Nine to five…or midnight?

By Terri Horvath

Do the job. Make the client happy. Go home. The formula is simple, but not so easy to accept within a 40-hour work week. Whether we inflict ourselves with high expectations or our boss does, we tend to overwork in the United States.

Business consultant Deb Hunter, for example, realizes that she tends to obsess about work. “It’s the perfectionist in me,” she said. But she also understands the importance of a balance between work and her personal life. So does her employer First Person, a consulting firm based in Indianapolis. Employees are expected to meet their deadlines, but they also can enjoy a more flexible schedule in accomplishing the task.

Hunter’s colleague Laura Lubus said the company’s attitude is finding greater acceptance across the corporate world. “We are seeing companies becoming more flexible regarding scheduling,” Lubus said. “Companies are letting employees set their own boundaries, so that employees are working at their best times.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t crunch periods at First Person. For a few weeks toward the end of the year, employees know the deadlines are tight and extra hours are needed. To help ease the stress at this time, however, First Person offers employees a few perks. For example, lunch is often catered. An occasional massage is also provided. When the deadlines are met, employees then enjoy greater freedom in their hours.

Lubus admits a flexible schedule doesn’t work for every job description. A customer service representative, for example, may have to be available during set office hours. A fireman or nurse may have to be on call at specific times. But there are other ways employers can offer stress-relieving perks.

Here are some examples from Indiana companies:

  • Offices choosing to locate in one Duke Realty complex in Hamilton County have access to the site’s fitness center. Exercise has been proven to help people better cope with stress.
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company offers sabbaticals for some employees. After a set number of years on the job, an employee can explore, travel, study or whatever for a few weeks and return without the loss of a job.
  • The network of facilities within St. Vincent Health allows employees to select a gift in celebrating a milestone. For example, a nurse with 20 years of employment can choose his or her own reward.
  • Resort Condominiums International, a timeshare network, has a discounted travel program for its employees. Need a week to de-stress on the beach? You can check into an RCI timeshare at a discount.

The ways to reward employees also can involve no cost to the employer. The State of Indiana, for example, has a long list of discounts available to state employees. From eateries to dry cleaners, participating companies on the list help ease any financial strain on state employees.

Everyone benefits by keeping an eye on employee well-being, according to research by the Work, Family & Health Network at Harvard University. For example, the organization says workers supervised by family-supportive managers are significantly more likely to experience:

  • Lower levels of work-family conflict
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Lower intention to change jobs
  • Higher reports of physical and mental health

These are outcomes helping the bottom line.

Backing up the network’s claims is a study by University College London researchers. While studying about 600 workers, this research showed work weeks over 40 hours increase the risk of stroke and heart disease in individuals.

The research shows that overworked employees don’t provide the answers to a healthy business.