Finding balance

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Proper work/life balance is a key factor in employee satisfaction and productivity – and there are lots of easy ways to achieve it this year.” –Tracy Brightman, senior vice president of human resources for FedEx Office

It’s a common challenge in today’s wired, 24/7 world – how to achieve better “work/life” balance. (That’s an even bigger nut to crack for me as I work from a home office – meaning work and life are typically jumbled into one big messy mass, not unlike a good Irish stew. But I digress …)

FedEx Office – a division of FedEx Corp. – conducted a study focused on the challenge of achieving work/life balance in today’s workforce late last year and the results – along with some of the suggested solutions – are interesting, if not surprising.

Now, much of this is difficult to relate to trucking, given that the work schedules of truck drivers don’t remotely resemble anything in the still ‘9-to-5’ office world (though Blackberries and other technological wonders bring work back home so much more easily than in the past.) Yet I think some of the personnel issues fleets continue to struggle with – finding and retaining drivers, providing regular and frequent home time, etc. – are reflected in the expectations workers of all stripes highlighted in this survey.

It might seem that personal priorities will suffer as employers cut jobs and pressure mounts for greater workplace productivity in this challenging economy. Yet according to FedEx Office’s “Finding Better Balance” survey, some 47% of survey respondents say better work/life balance would be even more important to them in 2009, compared to 2008.

The online survey, conducted in late November 2008 with more than 500 full-time, U.S. workers indicates America’s labor force is looking for ways to bring balance back to their daily lives, said Tracy Brightman, senior vice president of human resources for FedEx Office.

FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinko’s) worked with the Ketchum Global Research Network and Braun Research to conduct this survey. A sample of panelists was invited to participate in Braun Research’s omnibus study. The final sample size included 501 respondents, all of whom are employed full-time; the margin of error is +/-4% at a 95% confidence level. Online interviews were conducted between Nov. 18 and Nov. 20, 2008.

Brightman noted that respondents’ ages were a significant factor in how they perceived the importance of work/life balance in 2009. A full 58% of 18- to 34-year-olds believe it will be more important to find better work/life balance in 2009, compared to 46% of those aged 35 to 54, and just 30 percent for the 50-and-over group. In addition, a full 86% of survey respondents plan to actively pursue this better balance in 2009.

She said that the commitment to actively pursue better work/life balance in 2009 needs to be supported with a change in behavior – and that the full-time U.S. workers surveyed plan to take simple steps to get the ball rolling, including:

Take advantage of all vacation time (49%)

Prioritize projects (44%)

Create a weekly to-do list (42%)

Leave work at a reasonable hour (41%)

Take lunch breaks on a consistent basis (36%)

Based on her experience working for FedEx, Brightman suggests several strategies to help workers get started off on the path to achieving better balance:

1. Set your priorities and stick to them. Don’t get sidelined by low-priority and last minute requests. Understanding the big picture and tackling the most important projects first will keep employees from burning the midnight oil unnecessarily.

2. Get the support you need. No employee, no matter how stellar, can do their job in a vacuum. It’s smart to call in reinforcements early – including teammates, support staff, and external business services companies.

3. Put technology to work for you. According to the “Finding Better Balance” survey results, many modern technologies have helped America’s workers attain better work/life balance. A full 77% of those surveyed said personal computers have been a major help in achieving work/life balance; 70% believe the same of the Internet and online business services.

“Bringing in the right resources at the right time can save both money and energy – allowing employees to reduce stress and focus their efforts on high-value projects during business hours,” said Brightman.

Will any of this help you better manage your trucking workforce? That remains to be seen. But at the very least it gives managers some more insight into some of the work/life issues brewing as 2009 gets rolling.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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