After more than a year and a half, with lines between home and office blurred, many of us are asking a simple question: When does my workday end and my personal life begin?
Even at companies that offer tremendous flexibility, employees are sometimes hesitant to take advantage of summer Fridays, extended parental leave, and other policies designed to eliminate stress and encourage a much-needed break from professional responsibilities.
European countries are often cited for their progressive approach in developing and implementing practices that safeguard the personal lives of workers.
In fact, research indicates that the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee workers any paid vacation time. While most American businesses offer employees 10 vacation days each year, their counterparts in countries like Spain and the UK enjoy as many as 30 annual vacation days. And even at those American companies that give their workforce a substantial number of days off, employees are frequently hesitant to use their vacation time fearing they may be judged as lacking commitment. On average American employees forfeit 27% of their allotted vacation time while in comparison, German and French workers take nearly all the vacation time their employers offer.
Yet a recent study demonstrated that less time in the office did not result in inefficiencies. Between 2015 and 2019, the government of Iceland tested a shorter workweek, with employees representing a variety of sectors, from daycare centers and hospitals to white-collar offices and social service agencies.
A group of 2,500 workers participated in this pilot program, transitioning to a 35-hour week, without a reduction in pay. Despite working fewer hours, no decrease in productivity was reported and in many cases productivity increased. Researchers also found that employees were happier, healthier, and experienced less stress and “burnout.”
Without question, technology plays a big role in the 24/7 workweek. While smartphones help us remain connected with friends and family, they also keep workers tethered to their virtual desks. That is why in 2017, France introduced the “right to disconnect” law which limits the hours that employees of organizations with 50 or more workers can send or reply to emails.
But today, many American businesses recognize the importance of flexibility, a clear mission, and a positive corporate culture. Companies like Zoom, Etsy, Starbucks, and Target all get high marks for their emphasis on work/life balance, with staff members expressing their appreciation for management teams who are responsive to employees’ changing needs. These companies prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion, emphasize mentorship, present opportunities for growth and professional development, encourage employees to adjust their schedules and work remotely as needed, and institute family-friendly policies. And several American companies, including Kickstarter, will test a four-day workweek in the coming year.
At JM Electrical, we frequently review and update our practices to address our team’s changing priorities and interests. In 2019, we introduced an unlimited PTO policy for all eligible employees. In addition, we offer our team Summer Fridays, paid maternity leave, and a tuition reimbursement program to encourage personal and career development.
The lives of American workers have changed dramatically since President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the 40-hour workweek in 1938 as part of his New Deal. It now appears that work/life balance is not only good for employees, but it is also good for the bottom line.
By: Kyle Gillis, Assistant Project Manager at JM Electrical Co.