It's Official: Let Your Employees Have a Life, and They'll Do a Better Job
Managers who go out of their way to accommodate workers' needs are making a wise choice
Here's a lesson for small businesses struggling to keep good workers
in the tightest labor market in decades: Cut them slack so they can cope
with personal needs, and they'll reward you. Their appreciation will show up
on the bottom line.
That's what three experts in work-life issues concluded after interviewing more than 100 people at several dozen companies of varying sizes. Stewart
D. Friedman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School;
Perry Christensen, a consultant at WFD Consulting; and Jessica DeGroot,
founder of Third Path, an agency devoted to work-family issues, published
their research in an article entitled "Work and Life: The End of the Zero-Sum
Game" in Harvard Business Review's November-December, 1998, issue.
It sounds like common sense, but "most executives still believe that
every time an employee's personal interests 'win,' the organization pays
the price at its bottom line," the researchers wrote. So the researchers spoke to
managers who were "flying under the radar," making extraordinary
accommodations for subordinates that went beyond official policies.
In each of the cases, the workers responded with profound loyalty --
and the flexibility also enabled the managers to solve other business problems.
LOYAL LABOR. The examples include a hard-driving bank manager who had an epiphany about
work-family balance after Jim, an equally hard-driving subordinate, asked
to work less. Jim's son was rejecting him because he was never around.
The banker reluctantly gave Jim the time he needed. The result: They both became more efficient, and Jim's performance soared. In another case,
giving an employee, a loyal alumna of a university, work time to recruit
at her old school brought the company valuable new hires -- and created a
deeply committed employee.
Most of examples are from large companies, but, insist Christensen and Friedman,
the principles are applicable to small businesses. In fact, says Christensen, it's even more imperative for small businesses to find ways to balance work and family, "because the pain is more acute than in larger companies.
"This is not social welfare here," he stresses. "The issue is how can
we get business done without compromising personal values."
So what can small businesses -- where people are scarce commodities -- do to accommodate such demands? "There are creative ways of getting things done if you look
at things in a fresh light," says Friedman. "I hear that a lot: It has
to be this way. There's a lot to get done."
Friedman says he gets feedback from entrepreneurs who tell him they're already
putting his ideas into practice out of necessity. One owner said:
"If I can't get one of my key employees to the doctor in the middle
of the day, I'm going to lose her. So I drive her there," Friedman says. Another entrepreneur reported putting all the employees' personal commitments as well as business obligations on the company calendar, so everyone can plan around those dates, Friedman
The researchers say three principles guide managers who are good at
balancing work and family issues: 1) They clarify business priorities,
and they encourage workers to be clear about their personal priorities.
2) They recognize their employees as whole people, celebrate their roles
outside work, and acknowledge the boundaries. 3) They continually experiment
with the way work is done to enhance the company's performance, while creating
time for the staff.
Of course, Friedman acknowledges, not everyone wants his boss to be
so involved in his personal life. "It's a gray area," he says. Then again, with
technology muddying the boundaries between what can be accomplished at home
and what can be done at the office, personal life and work life are likely to become more intertwined in the future.
By Julia Lichtblau in New York