Work-life balance study offers model for success

Originally posted May 16, 2014 by Dan Cook on

Work-life balance is out of balance in the United States, and it extracts a toll both on the job and at home. An oft-referenced 2010 survey starkly revealed how out of whack work-life balance is. Since, there’s been no evidence that it’s improved, despite the amount of discussion the subject generates.

But a recent controlled study that examined the effect of giving employees more say in their work schedule indicates that such an approach to addressing the issue could provide quantitative and qualitative benefits to employers.

The study involved 700 employees of a Fortune 500 IT corporation. Designed and conducted by two University of Minnesota researchers, the study offered half the participants considerable control over their work schedules. The other half put shoulder to the wheel in the “normal” fashion, the researchers said — meaning they let the boss set their schedule and simply followed through.

The upshot, according to the study: “Workplaces can change to increase flexibility, provide more support from supervisors, and reduce work-family conflict.”

The study revealed “significant improvements” in how the schedule-controllers reported feeling about life on the job and at home during the six-month study period.

“Not only did they have a decrease in work-family conflict, but they also experienced an improvement in perceived time adequacy (a feeling that they had enough time to be with their families) and in their sense of schedule control,” the study said.

Those who benefited the most from the additional schedule control were working parents and employees who said their bosses didn’t support work-life balance prior to the study. On average, the schedule controllers worked about an hour less a week than their counterparts, and they continued to be as productive as they had been prior to the study.

“There was no evidence that this intervention increased work hours or perceived job demands,” the researchers said.

In a news release, the researchers, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly, claimed that their work offered corporations a path toward enhancing employees’ lives without risking lost productivity. Too, they said, it would be important to establish a formal work-life balance program as opposed to the types of informal, case-by-case work-life balance experiments many companies have dabbled in.

“Work-family conflict can wreak havoc with employees’ family lives and also affect their health,” said Rosalind King, of the Population Dynamics Branch at the National Institutes of Health. “The researchers have shown that by restructuring work practice to focus on results achieved and providing supervisors with an instructional program to improve their sensitivity to employees’ after-work demands, they can reduce that stress and improve employees’ family time.”