How to Help Employees Win in the New Work/Life Era

Posted by Brandon Carter on Oct. 8, 2014

I stopped into a friend's office earlier this summer to pick him up for a dinner meeting. It was 5:30pm, a time of day when Salt Lake City's warm summer days begin cooling down. Even so, this guy's office was blisteringly hot.

I have a tendency to sweat like Patrick Ewing jogging in a track suit inside a sauna, and within minutes of entering his office I was soaked. This was a new building, housing a company who could most assuredly pay their bills. What gives?

"They're trying to chase us out," he explained. "Every day at five they turn off the air so people will actually get out and go home."

Wow! A company with employees so dedicated that they have to resort to guerrilla temperature tactics to get them to stop working. I was impressed (and beginning to smell).

The Work/Life Borg

This is the working world we live in. Nationwide layoffs, always-on connectivity, the rising cost of living and other factors have turned America into a nation of workaholics. Today, life interrupts working:

Think about it: you probably checked your phone just before going to sleep last night, then checked it again as soon as you awoke this morning. You may have even dreamed of work.

Work is no longer something we do for eight hours a day before going home. Work is never turned off, and neither is home life. We're always connected to both.

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There's no longer such a thing as work/life balance because these aren't two separate entities. Like "The Borg" on Star Trek, they've assimilated each other into one body, and it's taking over the world. Or at least America.


People didn't just wake up one day and think, "Hey, working 17 hours a day sounds like fun!" As mentioned above, there are reasons for this. Mostly, people feel obligated to work out of fear or responsibility ("No one else can do what I do").
life spinnerThis presents a delicate balance for employers. How do you maximize productivity without bringing on burnout and sacrificing productivity?

There isn't a magic bullet to answer the question, as every workplace is different, and every generation has different preferences. However, a workplace needs to make employees feel like they're winning.

What's winning? Here are a few ideas:

  • Employees feel like they're winning by being compensated fairly for the time they commit to being on the clock

This is fairly self-explanatory, right? If a company expects someone to be "on" 24/7/365, that person should be compensated accordingly, whether through salary, employee perks, recognition programs, or a combination thereof. The quickest way to burn out an employee is to ask them to go the extra mile so that the CEO can have another yacht with no reward back to the employee. Evidence: Salary (66%) and not feeling valued (65%) are the two biggest complaints of dissatisfied employees, not the responsibilities and demands of their current role.

  • Employees feel like they're winning by working for a company that helps them feel meaningful

Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work are 1.4 times more engaged (and three times as likely to stay with an organization). For many this takes the form of a supportive, caring supervisor, and for others (particularly Millennials) it's a company that helps with good causes. The central idea is they're working for someone or something other than themselves, which could make responding to a weekend email less of a big deal.

  • Employees feel like they're winning by having more time where they feel comfortable "signing off" from work completely

67% of employees say their company culture either says nothing about taking time off, sends mixed messages or discourages them from using PTO. You don't have to shut off the cool air to get your point across, but employees should be encouraged to unplug (and have confidence their jobs aren't going to be endangered by doing so).

I'd love to get feedback on this. How do you feel about working around the clock? Does your company do something unique that helps you feel like you're winning?

Topics: Employee Engagement + Loyalty

Brandon Carter

Written by Brandon Carter

Brandon is a former writer and marketer for Access Development. He's a frequent blogger on customer and employee engagement & loyalty, consumer trends, and branding. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter at @bscarter