The 40-hour work week set by auto pioneer Henry Ford is showing every one of its 93 years. So are conventional vacation and other benefits. Today’s workers want change as digital technology has untethered them from their office desks. Yet globalization and competition have them constantly connected to work and stressed as ever.
Despite the advent of work-life balance initiatives in the mid-1980s, the ideal of symmetry between work, family and sleep is an anachronism. There’s complete fluidity between the two and it’s a messy period where people are doing both, being less efficient and getting more frazzled.
If companies expect seamless integration of work and life, then workers expect benefits that are not just work-related, but life-related. What employees really want is for companies to help them live their entire life. That ranges from small perks like dry-cleaning pick-up services to bigger tools like financial planning to start saving for kids. That is the next frontier of where work benefits are going in the future.
And the next generation’s workforce will want even more support and flexibility over the course of their days, years and careers. Much the way workers who pursued an MBA could have their education reimbursed by the company if they returned for a set time-period, workers of the future may want a similar contract to include family planning or other leave modes.
For now, what workers say they want support from employers is to help them better manage their finances, health, stress and sleep, according to an Ipsos survey on behalf of Welltok.
But most (84%) aren’t finding the benefits available and more than half (56%) say what their companies offer aren’t specific enough for their needs. The good news is that the clear majority of employees agree that if their employer offered more personalized programs, they would take part more in health and wellness activities.
“Companies need to figure out how to make benefits more personalized and still equitable,” says Tony Zamora, an Ipsos vice president of human resources. “For example, while financial security is important for all generations, for older workers, it’s how to start securing for retirement and handling eldercare. For younger employees, it means how to pay off student loans and pay rent.”
Some organizations are incorporating loan payments into their total compensation package, on top of tuition assistance, says Kristen Appleman, vice president Health & Wealth at ADP TotalSource, the largest certified Professional Employer Organization (PEO) in the United States.
She adds that beyond the traditional worker, the gig economy is changing expectations with access to pay. “Companies are identifying ways to provide wages sooner and more routinely to employees,” she says. “Regardless of the worker’s life stage or generation, employers are finding personalization and flexibility is key when it comes to offering benefits to today’s modern workforce.”
Alternate models for the future
Until then, some companies are forging ahead with alternatives for time off to the 40-hour week. For example, employees at one New Zealand trust and estate planning firm now can work four days and get paid for five after the company trialed a 32-hour work week. The employees produced more, had better work-life balance and lower stress levels, despite their early concerns that fewer hours might mean more pressure.
While that model won’t work for some businesses, it’s in the right spirit to set up new ways to work for the future.