While work-life balance may mean one thing for me — specifically, making sure I leave the office in time to help my children with homework or attend their evening softball games — it may be defined in an entirely different way by someone else.
Work-life balance is good for both employees and companies. I believe I've established that fact in the columns I've written during the last few years.
However, I've noticed that most of the surveys I've cited to draw that conclusion have been based on interviews with front-line workers. And really, it's not surprising that the average resident of Cubeville is interested in finding ways to spend less time in his or her cloth-covered home-away-from-home and more time with family.
That's why a survey that popped into my inbox last week really caught my eye.
Battalia Winston, which says it's one of the nation's largest women-owned executive search firms, asked senior executives from a range of industries nationwide to answer several questions about their companies' work-life balance initiatives, as well as about balance in their personal lives.
According to the survey, 83 percent of responding executives indicated that their companies encouraged a healthy work-life balance for employees. Furthermore, the executives said 73 percent of their companies offered flexible schedules, and 66 percent offered teleworking options.
I was glad to read these high numbers, as I think they show that the message about the importance of work-life balance to both workers and corporations is continuing to gain traction.
The executives in the Battalia Winston survey also said that 63 percent of their companies had implemented technology such as teleconferencing and video chat to reduce required travel.
I haven't written much about business travel's effect on work-life balance, but it clearly has a huge impact on people who spend significant time on the road. I've seen this in friends and family members who attend meetings across the country and around the globe.
Again, this was a good sign among many in the survey results.
"Work-life balance continues to be a dominating topic in the coverage of workplace issues, and the survey’s findings reflect this trend," the Battalia Winston press release said. "Just over a third of respondents indicated that their company values work-life balance more so than five years ago, while half of respondents reported that their position has remained the same and existing programs have been maintained (rather than expanded)."
Less positive, but not really surprising, were results showing that few companies offer programs specifically designed to help working parents. According to the Battalia Winston press release, surveyed executives said 21 percent of their companies offered maternity leave beyond what's required by law, and only 14 percent offered paternity leave beyond those requirements.
We hear all the time about the generous maternity and paternity leaves offered in Europe and elsewhere, but this trend doesn't seem to be one that is gaining popularity in the U.S. yet. We'll see if that changes in the years to come.
Perhaps more interesting than these company-specific results were the executives' responses to questions about their personal work habits.
According to the Battalia Winston survey, 55 percent of responding executives said they often worked on either evenings, weekends or both. However, almost 67 percent also said they were satisfied with their work-life balance.
The press release about the survey included some quotes from specific executives, and I found them to be quite enlightening regarding this seeming contradiction.
For example, one CEO said, “It's (working nights/weekends) the nature of the job and the digital age. Customers and owners expect that we are more connected.”
Another respondent, who is an entrepreneur, said in the press release that "there is de facto no limit" to the number of hours he will work. "We have to make our own choices, based on our individual taste," he said.
"The respondents’ comments revealed that many consider work-life balance a continuous process that can ebb and flow over time," the Battalia Winston press release said. "One CIO remarked, 'I take time as I need it so it balances working any evenings or weekends.' An SVP of HR explained, 'I have flexibility in my schedule to work evenings and weekends as needed or as I choose.'
"And another SVP mentioned that her work-life balance, though not perfect, has improved: 'I frequently work evenings and occasionally on weekends. I used to work frequently on both, and thus I have improved my work-life balance (and therefore am satisfied).’ ”
I like the way these executives have characterized their lives. While work-life balance may mean one thing for me — specifically, making sure I leave the office in time to help my children with homework or attend their evening softball games — it may be defined in an entirely different way by someone else.
I do hope that the executives who work many evenings and weekends don't penalize — by lack of promotion or other means — the employees who work hard while at the office but also value their at-home time. From this survey, it sounds like that is not a problem.
"Our study confirms that the definition of ‘work-life’ balance continues to be in flux,” said Dale Winston, Battalia Winston CEO, in the press release. “Executives understand that a healthy work-life balance doesn’t necessarily mean an eight-hour work day.
"Leaders are beginning to have a more holistic mindset: Sometimes you must tip the scales toward work, sometimes toward family or your personal life. They’re thinking holistically about overall balance, not measuring the number of hours they spend at their desk, and that mentality is trickling down to the rest of the company.”
The quest for balance really is a personal thing. If companies do their part to allow the kinds of flexibility different people need, they should find that they can help all workers.
Employees who have built balanced lives should be happier, more engaged and highly productive. And that should translate into positive changes on the company's bottom line.
This really can result in a situation in which everyone wins. And that's good news no matter where you are on the corporate org chart.