Why valuing a work-life balance matters for your business

Creating a culture and instituting systems that emphasize the importance of balance in the workplace makes for a happier, healthier environment. It can also lead to greater profits.

When you hear the term “work-life balance,” what jumps to mind? For most people, it’s things like four-day workweeks, flex time, cellphone-free weekends—measures that reduce the “work” and boost the “life” in your personal work-life balancing act.

But, what if you’re a business? Is the movement toward greater work-life balance a losing proposition that employers just have to accept, or is there something to be gained beyond employee goodwill? In an industry like accounting, it turns out everyone wins.

HAPPY EMPLOYEES

“A lot of the work we do is very structured, but compressed into short timelines,” explains Alden Aumann, CPA, CA, managing partner at Manning Elliott, a mid-size public practice firm in Vancouver. To offset that structure, Manning Elliott strives to provide options for how, when and where people work. “It’s kind of like studying for an exam; you want to do it where you’re comfortable.”

To that end, the firm has adopted casual dress, flexible work hours and a work-from-nearly-anywhere approach that’s focused on results. “I’m less concerned whether you show up between 8 and 5. I’m more concerned that you get the project done by the end of next week,” says Aumann, noting that digital tools and monthly in-person gatherings help keep the team connected.

HAPPY CLIENTS

For companies with seasonal or cyclical work, or clients across multiple time zones, work-life balance initiatives can be particularly important for ensuring client responsiveness. “In public practice, we have a lot of ‘peak load periods,’” says Aumann. “If the client needs it now, we find a way to do it.”

Employees need flexibility to be able to meet the demands of a hectic engagement or a client on the other side of the world — and down-time to recharge. “If you don’t allow the valleys to happen, you’re not going to get the peaks,” he argues.

HAPPY PARTNERS, OWNERS AND SHAREHOLDERS

For a firm like Manning Elliott, work-life balance initiatives have resulted in more productive employees, better talent retention, more responsive client service, and a strong bottom line. “At the end of the month, when we tally up the hours and the dollars they generate in terms of revenue, we get really good results,” says Aumann.

For publicly traded companies, there’s even evidence to suggest that investment in work-life balance initiatives could pay dividends for shareholders. A 2009 U.S.-based study done by Dr. Michelle Arthur at the University of New Mexico found that stock market reactions to work-family initiative announcements by Fortune 500 companies have changed considerably over time. In the early 1980s, the average reaction was a 0.35 per cent decline in the company’s stock market price; by the 1990s, the tides had turned and the average firm could expect a 0.48 per cent increase.

As Freek Vermeulen notes in the Harvard Business Review, “Now that may seem peanuts to you, but if you’re a $5 billion company, it means that even one such initiative could increase the value of your firm by 24 million [dollars]. That’s a lot of peanuts.”

FINDING YOUR BALANCE

Work-life balance initiatives are bound to vary, depending on the size, industry and culture of your employer. For his part, Aumann sees certain advantages to mid-size firms with a critical mass and the autonomy to make things happen: “We can react very quickly to things. We don’t have to phone Toronto or New York. We just make the decision here and we do it.”

Ultimately, however, it’s about finding what works for you. “Work-life balance is not the same thing for everybody. It’s going to be different things for different people,” explains Aumann. “Balance means you have a lot of diversity in how you get things done.”

KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING

What does work-life balance mean for you? Has does your organization approach this? Post a comment below.

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