus 25%, a 5-year return of 34% versus 25%, and a 10-year return of 21% versus 17% (Levering, Moskowitz, Garcia, & Vell-Zarb, 2000). Simon and DeVaro (2006) also found that companies on Fortune’s list earn significantly higher customer satisfaction ratings than firms not on the list. Perhaps the greatest impact of these best work-life balance practices arises from the ability of ‘‘100 Best’’ companies to more effectively recruit and retain top talent, with turnover rates that are on average 10%-15% lower than their industry averages.

So, how can your organization follow suit? Bourne and colleagues (2009) examined many of the practices featured in Fortune Magazine’s ‘‘100 Best’’ list that address employees’ work and non-work needs.

The authors grouped these innovative approaches into five categories they identified as being considered desirable to dual-centrics in their ideal job. These categories, along with examples of some of the practices in place at these companies are listed below.

(1)  Support for family responsibilities:

SAS – an analytics software company – helps employees spend more time with their families by employing a standard 35 hour work week. They also have four subsidized onsite daycare programs for 850 children.  Principal Financial Group – a financial services company – offers a program entitled Working Caregiver Leave. Under this practice, employees have the ability to work part-time for up to 12 weeks per year, while maintaining full benefits and guaranteed job security.

(2)  Opportunities geared toward improving employee health:

Quad/Graphics – a printing company – has offered onsite medical clinics since 1990. Nearly 80% of the company’s employees use the onsite clinics as their main source of primary care, as well as specialty care including internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, and optometry. Eileen Fisher – a designing and retail firm of women’s fashion – offers complimentary onsite yoga, foot reflexology, and massage to all employees. The company also reimburses all employees $1,000 per year for wellness-related expenses.

(3)  Time away from work:

Whole Foods Market – a natural and organic supermarket – offers a program in which for every 2 weeks an employee works, they accrue hours that can be used for paid time off. Four Seasons Hotels – operator of luxury hotels and resorts – offers all its employees who have been there for 6 months (including those in service- related jobs), the opportunity to stay 3 nights free at any Four Seasons property. After a year of employment, the number of free nights increases to 6, and so on with tenure.

(4)  The ability to pursue further education and training:

A.G. Edwards – a financial services holding company – allows employees the ability to earn up to 29 hours of undergraduate college credit for job-related classes, which are held onsite through the internal training department. Google – an Internet services company – will reimburse, up to $8,000 a year, employees who undertake work-related courses via external training providers or academic institutions. Through Google’s Global Education Leave Program, workers can take up to 5 years’ leave to further their education and be reimbursed up to $150,000 for educational expenses.

(5)  Support for volunteer efforts:

America Online Inc. – an Internet services and media company – launched AOL Tech Corps, a group of America Online volunteers who assist nonprofit organizations with technology-related projects, such as upgrading their computer systems. Ernst and Young – an accounting firm – started a Corporate Social  Responsibility Fellows Program, through which employees can help organizations in developing countries where Ernst and Young has offices. In sum, this research shows that embracing the whole individual – as an employee and as a person with multiple interests – positively affects both the psychological and emotional well-being of employees. Traditionally, employees’ differing roles have been viewed as competing, suggesting that attention to one area of a person’s life necessarily detracts from the others.

However, if organizations embrace the “whole person” perspective of employees, this may lead to a more motivated and dedicated workforce, and possibly to greater organizational performance.

Bourne, K.A., Wilson, F., Lester, S.W., and Kickul, J. (2009). Embracing the whole individual: Advantages of a dual-centric perspective of work and life. Business Horizons, 52, 387-398.

Levering, R., Moskowitz,M., Garcia, F., & Vell-Zarb, K. (2000). The 100 best companies to work for. Fortune, 141(1), 82—110. Simon, D. H., & DeVaro, J. (2006). Do the best companies to work for provide better customer satisfaction? Managerial and Decision Economics, 27(8), 667-683.