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Submitted by mdinges on


We are a small company (30 ppl). We are a software provider in a B2B mode, with our largest team being comprised of exempt customer service reps. This is not a call center environment. Our calls may take 5 minutes to resolve, or 5 days to resolve. Our average salary for these positions is > $50k. All of these folks travel to perform conversions, training, etc. That's just background to try to establish that I think of us all as professionals, and that we don't really have 'entry level' positions, and that our customers really rely on us.

So the question: what does work life balance mean? To me, it means not consistently requiring or expecting our associates to work evenings and weekends. Sometimes, that is necessary but it is not the norm.

To our associates, or some of them at least, work life balance means working less than 40 hours. Working less than the number of hours they were hired to work. Not shifting hours to hit the 40, but reducing hours to be able to tend to non-work life items. Requests have been made recently, always couched in the "work life balance". Those requests may result in the associate saying "and therefore I need to work 26 hours per week."

My reaction to that, internally, is: you were hired to work a full time job; you're asking me to 1. create a part time job when I don't really need a part time person; 2. you will need to take a pay cut, and one that is greater than simply taking annual / 2080 * new number of hours b/c you're not available to me to work as an exempt person would and you cannot travel; 3. you've put me in a bind if I accommodate this because I now need to go hire another full time person when I really just need a full time person; 4. the hours you want / can work don't sync up with the hours that we need someone here.

Am I off on my thoughts on work-life? Or does it actually mean something closer to same pay, fewer hours (less than 40)?

BZOpportunityManagement's picture

I hate to give you a wishy-washy answer like that, but it depends on who you ask.I haven't seen a single definition because each person defines that balance differently. For me, having a good work-life balance means I get time in the morning and bed time with my two children, can make important mid-week personal appointments, and have most of my weekend free. For some people, it means having 1 to 2 telework days a week; for others, it means making dramatic life shifts (including working part time) to have more of a personal life.

I would stand by your reaction, however. If people signed up for full-time, exempt positions then they need to realize those are the terms of their employment. If they are unable or unwilling to meet those, then you are well within your rights to move on to another person who can live with the terms you've laid out. If they require different accomodation then they can move on. 

In the end, it comes down to what you (and your company) are comfortable with as the definition of what an employee needs to be.

mdinges's picture
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Thanks for the thoughtful answer.  Very much appreciated.

techmgr's picture
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I cannot imagine the outrageous sense of entitlement someone would have to feel, to expect to be able set their own work hours and work less than the standard work week for which they were hired. Maybe they are young and inexperienced? The requests are unreasonable and your reaction was the correct one in my opinion. 

There are lots of ways to be flexible, and I've benefitted from such flexibility myself. Allowing a 2 hour errand to the doctors on Monday and letting them make up those 2 hours over the next two days means they don't have to use limited PTO. Giving advance notice if there's a chance of having to work late, or work on a weekend, so that family arrangements can be made. There are many ways in which a company can be flexible and sensitive to the fact that their employees have lives, families, get sick etc. It sounds like you work at a company that is flexible, and I think that's great. As was said earlier, it's all about what you are comfortable with. And it's OK to not be comfortable with these particular requests. 

mrreliable's picture

Work-life balance will mean completely different things to different people. It's impossible to come up with a workable definition, making it an irrelevant phrase from a practical standpoint.

Presumably, someone in your company gave legitimacy to the irrelevant phrase. Maybe they were trying to recruit someone, or make them feel better about working there. Whatever it was, it was all but meaningless when it was born, and now your employees are using it as a hammer.

It reminds me of the time I spent coaching youth sports. I had a very young player who defiantly spouted, "This is supposed to be fun!" when I made it clear I expected her to complete a drill at practice when she wasn't anxious to do it. I said, "Some kids think it's fun to do the drills and get better every day." I expect the phrase was learned from her parents, who probably said the words to disparage a coach who didn't play her with the frequency or at the desired position because, well, she wasn't that good going in and she wasn't willing to work to get better.

Because of knowledge and motivation requirements, the key employees in our company are few and far between. We make it clear from the first interview that we recognize the need to make sure the job we hire them for works especially well with their off-work lives. That means different accomodations for each. We don't do it to be nice, or to pat ourselves on the back, we do it because the nature of the work is difficult enough that in order to attract and keep the best employees we need to be a source of happiness and satisfaction.

Other departments are run differently. We can't give office staff or customer service personnel broad flexibility with scheduling, etc. Job requirements are such that we need a certain number of people on staff during all business hours. We still take steps to keep them as happy as we can, but again, it's a different circumstance for each person.

IMO you're projecting a meaning to "work-life balance" that isn't there. To make it meaningful you have to specifically define it, which I don't believe can be done.