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Here's why 2015 was 'the year of work-life balance'
I may be biased, but as I reflect on 2015, I believe it was the year in which the issue of work-life balance gained the momentum it will need to become a primary topic of business conversation for years to come. - photo by Greg Kratz
I've been a weekly business columnist for almost 14 years, and I've covered lots of different issues during that time.

When I started, I wrote about whatever business-related topic struck my fancy on a particular week, from advertising during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City to my experiences with "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day."

Then I spent several years answering readers' questions about personal finance. I particularly enjoyed that time as I felt I was able to help people while also working with some outstanding financial advisers and other professionals.

For the last four-plus years, I've focused on a topic that's important to me personally and professionally: work-life balance. When I started writing about this issue, it was in the news a bit, but it wasn't something discussed with great frequency.

My, how times have changed.

I may be biased, but as I reflect on 2015, I believe it was the year in which the issue of balance gained the momentum it will need to become a primary topic of workplace conversation for years to come.

And I'm not the only person who thinks this is the case.

I often quote surveys from FlexJobs, an online service for professionals who are seeking telecommuting, flexible schedule, part-time and freelance jobs. Obviously, FlexJobs has a vested interest in promoting work-life balance, but the experts who work there also have a ton of knowledge about changes in the workforce.

Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, said in a press release late last month that she also feels flexible work is "gaining great momentum," as shown through an increase in telecommuting and in the number of organizations that support flexible work options.

"Telecommuting and other types of work flexibility are starting to have a much-needed impact on the 21st-century workplace, and there is no sign of it slowing down," she said in the press release. "Flexible work will not only play a significant role in the future of work, it will be a key differential of successful employers.

To back up this claim, FlexJobs offered five flexible work statistics from 2015. I reported on several of these during the year, but I like the perspective I gained from seeing them all in one place.

Specifically, FlexJobs noted that:

"Occasional telecommuting is on the rise." Gallup's annual Work and Education poll showed that the average professional will telecommute about two days each month, and telecommuting has increased by about 30 percent during the past decade.

I actually telecommute less for the job I started in mid-2015 than I did in my previous occupation, but many of my friends are working from home more now than they ever have before. I've also seen lots of different companies take steps to make telecommuting easier, which is a welcome change.

"At-home employees continue to increase steadily." analyzed work-at-home population data since 2005 and found 103 percent growth in telecommuting, including a 6.5 percent increase in 2014 alone. A FlexJobs survey showed that 76 percent of respondents said they avoided the office when they needed to get important work done.

Members of my team often ask if they can work from home when they need to concentrate on writing a report or pushing through some research. I've found their productivity is generally high when they do, so this result didn't surprise me at all.

"Organizations aren't monitoring their ROI when it comes to flexible work." Despite widespread support for flexibility, a FlexJobs and World at Work study found that 64 percent of companies don't have formal policies around such programs, and only 3 percent of organizations measure performance, engagement and productivity to quantify return on investment.

As I wrote when I first reported on this survey, I see this as an opportunity for companies to improve their employee recruiting and retention. I expect many businesses will formalize their policies on flexibility in the years to come.

"Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce." A Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data showed that millennials surpassed generation X in 2015 to become the largest share of a generation in the workforce. A FlexJobs survey showed that 85 percent of millennials would prefer to telecommute full time and seek other flexible work options to build more balanced lives.

Again, this has major ramifications for companies that want to attract and keep millennials as workers. It may require an adjustment in the attitudes of some CEOs, but I think smart corporations will find a way to make balance work.

"People want flexibility in their work for health reasons." A FlexJobs survey showed that 32 percent of respondents felt flexible work would impact their health in a positive way. Many also said they thought work flexibility would help them find more time to exercise.

If you don't think this is important to people, I suggest you take a look around the office and count how many of your co-workers are wearing fitness trackers on their wrists. (I have one.) Many people include improving their health as one of their work-life balance goals, and it makes sense that companies would want healthy employees.

Add this and all the other data from 2015 together, and I think you can make a valid argument that it was the "year of work-life balance." I also believe that this was only the beginning.

With this strong foundation, I plan to maintain my personal focus on building a more balanced life in 2016. As I wish you a happy new year, I hope you'll be able to do the same.
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