Life Unbalanced

December 6, 2009 by Ken Nowack

“Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re healthy.” 

Author Unknown


Results of a new study from the University of Maryland confirm what working parents already know — the expanded work week is undermining family life. In a study of over 500 employees in a Fortune 500 company, researchers concluded that long hours at work increase work-family conflict and that this conflict is associated with increases stress and depression (regardless of how flexible an employee’s schedule was or how much help they had at home for child care).

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, some major career paradigm shifts continue to influence the value struggle between employers’ needs and employees’ wants.  Job security has been replaced by employability security, organizational loyalty has been replaced by job/task loyalty, and linear career paths have been replaced by alternative career paths. It is no coincidence that when reviewing characteristics of the “Best Companies” in America, we find a shift to those that are indeed “family friendly.”

In a poll by Reston, Virginia based TrueCareers, more than 70% of workers do not think there is a healthy balance between work and their personal lives. More than 50%of the 1,626 respondents reported they are exploring new career opportunities because of the inability to manage both work and family stressors. Not only that, a survey in May 2009 found that 79% of all job holders said they had increased their search for new jobs since the recession began last year.

In a comparative survey by Atlanta-based staffing firm Randstad North America, in the year 2000, 54% rated family the most important priority compared to almost 70% in 2002.

For working professional women it is not unusual stop out of work (“off ramping”) to care for children, parents or other family demands. In fact, in a recent study by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce published in Harvard Business Review on differences in “off ramping” found that 44%  of the women reported leaving the “fast lane” for “family time” compared with only 12% of men.

According to a Family and Work Institute study conducted in 2004, over 16% of employees bring work home at least once a week—up from 6% in 1977.

What makes these work/family issues more striking is that working hours in other countries are flat or even declining. For example, France recently enacted a 35-hour work week and mandatory vacations for all employees. According to the International Labor Organization, as of 2000, Americans are working more hours than the Japanese (1,966 hours per year compared to 1,889) and to every European country surveyed.

Taken together, these survey findings seem to suggest that indeed organizations are expecting more from all talent with less resources and security on the horizon.

What Can Be Done: Health and Productivity Management

A focus on Health and Productivity Management (HPM) can become a competitive advantage to organizations with an emphasis on reducing employee stress and focusing on optimizing wellness in the workforce.  Successful lifestyle modification can be facilitated by coaches using structured engagements to assist employees to increase awareness, set behavioral goals and develop effective stress and health management coping skills.

One of the biggest challenges is attempting to link an individual employee’s health goals to an organization’s profitability and productivity goals.  Despite the challenge, a growing body of evidence in the field of health and productivity management (HPM) suggests that investments in the overall health of an employee do contribute to the organization’s bottom line. For example, individuals on disability comprise about 10% of all employees but they account for over 50% of all employee health costs in most organizations.

Published studies have consistently reported positive return on investment for worksite wellness/health promotion programs for employees.  For example, a recent comprehensive review of 56 worksite health promotion studies found that 28 showed an average reduction of 26% in health care costs and 25 measuring absenteeism showed an average of 27% reduction.

For one’s client, the HPM literature can help make a convincing case that productivity and health are not incompatible—they are supported by the same lifestyle behaviors.   Increasingly, companies seem to be coming around to the idea that lifestyle modification programs and coaching can have an impact on morale, productivity, employee well-being and health costs.  One approach companies are using today is to offer lifestyle or wellness coaching to their talent.

Lifestyle Modification Coaching

Consultation regarding lifestyle behaviors has seemed to be part of the domain of physicians, psychologists and other health professionals—not the arena for executive coaches.  It can be argued that coaching for lifestyle modification fits well into the concerns of coaches attempting to increase effectiveness and performance of clients within organizations.

The increasing prevalence of work stress, job/family imbalance and chronic health problems related to lifestyle have a direct adverse affect on individuals and organizations. Helping employees initiate and maintain healthy behavior changes is of increasing importance for the prevention and management of these problems.

In two recent prospective studies of ours, employees in a large aerospace and public utility organization who exercised more regularly, practiced positive overall health habits, had higher scores on resilience/hardiness and utilized appropriate emotion based coping reported significantly less absenteeism due to physical illness, less reported job burnout and greater job satisfaction at the end of a one-year period.

Improving the total health of the workforce (physical and psychological) through formal programs as well as executive lifestyle coaching would appear to be important strategies for increasing productivity and competitive advantage.

It’s time to get my guide dog puppy Ajax out for his dailywalk to promote health and well-being before he goes back to work….Be well….
[tags]obesity, physical activity, work life balance, wellness, depression, sleep disorders, exercise, health and productivity management, lifestyle coaching, wellness coaching, stress management, stress, health, job burnout, envisia learning, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Wellness

If You Enjoyed This Post...

You'll love getting updates when we post new articles on leadership development, 360 degree feedback and behavior change. Enter your email below to get a free copy of our book and get notified of new posts:

Follow Envisia Learning:

RSS Twitter linkedin Facebook

Are You Implementing a Leadership Development Program?

Call us to discuss how we can help you get more out of your leadership development program:

(800) 335-0779, x1