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Unexpected Connections: Considering Employees' Personal Lives Can Revitalize Your Business

Efforts to integrate work and personal life affect people at all organizational levels. Traditional approaches seem to exacerbate the problem by pitting employee and business goals against each other. The authors' approach to integration is based on linking personal lives and work in an opportunity to innovate and change.

In a research project, Bailyn et al. worked with a company known for leading-edge employee benefits to find out why employees were not fully using those benefits. At each site, they collaborated to help employees better integrate work with personal lives and help the site meet its business goals.

They helped product development team members change work practices so they could get their own work done during the day and reduce emergencies. By looking at the work from the perspective of people's personal lives, the authors found areas of stress that were hindering work efforts. In a highly controlled customer service center, a three-month experiment in flexible scheduling resulted in a reduction in absenteeism and improved customer service. Again, the authors used workers' personal lives to identify how old cultural assumptions undermined progress. In another group, the authors helped members identify synergies between sales and service and respond to personal needs at the same time.

In all cases, Bailyn et al. began by looking at the stresses in people's lives and then considering how to alter the work situation to improve their lives.

The authors' three-step approach is:

1. View work from the perspective of personal life.

2. Identify ways to change work practices to improve effectiveness and enhance work and personal life.

3. Implement work-practice improvements.

In the end, it is the link between personal lives and strategic issues -- an unexpected connection -- that becomes the lever for challenging work practices.

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