Think About It: OIWC focuses on striving for work/life balance

How is your work/life balance? Too much work. Too little work? There is little doubt that employers that create a culture that supports a healthy work/life balance for their employees will reap the benefits. OIWC explores this issue and more in its exclusive SNEWS column.
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Work/life balance is on the forefront of most people’s minds these days – and it isn’t just a women’s issue. The demand for work/life balance solutions is expanding at an unprecedented rate. It’s the buzzword of the 21st century; we see it mentioned in blogs, articles and even by the Executive Office of the President.

In 2009, Outdoor industries Women’s Coalition surveyed women in the outdoor, bike and snowsports industries to learn, among other things, how our industries stack up when it comes to work/life balance. As an industry that focuses on activities that epitomize not only living, but living fully and deeply, it would seem that ours would support a healthy work/life balance for employees.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. According to women in our industries, most of their employers have room for improvement when it comes to creating a culture that supports work/life balance. For instance, while 100 percent of women desire an employer that offers a sensible work/life balance, only 53 percent say their company is doing a good job of executing this intangible benefit.

Creating a culture of work/life balance ultimately benefits all employees, male and female, and increases diversity throughout a company and an industry. For example, at the Starwood hotel chain, where more than 50 percent of the U.S. workforce consists of people of color from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, "a lot of work/life issues are tied to differences in culture," Ana Mollinedo, vice president of diversity, communications, and community affairs says. For example, she says, for many Hispanics, parents have and are dependants. Starwood is sensitive to that. Different work/life issues arise with other cultures. If the internal culture of the company is not inclusive, you are less likely to have an understanding of the issues that show up in work/life."

So what’s an industry to do? This is the question OIWC is tackling in 2011. Throughout the entire year, OIWC’s SNEWS® columns, regional events, trade show events, online events, articles, resources, interviews, and more will focus on this big question. There is no easy answer... the best work/life balance is different for each person and each company because of different priorities and different lives.

However, one thing is certain. Employers that create a culture that supports a healthy work/life balance for their employees will reap the benefits. Study after study shows that each program aimed at work/life balance (i.e. implementing flex time, allowing telecommuting, opportunities for employees to give back to a community, etc.) outweighs the costs by reducing absenteeism, lowering turnover, improvingthe health of workers, and increasing productivity.

During the next year, look to OIWC’s columns to provide concrete examples of real companies in the outdoor industry that have implemented successful programs, often at little or no cost, and then think about how your company could do the same.

As OIWC prepared for our 2011 theme of ‘Striving for Work/Life Balance,’ we decided that we needed to walk the walk ourselves. We couldn’t stand tall and urge other companies in the industry to implement these programs unless we had done so ourselves. So our staff and Board of Directors gathered around the topic of work/life balance and brainstormed on how we could implement a program that supports the needs of our staff while still meeting the needs of our members and goals of our organization.

We landed on a radical concept—taking the summers off. Well, not really, although having three months off in the summer would be the ultimate balance, albeit unrealistic for many reasons.

So instead of taking the whole summer off, we developed a "slow summer" concept. We realized that most of our members and volunteers disappear in the summer months, either because their kids are out of school or they are off having fun in the outdoors. Our staff dreamed of having more time to enjoy the summer, play with their kids, travel and see family, without having to juggle a full work schedule. So, we are "banking" comp hours: working extra hours during the school year and stashing away the extra hours. Then, during a six-week period in the summer, we will not have any regional events (our members aren’t in town for them anyway), we will have pre-written all of our articles and newsletters, and we will only work 10 hours per week for those six weeks.

Our solution is unique to OIWC and not one that would work for many companies. But that’s the point... to figure out what works for your employees and your company, then do what you can to implement it. And frankly, this may not work for us either. We may find ourselves working our regular schedule in the summer and needing to revisit the concept. But if it does... aaaaah....now THAT’s what we call work/life balance.

--Sally Grimes, Executive Director of OIWC

Sally Grimes is the Executive Director of Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, and believes the greatest asset in any organization is its employees. Stay tuned for monthly columns featuring companies big and small, with examples of how they successfully implemented Work/Life balance programs for their employees. If your company has a program you are proud of, email sgrimes@oiwc.org to be featured in an OIWC SNEWS column.

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