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Real life and work - a balancing act

January 15, 2006|By IEVA M. AUGSTUMS

DALLAS -

The gift of time off just might be the best company perk yet. At least, Rolando Alvarez thinks so.

The associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Dallas was a bit shocked when he learned that his company was giving him - and everyone else in the firm across the country - 10 consecutive days off over the December holidays.

"It really caught me off guard," said Alvarez, recalling a companywide e-mail in mid-October explaining the end-of-the-year perk. "I work for the best company ever."

The need to balance personal priorities - family, community and leisure activities - with daily workplace demands is stronger today than ever before. That's especially true of younger workers.

At 24, Alvarez is among a generation of under-40 employees who have come to expect more from their employers. The problem is, they don't always get it.

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"Generation X and Y want it all, and companies are starting to realize they need to listen," said Jim Bird, president and founder of WorkLifeBalance.com, a training and workplace development firm. "Companies need to realize that work-life balance is not a problem to be solved; it's an ongoing issue that needs to be managed."

A recent survey from staffing and recruiting firm Spherion Corp. indicates that many employers aren't taking the steps necessary to retain existing employees or attract top talent.

According to the study, one-third of workers ages 25 to 39 feel burned out by their jobs, and 28 percent of all workers say their employers expect them to stay connected to the office outside normal office hours.

One of the biggest disconnects between employers and employees, the survey found, is the importance workers place on their ability to maintain balance between their professional and private live

"Let them have the time off. Let them come back in January recharged."

The tax advisory services firm might be onto something.

Average paid holiday/personal time - standard holidays, floating holidays, personal days and holiday shutdown days - among U.S. companies hasn't changed over the last five years.

But experts say that it might as more companies strive to help employees with work-life balance.

"Holidays usually don't increase, as they are traditionally pretty fixed," said Suzanne Zagata-Meraz, spokeswoman for Hewitt Associates, an employee benefits consulting firm.

"Where you might see fluctuations would be on personal days."

Juggling demands

Maybe so, but between the eggnog lattes and gift exchanges, the distractions at work tend to multiply as the winter holidays approach. So do the demands at home.

"If you think about employee productivity on a day-to-day basis, so much of their productivity is going to be based on how do they feel that day," said Henry Marsh, a facilitator for Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business Leadership Center.

"Personal issues get brought into the office, no matter how hard you try to keep them out."

Younger workers are more inclined than older workers to leave a job if their needs aren't met, experts say.

Many Millennials and Gen Xers will go to another company or even start their own business.

"There's huge competition for the best talent out there," PricewaterhouseCoopers' Ong said. "If you are not a company with flexibility, you risk losing your best people, your best talent."

So, those in the know didn't try to contact Alvarez or Kaufman over the holidays. Both were spending uninterrupted time with their families. No Lotus Notes, no conference calls, no meetings or deadlines.

"All I can say is that I'm very grateful," Alvarez said. "The time we get off - they are trying to encourage us to enjoy that time."

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