Its time has come! The next major area American businesses must wake up to and act on is encouraging and rewarding a balance between career and family life. The concept of a balanced career and family life sounds good in theory but is difficult to implement. Several factors can serve to obstruct a harmonious approach to living and working.
First is the prevailing work ethic in this country: Work hard and you will get ahead.
But this spoken and implied belief can be interpreted in many ways.
The most common way this is viewed is that if you put in 10 to 14 hours per day five days per week plus a half a day on Saturday (or more) you love your family. Why? Because you are working so hard to give them the things they need and want through your sacrifices. This means you must be a good provider.
Unfortunately, working harder isn't necessarily working smarter. Just because a person puts in 10 to 14 hours per day doesn't mean he or she is giving family members what they really need and want.
In the book ``Beyond Workforce 2000'' co- authors Joseph and Jimmie Boyett offer strong supporting evidence that we must rethink our strategies for creating a successful family and work life.
Three key points they make are:
1) Work and family are linked, not separate, activities. Each sphere of life impacts on and is impacted by the other. Therefore, in designing work arrangements, we must consider how the work arrangements affect the family and how the family affects the work arrangements;
2) Family is as important as work. Therefore, the focus of business policies and practices with respect to the work-family relationship should not be on how to minimize the impact of the family on work (i.e., getting family members taken care of without adversely affecting work), but rather on designing work policies and practices that actively support the family.
3) Today's children are tomorrow's workers and consumers. So the long-term economic well-being of the society is dependent upon the quality of care children receive today. Designing work arrangements and work processes with the needs of America's children and America's working parents in mind is good for business.
Strengthening the family is good for business. One way to help bridge this gap is for companies to encourage employees to participate in family-oriented company-sponsored activities.
In order to boost employee morale, fewer companies are conducting team-building activities for workers. Instead, many are scheduling family- related activities such as picnics, open houses and trips to the zoo.
``Employees enjoy a ready-made event that requires no planning on their part, and they often get to expose their families to new experiences,'' says Cindy Helson of National Employee Services and Recreation Association.
She notes that companies like Compaq, CIGNA and Miller Brewing are heeding this trend by offering family-oriented activities such as fishing, carnivals, ice skating, bowling and apple picking.
Why not conduct a focus group with your employees and find out how they prefer to balance work with family life? Then act on your findings accordingly.
Taken one step further, why not conduct your own family focus group? By doing so you can find out what really counts with your family.
Maybe what your family wants is not the two-week vacation at Disney World but rather a Saturday morning drive up north to see the colors of autumn or a game of scrabble on Thursday evening after dinner.
When you and your employees spend more time with the family there is the opportunity to develop a more complete, harmonious and meaningful relationship.
When the owners and board of directors of American companies discover this path to long-term success, they will be on their way to real enlightenment.
Mr. Borg is president of Canton, Mich.-based Tom Borg & Associates, which offers consulting and training in customer service development and employee performance.