It's no secret we live in a workaholic, high-performance culture. Just look at the numbers: Americans work an average of 47 hours weekly, and recoup with just two weeks of vacation a year, on average -- that's less downtime than any other developed country. The fallout of these long hours is evident everywhere you look. Stress reigns supreme, "work-life balance" is anything but, and many feel overwhelmed. That drowning sensation fuels more frequent sick days, high turnover, and (you guessed it) more stress.
But the days of blindly accepting the norm may be coming to an end. Reasoning that life's too short to endure daily dissatisfaction, employees are asking more of their bosses -- and speaking up about what they need to stay happy on the job. Even better? Corporate America has actually begun to listen. Anxious to entice new recruits and hold on to smart, talented employees, pioneering companies have implemented an incredible range of innovative perks and programs. Here are some of the best we've found:
At Google, employees can bring their dogs to work, get subsidized massages, and lunch for free at a choice of 17 gourmet cafeterias.
Workman Publishing staffers take afternoon naps (yoga mat and eye masks provided).
Patagonia encourages employees to take breaks outdoors (there's even a "boardroom" for storing surfboards).
Netflix and IBM, meanwhile, have no set vacation days. "If you hire adults who practice adult behaviors, you don't need requirements like dress codes and vacation policies," says Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications at Netflix. Confident that workers won't abuse the system, Netflix doesn't even keep track of how many days they're out of the office.
Best Buy has a set-your-own-hours program, launched in 2002 after a spike in resignations and stress-related health claims. Since then, productivity has jumped by an average of 41 percent, according to John Larson, a spokesman for the program. The system, called Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), has served to weed out "presenteeism": the problem of employees warming their chairs all day but not getting much done. "With ROWE, if you get your work done by four o'clock, you can do what you want with the rest of your time. You can go home and be with your kids or take a class to advance your career," says Larson. "It's entirely up to you."
A confluence of factors has ushered in this new era of corporate enlightenment. But it's women, arguably, leading the charge for change -- even if it's just by virtue of entering, staying, and returning to the workforce in greater numbers.
Of the firms on Working Mother's 100 Best Companies 2007 list, 80 have incorporated flexible work arrangements into their benefits programs. All of the top 10 firms offer at least one week of paid paternity leave (in addition to maternity leave), and two, the McGraw-Hill Companies and PricewaterhouseCoopers, offer three weeks.
"Employees have more sway over how and when they're working," says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy. "And when people are able to work as they want, they're more productive and happier, and their loyalty grows." A combination of fresh thinking and evolving ideas is spurring real change in the workplace, and all signs point to a much brighter -- and more flexible -- future. As Hewlett puts it, "We're moving toward a better way to work."
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