Balancing act: Company offers 5 things to know when seeking work-life balance

Published: Monday, May 28 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

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One of the interesting things about the company I started working for about nine months ago is the variety of work schedules it offers its employees.

Because it's a 24/7 operation, the company has to be flexible, but I still think it goes above and beyond in trying to accommodate people.

For example, some of the more technical employees work overnight shifts, freeing their daylight hours to manage school or family responsibilities. Others work seven-on/seven-off schedules, giving them every other week free.

Even in my department, which is more of an 8-to-5 area, we like to work with employees on their schedules. One of my team members works four, 10-hour days and several others work from home about one day each week.

Beyond the obvious purpose of filling shifts, offering this variety also hopefully helps employees find a schedule that best allows them to develop work-life balance. As I've said repeatedly in this column, a person who is able to find that balance is likely to be happier, both at the office and at home. And a happy worker is generally a more productive worker.

I'm not the only one who feels that way, according to a new survey released by Accountemps, a specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.

According to a survey of more than 1,400 chief financial officers from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees, 41 percent said trying to balance work and personal responsibilities is their greatest source of workplace stress.

That far outpaced the 28 percent who said office politics or conflicts with co-workers were their greatest source of workplace stress, or the 16 percent who cited keeping current with changing accounting and finance regulations. Rounding out the survey, 9 percent indicated higher workloads as their biggest work stressor, while 4 percent referred to a challenging commute.

"Work-life balance may seem like an issue for individuals, but it also should be a concern for businesses," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps, in a press release about the survey. "Whether it's through flexible work schedules, telecommuting arrangements or other options, companies can benefit from helping their teams balance professional and personal objectives. Organizations that commit to these efforts enhance morale and productivity and make their businesses more appealing places to work."

I believe that's exactly right. It's especially telling that even the higher workloads that have been so common since the economic downturn are less likely to cause stress than work-life balance issues, according to the survey.

But what can you do about this stress? In the Accountemps release, Messmer offered a list of five things employees should know if they want to help improve their work-life balance. He said you should know:

— Your employer's priorities. If you know which projects are most important, you can prioritize your work and be more productive. That will make it easier for your boss to accommodate your personal requests as they arise.

— What your company offers. In other words, you can't ask to work a seven-on/seven-off schedule if you don't know it's available.

— How to say no. "Realize that no one can accomplish everything," the Accountemps release said. "If you can't take on a new project, let your manager know. Explain the situation, and, if needed, offer to shift some of your responsibilities to accommodate the new request. Your boss would rather know up front than see a project fall through the cracks."

That one may seem risky, but I think it's true. One of your supervisor's functions is to manage expectations. He or she doesn't want to promise their own boss that a project is going to get done by a certain date, then fail to deliver. While it's important to push yourself, you also need to be realistic about what you can accomplish.

— Your calendar. The release suggests blocking out your schedule when you need to attend to personal activities or errands and letting your manager know in advance. "That way, you'll have the time already built into your day."

My team is great about letting me know when they have appointments or other personal events that will require them to be late or otherwise out of the office, and that does make it much easier for me to plan.

— How to unplug. "As much as possible, set aside times when you can cut the tether with the office," the release said. "Try to avoid checking work email and list an alternate contact in your out-of-office message."

This is always a great idea. While it can be hard setting aside your smartphone when you're used to checking it constantly at work, I guarantee you — and your family — won't regret it if you do.

I'd be interested in your take on this topic. What is your greatest source of stress in the workplace? If it is work-life balance, what have you done to alleviate the problem? Have any of the tips from Accountemps worked for you?

Let me know, and I'll share some of your responses in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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