Two decades’ worth of surveys and studies have established a strong correlation between U.S. workers who are “very” or “extremely” stressed and negative work outcomes like attrition and turnover, health insurance claims and poor job performance. As a result, the concept of work-life effectiveness has become an increasingly important piece of the total rewards value proposition for both employees and employers. But it also turns out work-life effectiveness is a helpful tool for increasing employees’ ethical competence.
What does that actually mean? Imagine a worker putting together machine parts on an assembly line. On the ﬁrst day of work, she ﬁnds it easy to complete all of her assembly work on time and in conformance to quality standards, including putting all of the bolts in the right places. But fast-forward several weeks later, and the speed of the assembly line has increased. She now ﬁnds it more difﬁcult to complete all of her work before the next set of machine parts arrives. So, she ends up only using three of the four bolts on every other set of parts as a way of saving time. No one seems to notice, so she continues to do it because she might lose her job if she can’t get all of the machine parts assembled.
Of course, assembly line work is not the norm in today’s employment environment. The principles, though, are the same: Workers have a limited amount of time in which to achieve their objectives, and time is a scarce resource requiring balance between competing priorities at work and at home. When misbalance arises and a person must resolve the conﬂict between competing priorities, an all-too common response is to cut corners, misrepresent the quality of work and cover up mistakes. That type of behavior has a negative impact on the organization’s stakeholders, especially customers.
We must not assign blame to an employee for not being able to balance commitments at work and home, especially because employers play a key role in helping employees balance work and home life by recognizing reasonable versus unreasonable performance expectations. Rather than adjudicating ethical matters as if they were a legal case, we ought to be looking to ethics for insights into how to serve stakeholders better through a higher quality of service to their needs.
Ethical conduct and quality service share many characteristics. Treating a stakeholder with honesty, integrity, care, trustworthiness, accountability and fairness all are commonly held values. In our daily roles as a customer, an employee, a member of a community and so on — we all want to be treated this way.
What ethical conduct and quality service both require is a high level of communication between an organization and its stakeholders, requiring both parties to be forthright and respectful in sharing information about what they value.
For instance, how can the assembly line worker effectively do her job with a reasonable amount of stress if the company is not aware its policies are causing an imbalance? By communicating that back to management.
How can the company assure the assembly line worker’s voice will be heard and respected? By having lines of communication open and being visibly responsive to feedback.
Work-life effectiveness is not merely having a company telecommuting policy or telling employees not to check email on vacation. Work-life effectiveness must be “baked in” to an organization’s culture over a long period of time and involve open communication between employees and the company in a manner similar to high-quality customer service.
Do you think it is an employee’s sole responsibility to balance work-life priorities or does the person’s employer share the responsibility? How might your answer change if we think of an employee as we think of a customer?