Work-Life Balance: The Bottom Line

Today’s work force is riding a tidal wave of work-life trends as concepts like “mindfulness” and “nap rooms” become main stream. Many companies are redefining parental leave (for Dad’s, adopters, or non-birth parents), and volunteer days become the norm. The pattern here is making room for what happens in life and allowing for work-life balance, but three questions linger:

  1. “What do our employees really want?” (A lot)
  2. “How much is this going to cost me? (Not much)
  3. “Can employees doing ‘less work’ really get more done?” (No, but read on)

To begin, work-life balance is more than nap pods and personal days off. At its core, the notion of work-life balance reflects an employer’s support for their employees well-being and a respect for their life outside of work. It goes beyond policies; it really is about culture. We all know someone who has taken a job because of the great vacation package only to find they had no time to use it. In fact, almost half of Americans do not use all their vacation days!

Company cultures that support work-life balance project security to employees. It provides fulfillment for workers by allowing them to manage their personal lives so that they come to work focused and ready to perform.  Do you think an Assistant Manager who sent a sick child to school because he had no personal days is providing his full attention? Or that a project lead who commutes 2 hours each way every day (because there are no flexible work arrangements) has the focus to catch every mistake? According to most established behavioral science, the answer is a “not a freaking chance”.

We bring our whole selves to work (distractions of the morning last all day) and leading companies already recognize that. Those that have not, will find attracting new hires much harder. Getting top talent through the door requires real work-life balance options. Running existing employees in high gear for months is now a certifiable lose-lose situation. Productivity plummets after a 50 hour work week and, even worse, drive absenteeism and turnover. Employee ROI crumbles under the weight of overtime.

Solutions come in many forms. Part-time arrangements, job sharing, in-office perks. What is best for your bottom line?

STOP. Ask employees what they want first. Prioritize, start one-at-a time, and cut anything they don’t want. The best execution on increasing (actual and the perception of) work-life balance is a supportive culture from managers. Will you convince all managers this is a good idea? Maybe not. The alternative is losing another good employee.

Finally, your people will not likely get more work done. They will just get exactly the same amount done. And appreciate you for it.


Posted: 9/21/2015

The Impact of Employees’ Health on The Employer

How can employers create a wellness program that improves employees’ health?

“Americans don’t leave their increasing waistlines at home; they bring them to work.  And those extra pounds are having serious ramifications relating to health care costs, productivity and morale.” – Robert J. Grossman, HR Magazine, March 2004

The number of people in the American workforce may be shrinking but the size of the average American certainly is not.  According to a 2005 study by Trust in America’s Health, almost 65% – or 119 million Americans – are either overweight or obese.  This startling statistic, combined with the exponential increase in medical costs, means employers must find ways to address their employees’ health issues – or face some expensive consequences.

The Real Costs of Obesity

In the past, helping an overweight worker slim down was probably not an employer’s top-priority.  However, recent research is beginning to change that mindset by showing the economic impact that obesity has on employee performance.  The healthcare costs for obese employees, which includes medical insurance, hospitalization costs and physician visits are about 36% higher on average than those for their average-weight counterparts.  For medication, costs are 77% higher.

Employers are all too aware of the escalating direct costs of healthcare.  Yet, it’s the indirect costs that quietly but pervasively decrease company profit.  Reduced productivity and increased absenteeism are not represented on the company balance sheet but financially impact revenue.  In 2004, HR Magazine reported that obese individuals are twice as likely to be absent 14 or more times a year.  When obese workers are not absent, they are not working to their full potential.  Researchers estimate about 25% of obese employees under-perform due to obesity-related infirmities or conditions.

The good news is that employers are taking note of this phenomenon and consequently, taking action.  About 80% of workplaces with over 50 employees provide some type of health-related initiatives and many are starting to address the issue of obesity.  In addition, about 40-50% of large employers offer weight control assistance, often through a “Weight Watchers at Work”-type program.  Some companies even offer to pay for gastric bypass surgery, for those employees who are at least 100 pounds overweight. Overall the approach is to improve employee loyalty by increasing overall quality of life for the workforce.

Unfortunately, most employee’s health programs are well-meaning but poorly planned and executed.  According to a June 2006 report from the University of Minnesota, the results of these programs have not been as positive as studies documenting their impact suggest they should be.  Perhaps the main reason for this is that employers do not market their health initiatives to the people who could benefit the most from them.  For example, about 27% of employers offer discounted membership to local health clubs.  This would be immensely valuable but is historically used most by employees who already exercise regularly.

