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The New Global Balance

Work-life balance is a growing, global issue. A recent survey by human resource consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide revealed that 80 percent of workers in the United Kingdom consider work-life balance an important reason--if not the most important reason--to change jobs. That should be a concern for UK employers, since 40 percent of the people surveyed said they are actively contemplating changing employers. On the other hand, it's also a great opportunity for employers everywhere.

"Our research demonstrates that many employers may be neglecting a key factor affecting their employees' attitudes to staying in their positions," says Jake Outram, a Watson Wyatt consultant. "It is therefore important that employers understand how their employees, and in particular their high-performers, perceive their work-life balance."

When we assume that everyone wants the same things--raises, titles, power--we overlook what really may inspire our employees. Maybe an employee once hoped to earn a spot on the executive floor; then along came children and a change in priorities. Or maybe the children are now grown, and the employee is ready to resume a climb up the corporate ladder. Without knowing when changes in aspirations take place, you may continue to make erroneous assumptions about what a worker wants.

What if you actually ask your employees what they value? In other words, what if you interview them as if you were hiring--or rehiring--them? Suppose you learn that a valued employee's greatest wish, rather than becoming vice president as you assume, is to raise healthy and successful children? What can you, as a leader, do to help that employee accomplish this goal? Can you build flexibility into the work schedule that will accommodate being present for a daughter's dance recital?

You must "rehire" your workers in this way often. Stop multitasking long enough to ask your employees why they want to work here. I guarantee your employees are asking themselves that question, and that their answers will vary at different stages in their lives.
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