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The Mountain in Your Location Decision: Discovering the Impact of Work-Life Balance Options on the Workforce

Choosing a location where your employees can have a healthy work-life balance can lower employee turnover and also increase their productivity.

Directory 2017
While working for the state of Florida’s Department of Commerce as a Trade and Investment Associate in their Frankfurt, Germany, office, our primary goal was to get companies to set up a location in the state that would generate jobs and needed tax revenues. The conversation for manufacturing plants and facilities would center around two decision factors: (1) government impact (i.e., taxes and regulations) and (2) availability of qualified labor. Both are two very important factors when making a location decision; however, the second one can be rather shortsighted.

Happy, Productive Employees
Getting a workforce in the door is obviously a big concern. What is so commonly overlooked when deciding on a new location is keeping employees from exiting those very same doors too quickly and for the wrong reasons. Even if you can keep them, how do you maintain high productivity and morale after the honeymoon period has ended? There is only one thing worse and arguably more costly than a revolving door of new employees that you need to certify, train, and on-board — retaining a demoralized workforce that works at subpar productivity. An employee with a healthy work-life balance tends to be a happy and productive employee. When the continuous stream of motivation training and free doughnut Thursdays fail to do the trick, consider the three options listed below for your next facility location decision.
  1. Go for a walk. Pretend you have been working hard for the past four hours and have a 20-minute break. Standing at your potential location, take a walk in any direction. It is such a simple exercise that is rarely leveraged. Are you in the middle of a cement oasis? Is there a park nearby? Are you surrounded by busy traffic and loud noises? How does it make you feel? Are you refreshed and feeling ready to go back to work or do you still feel drained and dreading the next four hours?

    Your location should allow for a quiet space with as much natural surroundings within a very short distance. A University of Michigan study discovered that short-term memory improved by 20 percent after a nature walk compared to no improvement after walking city streets. Another study, Give Your Ideas Some Legs, found walking boosts creativity, and walking in nature amplifies that boost.
  2. Design for balance. Maybe you are restrained by where you can be due to costs, transportation options, or other restrictions. All is not lost. Build nature into your design.

    While providing training for a client in Denver, I was pleased to see what the company built into its facility design. It was required to have its facility close to its largest client, which happened to be located in one of those sprawling industrial complexes that time and the landscaping profession had forgotten many years ago. Although the building was a simple box design, it was what was inside that gave me pause. Smack dab in the middle of the facility was an atrium filled with natural light, a small waterfall, and living plants. It gave me an instant feeling of serenity. Given the remote industrial park location and the cold winters, the company decided if employees could not get out to nature, it would bring nature in to them.

    Compare the cost of this atrium to the benefits of increased retention and morale. It becomes a no-brainer decision. There is a whole range of studies that have shown that even exposure to artificial nature (e.g., an indoor waterfall) has positive physical and mental benefits.
  3. Can you see the mountains? Although the majority of an employee’s weekday waking life will be at the office, do not forget about their personal life options. Inquire at your local hiking store to discover the options available within a one-hour drive. Post these options to encourage after-work and/or weekend escapes. You want a facility location that provides for a quick getaway that can be done after or before work. For example, my location in New Hampshire is less than an hour away from several mountain trails, coastline, and forest walks, but yet only 90 minutes away from Boston’s academic powerhouses.
The National Academy of Sciences found that a 90-minute walk in a natural setting decreased activity in the brain associated with depression. A 2016 study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal found that women living in areas with a lot of vegetation had a 12 percent lower risk of death from all causes compared with people in the cement jungle. Happiness and longer, healthier lives are often correlated with access to nature. Leverage this research when the talent discussion is on the table for your next location.

In Sum
Ask yourself what happens after that initial qualified pool of candidates get burned out and leave or end up functioning at a less than desirable level of productivity. A Corporate Executive Board (CEB) survey of 50,000 global employees found that those employees who felt they had a better work-life balance worked 21 percent harder than those who didn’t. Regardless of where you locate your next facility, you have a finite pool of potential qualified employees. Your next facility discussion should focus on how healthy work-life balance options could retain a happier, more productive, and innovative workforce. There should be a mountain in your location decision.
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