The Value of Work Life Balance: The CFO Perspective

wroklifebalancescale.JPGby Liz O’Donnell (Boston)

Even though many of today’s Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) recognize that work life flexibility can positively impact their company, few of them report working in organizations that offer formal programs to take advantage of the benefits.

According to the 2008 CFO Perspectives on Work Life Flexibility, 90 percent of CFOs say work life flexibility is a talent management strategy, and 88 percent say it has a high or moderate impact on improving retention and recruitment, respectively. The CFO Perspectives study was co-sponsored by professional services firm BDO Seidman, LLP, and Work+Life Fit, Inc., a national work life flexibility consulting firm. One hundred CFOs from companies across the country with 5,000 or more employees were surveyed. The survey defined work life flexibility as “having adequate time for what is important to you both personally and professionally, as well as flexibility in how you allocate that time.”

Respondents also cited high to moderate business benefits based on improved productivity, competitive differentiation, reduced environmental impact and fewer health care costs when their companies offered flexibility programs. Despite all of these positives, the number of CFOs whose organizations have a formalized approach to flexibility was just 39 percent.

Although discussions about work life flexibility evolve and increase year after year, the obstacles to implementation haven’t changed much. Just under two-thirds (62 percent) of the respondents said their management teams see flexibility as an informal perk or as an human resources program. At the same time, 75 percent of the CFOs said it was very important for business leaders to support flexible programs in order for them to flourish. Sixty-five percent said work life flexibility would not be successful if HR was the only champion.

Unfortunately, it is still difficult for CFOs to model work life balance in their respective organizations despite their understanding of the business benefits. Many top executives take the approach that it is okay for others, but not for them. According to the survey, CFOs hesitate from pursuing their own work life balance because they are worried about face time (76%), and fears about what other employees might think (62%). Plus, the “it-could-hurt-my-career” concern (58%) still lingers.

The CFOs whose companies do have programs in place said work life flexibility was important to future profitability. The key drivers for flexibility programs, besides talent, are the increased amount/complexity of work (28%), competition (21%), and globalization (10%). And 87 percent of CFOs think flexibility will increase or remain the same despite the current economic situation.

Luckily, there are a number of corporate role models when it comes to flexibility. Companies like Abbott, developer of pharmaceutical and nutritional products, and Allstate Insurance offer both informal and formal flextime, formal and informal compressed work weeks, part-time work, job-sharing and telecommuting. The other companies that offer all of these programs include Bayer, Boston Consulting Group, Citi, Credit Suisse Securities, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, Hewlett Packard, Lehman Brothers, Liz Clairborne, MetLife, Microsoft, and Turner Broadcast Systems. It’s no surprise that these companies frequently appear on the Working Mother Magazine Top 100 Companies List.