Monday, December 22, 2014

The business of balance

The work/life balance industry now encompasses venders and consultants who make money selling services to employers increasingly concerned with wellness, engagement, morale and productivity.
The work/life balance industry now encompasses venders and consultants who make money selling services to employers increasingly concerned with wellness, engagement, morale and productivity. iStockphoto

At Perry Elllis corporate offices, a group of employees are gathered in the company conference room, stretching into various poses and taking deep breaths. At the front of the room, a yoga teacher from Green Monkey gives instruction. In the increasing struggle for zen, yoga businesses like Green Monkey have discovered opportunity: a demand for restoring balance to stressed-out workers.

The work/life balance industry now encompasses venders and consultants who make money selling services to employers increasingly concerned with wellness, engagement, morale and productivity. Workplace wellness alone has become a nearly $2 billion industry, projected to hit $2.9 billion by 2016, according to a study by consultants IBIS World.

Newer to the scene are service providers who appeal to individuals – working mothers and fathers or stressed-out leaders – looking to take tasks off their plate, bring order to their lives or create easier ways to work remotely. The category includes personal shoppers and trainers, virtual assistants, meditation leaders, elder-care consultants and life coaches.

What has changed most in the evolution of the industry is widespread acknowledgment that work/life balance is not a problem just for women or a concern that is going to be solved – but rather an ongoing challenge. "The recognition has made work/life balance the subject du jour," says Jim Bird, founder of WorkLifeBalance.com. "It's something people look at when considering a job or deciding whether to take a promotion and it's probably the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs."

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  • Fueling the focus on work/life issues is research. Quantifying stress, distraction, perks, engagement and productivity has become a business in itself, with academics and consulting firms spitting out surveys on the factors behind dissatisfaction and turnover.

    Inevitably the research points out one crucial finding: Employees are struggling more than ever before with the demands on their time. Though many companies remain reluctant to hire large numbers of new employees and beef up salaries, almost all large employers now survey employees on job satisfaction and work/life balance. Using results, the company typically goes on to provide some benefit to alleviate work/life friction and improve productivity.

    "From an employer perspective, it's no longer just about helping employees," explains Rose Stanley, a work/life practice leader at WorkatWork, a nonprofit HR association for organizations focused on strategies to attract and retain a productive workforce. "It's about tying it back into business strategy."

    Case in point: An estimated 1 million workers miss work each day because of stress, costing companies an estimated $602 per employee per year, according to HeathAdvocate.com.

    Providers such as Bright Horizons Family Solutions are catering to employer demand. Twenty-eight years ago, when Bright Horizons CEO Dave Lissy approached a Fortune 500 company to offer on-site childcare to employees, the HR director's first reaction was to ask why, he says. Today, "why " is obvious and that same employer company now also uses Bright Horizons Family Solutions to provide employees with backup elder care, elder care case management, sick-child care and other work life benefits such as college or educational advising.

    "The core issue of child care remains a challenge for companies and their workers," Lissy says. "What has changed is an acknowledgment of other key life-stage issues that cause the same friction. Companies now show more of an appetite to address those multiple issues."

    Bright Horizons, now a public company based in Watertown, Mass., has close to 1,000 corporate clients; in 2013, it grossed $1.2 billion in revenue. Lissy predicts even more growth. "Time is on our side. Those organizations who don't offer help with work/life concerns will be behind in a world where human capital is the competitive advantage."

    Emerging from the recession, employers are hiring vendors to structure flexibility programs as a tool for innovation rather than just as a benefit. They are tapping stress-reduction experts as a way to increase productivity.

    Atlanta-based WorkLifeBalance.com is an 8-year-old company that sells training programs on time management, stress management and work/life balance, both online and on site. CEO Jim Bird said his company has seen an increasing interest from employers, not only of white-collar but also of blue-collar workers, who want to re-engage employees by helping them help themselves. "They are doing it for bottom line reasons," he says.

    Service providers who sell directly to individuals are finding success with a variety of approaches. In South Florida, for instance, Green Monkey has built its meditation/yoga business on the motto "Live in Balance," targeting stress out workers of all ages and both genders. In six years, it has grown from one studio to three. It also has attracted more than 20 corporate clients with its on-site yoga programs.

    Elizabeth King has found a niche in work/life conferences targeted at businesswomen. A licensed psychotherapist, King was running International Holistic Center in Fort Lauderdale when she noticed an increase in women suffering from adrenal fatigue. "They were stressed out and overwhelmed."

    Her answer: Suits, Stilettos and Lipstick, an annual conference in Fort Lauderdale addressing such concerns as making time for romance, health and spirituality. The event draws about 500 women. Her third conference, slated for Sept. 12, will focus on coping skills. "I want to help women build their careers without sacrificing their health and identities," she says.

    Of course, as the industry booms, new "consultants" are following the money. Some, such as life coaches and meditation instructors, may not have training or certification.

    "Don't fall prey to people who are not trained professionals," King warns. "Work/life balance is a growing business, but if people are selective and ask the questions, only those vendors with experience and credentials will survive."

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    ABOUT THE WRITER

    Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegal@gmail.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.

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    Cindy Krischer Goodman The Miami Herald (MCT)