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WorkLife ToolKit - Integrating Culture and Business: Work/Life Sensitivity Ensures Competitive Advantage
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With the kind permission of Lance Berger of Lance A. Berger & Associates Ltd. we are reprinting an interview Lance did with Jim Kisela, CEO of WorkLife Productions, Inc.

Integrating Culture and Business

Work/Life Sensitivity Ensures Competitive Advantage

The issues generated by the unique problems of working women go as far back as World War II when businesses had to address maintaining productivity while the traditional workforce was at war. Businesses then had to make accommodations for women much as they must make comparable adaptations today. With unemployment in low single digits and the American economy blossoming, businesses are "dependent on women in the workforce," according to James F. Kisela, chairman and chief executive officer of WorkLife Productions, Inc. "Removal of women would put the U.S. at a serious competitive disadvantage."

Many companies have tackled work/life issues from an altruistic sense. They see providing accommodations for their workforce as "the right thing to do," asserts Kisela. It is an organization's way of differentiating itself, and creating an environment and positive image in order to hire, retain, and maintain productivity. Organizations adopt state-of-the-art benefit programs to become "the employer of choice," with the added advantage of attracting the best people at modest salaries.

"Leadership companies want to be ahead of the curve," says Kisela. With the evolution of child care leave, and other forms of leave mandated by the federal government, forward thinking companies want to assure that their policies meet or exceed those mapped out by legislation.

With companies competing for the best talent pool, it is mandatory for organizations to address the issues of their employees. This can be done through whole company surveys or focus groups. Kisela points out that top management must "go to the people and find out what's on their minds." Surveys and focus groups help diffuse the expectation level by showing that management is committed to listening, and will communicate back to its employees what can be done and what cannot be done based on company needs.

Kisela also recommends exit interviews and follow-up interviews several months later of people who have resigned from a company. Often managers assume that a work/life issue caused the resignation when, in fact, it could be a pay or culture issue. According to Kisela, day care is becoming like the "hammer in the tool box, with every problem looking like a nail that needs hammering." Exit interviews can give a true picture of employee issues.

Often day care becomes synonymous with work/life needs. Day care is only one issue out of a whole array of work/life issues. "Day care centers are not the panacea," asserts Kisela. People concerned with work/life issues must be open and honest, and, most of all, must develop a strategy that encompasses the whole spectrum of the emerging care network.

Companies must take into account the demography of its workforce. Companies with a high percentage of young females must focus on child care, and maternity and child care leave. However, as a company's workforce matures, other work/life issues, like elder care facilities, must be addressed. Yes, young women are concerned with the accessibility, quality, and cost of day care, but older workers are equally concerned with caring for aging parents.

Companies must reconcile the programs they make available with affordability. Can a company afford to provide first rate day care, or reimburse for day care? The bottom-line must be considered. In the final analysis, the company must rationalize what is equitable and fair.

The key to employee needs across the spectrum is flexibility. Kisela points out that "flexibility must become a core company value." Employees require flexible work days and hours in order to meet their lifestyle needs. Some employees require tailoring their work day by adjusting the hours worked, whereas other employees may require days off while working additional hours on other days. Senior managers must determine how to make individual requirements fit with the productivity needs of the company. The question that must be addressed is how do we get maximum productivity from the available pool of talent?

Senior managers must reconcile the demands of the work place with the requirements of the employees. Often this is easier said than done. Older managers are used to rigid and inflexible ways of managing. Intellectually they understand that accommodations must be made, but they are having a difficult time making the needed changes. Managers and many of their direct reports have different values. Many employees are willing to sacrifice salary for flexible hours so they can spend more time with family, hobbies, or traveling.

For the top executive the workforce shortage is as much a business problem as products or markets. Foremost, the executive must be aware of the problem, and if the company's culture can adapt to meeting the dilemma. The culture must be aligned with a business strategy. Furthermore, the demographic make-up of the company and workforce needs through culture surveys must be understood. The company must be prepared to reconcile business requirements with people requirements. People requirements demand capital investment, but with a workforce shortage companies have no choice.

"Communication is the real key to work/life issues," according to Kisela. Employees must be given the opportunity to voice their needs to management, and management must respond with strategies that work for the company and the employee.

Based on an interview with LBA Consulting Group. James F. Kisela is chairman and chief executive officer of WorkLife Productions, Inc., located in Wayne, PA. The company produces The Work/Life ToolKit, a CD-ROM-based program designed to provide HR professionals all the informational tools needed for launching an effective work/life program.

Source: The Change Manager newsletter
Spring 1998
Published by Lance A. Berger & Associates Ltd.
Lance Berger can be contacted at http://prweb0.voicenet.com/~lberger/index.html