Additionally, organizations continually make the mistake of incorporating initiatives that only address one specific health risk, such as high blood pressure.  Providing free blood pressure screenings to employees may enhance their awareness of a possible problem.  However, the risk assessment should be one small part of a comprehensive plan to reduce the employee’s health risks.  Even a comprehensive plan will be unsuccessful if it is only implemented for a short-term period.

Below we have highlighted some Best Practices for designing and executing a successful employee’s health program.

Boosting Employees’ Health with Company Wellness Programs

  1. Make Workers’ Health a Priority: Many employers establish employee’s health programs without really considering what it can mean for their workers and half-hearted initiatives send the wrong message to employees.  Buy-in from management is crucial to planning a program that can produce tangible, meaningful results.  Making health a priority includes providing your employees with the most comprehensive, long-term plan possible and creating a health-conscious company culture at all levels.
  2. Provide Incentives: In order to make an employee’s health program work, the right incentives must be awarded for the right behaviors.  For example, high-risk employees can receive a reduction in co-payments by participating in the company wellness program.  Low-risk employees would automatically receive the discounted rate in order to ensure fairness.  As healthcare costs continue to rise, reduced medical payments are likely to remain a powerful motivator to employees.Incentives related to medical costs also increase the likelihood that the target populations will participate – and that equals significant savings on healthcare for employers.  A study of 23,500 General Motors employees showed that just encouraging obese employees to engage in physical activity as little as little as once or twice a week reduced health care by an average of $400 to $500 per year per employee.  How much money could your company save by successfully targeting these populations?
  3. Concentrate on Many Aspects of Employee’s Health: Weight management classes and nutritional consultations are certainly beneficial but they constitute only a part of an employee’s health and overall well-being.  For optimal employee performance, a plan should attend to stress and mental health barriers as well.  Stanford’s Health Improvement Program (HIP), one of the oldest employer-sponsored health programs in the programs, is an excellent example of a well-rounded initiative.  In addition to physical fitness classes, Stanford offers smoking cessation programs, “wisdom therapy” for managing stress, behavior modification support groups and even a class for cancer patients.
  4. Determine What You Can Afford: Small to mid-size companies may shy away from employer-funded wellness programs, usually because they don’t think they can spend money on programs with somewhat inconclusive success rates.  In reality, though, companies are already unnecessarily spending money in the form of higher absenteeism, increased employee turnover, and skyrocketing healthcare costs.Experts suggest that employers contact their health plans for possible collaboration.  Even if your business is low on funds, consider implementing useful low or no-cost programs, such as providing nutritional information for cafeteria foods or establishing a smoke-free workplace.
  5. Offer Web-Based Options: Obviously, surfing the Internet is no substitute for running at the gym.  However, companies can likely increase employee participation by offering services like nutritional counseling, healthy recipes, workout schedules and risk assessments online.  Web-based options also allow employees to easily track both their personal progress and their incentives.  Workers are more apt to get involved in a program that has as many private and simple options as possible.

Wellness programs that promote employee’s health are a critical part of talent retention. For more information about how to improving your workforce wellness and employee productivity, email

Build the Perfect Exit Interview, Build a Better Workplace

Done right, an intelligent exit interview strategy can offer you a wealth of information on your staffing needs.

I know…you don’t do exit interviews.  Well, despite the escalating cost of employee turnover, most companies don’t. The common reasons are:

  1. I already know why people leave
  2. People don’t give honest answers
  3. We don’t have the time
  4. I am not sure what to ask, or
  5. Who needs them? The people are gone anyway.

Exit Interview Return on Investment

“By constantly evaluating and renewing the workplace, you’ll decrease hiring and training costs and reduce employee turnover.” –  Chason Hecht, President, Retensa

None of the aforementioned reasons equate to the tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, a company can save on employee turnover, absenteeism, and productivity from performing exit interviews. Losing 1 employee can cost a company a minimum of 50% up to 300% of an employee’s annual salary.  So exit interviews, which cost $30 to $150 each, provide one of the highest sources of Return on Investment (ROI) you can get from an employee program.

Done right, you can gather new solutions to recruitment, management, orientation, as well as how to best meet the needs of the person filling their position.  By constantly evaluating and renewing the workplace you’ll decrease hiring and training costs, and reduce employee turnover.

