Work-Life & The Question … “Where’s The Pain?”

Like many, research and data drives my actions.  Statistics and trends lead to solutions.  Yet without fail, it’s the individual — the single person whose eyes speak as much as, if not more than, their words — that trumps all.

Anyone who is charged with supporting employees — typically human resources and iterations thereof — knows well that mounting pressures from every corner are having a direct impact on employee engagement, productivity, and retention.   In plain speak, this means colleagues to your left and right are struggling with family and financial issues (e.g. how to pay for childcare, private school, or home care for an aging parent) to personal health and stress (e.g. obesity, depression, and absenteeism).  There is not one single employee who, if asked, could not answer the question “Where’s the pain?”

Key takeaways from newly released Towers Watson research — the “Global Workforce Study” — all boil down to one thing … employees are struggling.  One statistic in particular emerged as significant — 53% of employees do not feel that their organization makes it possible for them to have a healthy balance between work and personal life.  53%.  Take a company with 10,000 employees and that equates to 5,300 employees.   A department with 75 employees means almost 40 employees.  Or a team of 25 equates to just over 13 employees.  No, people.  Each with different needs.  And given that work-life balance (or integration) consistently appears in virtually every study or research as being a key reason for employee satisfaction, well-being, and yes…engagement, what does this tell us?

It tells me several things:

  1. Employers are not asking the important question — “Where’s the pain?”
  2. Employers still need to drill down to more tightly assess and address the issues tearing employees into pieces.
  3. Employers are continuing to learn that work-life balance means different things to different people, making the challenges and opportunities greater.

Yes, there are certain areas where some conclusions can perhaps be made — e.g. a working mother just returning from maternity leave will have specific needs; an employee reaching retirement age will require certain supports that are unique to this lifecycle.  Yet there are other conclusions that cannot be made simply by looking at the demographics of the workforce.  This is where asking the question, “Where’s the pain?” comes into play.  Asking is the first step.  Being prepared to respond is next.

Employers are often concerned that asking the question will result in answers that they cannot address.  Costs that they expect will be greater than they can bear.  Changes that they are not prepared (or willing) to implement.  Or, it’s the fear that opening Pandora’s Box will mean “everyone will want it” even though the “it” has not been defined and despite knowing that not everyone will want, need, or use everything offered or available.  *But*… for those who do, the benefits can be tremendous and far-reaching, both for the employee and the organization.  Keep in mind that the flip side to “knowing” is assuming and we know the adage about assumptions.  It’s truly less about costs and more about something quite simple…showing employees that you are listening.  And isn’t investing in human capital — the people who make every organization “sing” the most important investment of all?

We all know that not every need can be filled, yet the pain can be eased for far more if the door is open to asking and listening.  Sometimes just knowing someone cares is enough to begin.  And where the pain exists for one, there is likely similar pain for others too.  The first step is finding it.

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