Redesigned work improves
E mployees, managers, and companies face ever-increasing economic, business, job, and often personal pressures. This culture puts employees’ work and personal lives at odds, but new evidence shows work and personal realms may be able to cooperate for mutual benefit.
A recent study, "Holding a Job, Having a Life: Strategies for Change," demonstrates how some companies and employees are using improved work-life programs to boost business performance and address employees’ personal needs. The two-year study was conducted by the Work in America Institute (WAI, Scarsdale, N.Y.), a non-profit research and membership organization that studies workplace issues.
The 10 firms profiled found that truly encouraging employee involvement fuels innovation and creativity; adopting a collaborative work-life strategy improves retention, productivity, customer service, and absenteeism; while employee-driven solutions help reduce workloads, overtime, stress, and increase flexibility and family and leisure time. These companies enlisted employees to redesign core processes, redefine organizational culture, and align work-life efforts with corporate strategies and human resource procedures. Because these new work-life programs weren’t simply imposed from the top, they gained much stronger buy-in from participants, and unleashed far more individual and team creativity.
Some experiences reported by the profiled companies included:
After requiring its field technicians to handle customer requests within two hours on a round-the-clock basis, Hewlett-Packard allowed them to redesign their work process and schedule. The new, more flexible schedule maintains service standards, but allows employees time off without being on call so they can turn off their beepers.
Work teams at Agilent Technologies’ Lightwave Division recently restructured the finance department so it could respond more effectively to customers’ changing demands and increased flexibility with part-time scheduling and telecommuting.
Line workers at Kraft Foods’ pizza plant (Sussex, Wis.) developed a team-based system and more predictable scheduling that boosted production, reduced overhead costs and downtime, and improved recruitment and retention.
Ernst & Young estimates it saved $17 million in reduced retention costs during 1997-98 by adopting work-life strategies, such as collaboratively reducing travel days and evenly distributing workloads. One new rule says no one is required to check e-mail or voice mail on weekends or vacations.
The study also showed that, though data supports work-life programs’ bottom line contributions, measurement is needed to back them up. The study concludes that sustaining work-life programs depends on: building a broader understanding of how they aid business and personal goals; developing support and participation on all company levels; and creating tools that allow other parts of the organization to implement work-life changes.