What Makes a Good Exit Interview Strategy?

Exit interviews are a formal set of questions asked of departing employees that serve as a barometer for the current work environment.  The best information will be from soon-to-depart employees who feel comfortable expressing how they feel, and trust those they are speaking with to listen confidentially. Whoever administers the exit interview, they should query five key areas:

  1. Reasons they joined/liked working there (e.g. questions about salary, work environment, administration, what did they like most about their job, etc.).
  2. Reasons they are leaving (same as above, plus management relationship and what they liked least).
  3. Suggestions for future changes (e.g. questions about training a replacement, challenges, improving communication, different reward system, etc.).
  4. Verifying the understanding between employer and employee (e.g. concerning insurance, materials/supplies, confidentiality agreements, keys, etc.).
  5. Open Ended Opportunity.  Let employees be expressive, it provides closure.  People don’t quit a firm to play in the NFL.  Ex-employees stay in the industry after leaving to be a potential client, vendor, partner, or competitor.  In every case, it’s a good investment to part on good terms.  You can always use a strategic partner and you don’t want to add emotional fuel to your competition.

Upon receiving the information, the provider should organize it into a format you can easily use to make real-world changes.  Once several departures have provided similar responses, it is time to make a change. Implementing the change is where a company reaps the benefits of exit interviews.  It shows your existing employees the company values their opinions and works to provide solutions.  Exit interviews provide suggestions and propel change, and that gives the business the feedback needed to move forward.

Exit Interview Outsourcing

Finally, a word about outsourcing…During in-person interviews, especially with the boss, employees will dodge an honest response to keep a good reference. As a result, a company will not receive helpful insights on how to improve, and may be falsely led to believe their company has no areas to improve upon.  For this reason anonymity in exit interviews is crucial.  Outsourcing exit interviews ensures honesty and saves money. A good third party can get your employee to open up, which is much harder to achieve if conducted within the business.

For more information about how Retensa can assist your organization to build the perfect exit interview and boost employee retention, email

Work/Life Initiatives Impact Employee Retention

“When organizations are establishing work/life programs, it is important to consider the purpose of the program and whom they serve.” – Nancy L. Lockwood, HR Magazine, Vol 48 No. 6

Work/life programs can be used as retention tools for organizations, but many miss out.

Sometimes it seems 24 hours per day is not enough to tackle work and personal tasks. Sound familiar? Both employees and employers realize that, in the modern lifestyle, work and family matters have converged. Many firms have instituted hotlines, programs, or even software to ensure that these conflicts do not diminish the quality and productivity of employees’ work. According to Lockwood’s “Work/life balance: Challenges and Solutions,” employers recognize the importance of employees’ needs to balance personal and professional responsibilities, but they are having difficulty integrating these programs into the corporate culture. Many employees worry that their career advancement will be hindered if they participate in these programs.

Often, the lack of employee acceptance is attributed to ineffective communication at the launch of the program. Rarely is the importance of work/life balance programs as a retention tool emphasized to managerial staff. Therefore, supervisors who have not bought-in to these programs are unaware that they can also enhance the quality of work, increase productivity, strengthen organizational commitment, decrease healthcare costs, and reduce absenteeism. According to recent research, published in Training & Development, 69% of absences are not due to illness, but occur because employees decide to attend to personal needs. This may cost an employer over $600 per absence. Burned-out, conflicted employees, who become detached from their work, are not as productive as those who have struck a balance between their professional and personal responsibilities. They also have more at-work conflicts. The financial health of a company is linked to the personal health of the human capital. By communicating the needs of the workforce, managers and executive can reap the financial benefits of work/life programs.

Integrating work/life balance in the organization’s culture will benefit all.

The consequences of not implementing work/life balance programs properly are the loss of (and potential disadvantage in attracting) talented human capital. Workforce planners, who clarify what type of alternative work arrangement is most appropriate for the differing roles of employees, help managers grasp how it can benefit their employees. Proactively instituting flexible work arrangements such as flextime, a compressed workweek, or telecommuting, signals trust and that you are empowering employees to “own” rather than be passive receptors of their work. Managers’ acceptance of flexible work arrangements is essential so that their direct reports will trust that their job security and career paths are not in jeopardy if they choose to take advantage of these programs.