Work-life balance key to being the best

Jan 19 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Organisations in the U.S. that want to be seen as "employers of choice" attracting the brightest and best need to be far more flexible, supportive of employees' lives outside the office and just more fun than the non-stop treadmills that many were a decade ago.

Just how far the best American employers have come in acknowledging the importance of work-life balance is clear from Fortune magazine's annual "100 Best Companies to Work For" list, from which Google emerged in top spot.

The list, compiled by research Great Place to Work Institute, found that other factors commonplace among the best companies include increased racial and gender diversity, improved internal communications and increased use of employee stock ownership programs.

"While many commentators long for the workplace of old - with fully paid health care, generous pensions and lifetime job security - we see that for many lucky employees, the workplace has never been better," said Robert Levering, co-founder of Great Place to Work Institute and co-author of Fortune's list with Milton Moskowitz.

But the biggest changes over the last decade have come in employers' attitudes towards work, family and flexibility.

For example, 72 of the top 100 employers now offer job sharing programs, compared with only 18 a decade ago. Similarly, 79 offer compressed work weeks on a year-round, regular basis, compared with 25 companies in 1998.

Technology has also had a major impact, with 82 employers embracing remote working or telecommuting today, compared with only 18 in 1998.

Cisco has the highest proportion of telecommuters, with nine out of 10 employees telecommuting or working from home at some time or other. Five other companies on the 2007 list have half or more of their workforce working remotely compared with only one 10 years ago.

One of the least-common benefits in corporate America a decade ago was the inclusion of domestic partners and same-sex couples in benefit plan coverage. Even then, 28 of the best companies offered domestic partner insurance. Today 70 do.

These improvements also are reflected in the fact that eight out of 10 employees at Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" now feel that management encourages them to balance their work lives and their personal lives ó an increase of 11 percentage points from 10 years ago. A similar proportion also think their employers offer special and unique benefits today ó an increase of six percentage points.

Other notable increases include an eight-point increase in employees' perceptions of management's competence and a 15-point increase in employees' perceptions of opportunities to receive special recognition.

"These improvements are a direct result of global competition," Robert Levering said. "More companies now realize that they cannot compete successfully unless they attract and hold onto the most qualified workers.

"Today's employees simply won't put up with a lousy workplace environment. And women workers, in particular, are demanding a more family-friendly milieu. So, we expect that the workplace will continue to improve as the competition for qualified workers should intensify over the next decade."

But one thing that hasn't changed over the past decade is that the best companies still outperform their peers.

According to Russell Investment Group analysis, a portfolio of publicly traded "100 Best" stocks, started in 1998 and reinvested annually to reflect changes in the list, would yield a 14.6 per cent return today, nearly triple the return of the S&P 500 average.