How happy are your employees? Are they a working mother of six, putting in 24 hours a day at the office, seven days a week? Do they fear taking paid time off because of the potential retaliation of senior management? How are the executives at your company?

These were several of many questions discussed Thursday by executives at several leading companies, including Facebook and Gallup, during Virgin’s Disruptors "workplace wellbeing" debate.

Ultimately, major employers say that realistically useable paid time off, and the ability for workers to actually unplug from their jobs while out of the office, are both critical to long-term workplace success.

Also see: Incentives becoming the major push for wellness programs

“Eighty percent of our lives are spent at work,” said Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. “Why should work be miserable?” Those joining Branson for the talk included Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton and Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s chief development officer.

Thursday’s discussion began with a debate on how employees can keep a healthy work-life balance. As technology has quickly developed to the point where it is now literally sitting on employees’ wrists, many of the executives question the ability of employees to ever really get away from their jobs to recover.

Gallup’s Clifton also noted the changing demographics in the U.S., where the American dream has transformed from “peace, God and family” to being employed productively.

“The great American dream is now about having a good job. If I have a job that matters, I have a life that matters,” he said.

Many of the panelists pointed to telecommuting options as a way of increasing productivity and a means toward employee happiness and engagement.

Also see: Even in a blizzard, teleworking offers higher productivity, employee engagement

“For the majority of companies, trusting people to work from home is the right thing,” Branson said. “And if they don’t do the work, they don’t work for the company.”

But more than just working hard, Huffington Post co-founder and editor-in-chief’s Arianna Huffington said employees should be immersed in friends and family outside the office.

“The most popular measures of well-being, besides our two nap rooms, is to tell people that when they finish work, they’re not expected to be on email,” she said. “They can be fully present with family or children … and if there is something urgent, we’ll text or call them.”

She said she believes that the notion of multitasking is a farce, and the idea that employees are juggling multiple tasks at once is both exhausting and not a sustainable work model. That separation from work is truly important, she notes.

“Looking at the conclusive science right now about sleep, is that it recharges us,” she said. ‘That can have a transformational impact on creativity, productivity and health.”

Facebook’s Sandberg added that her company fully embraces having employees take time off.

“One of the best things we do is promotion while on leave,” she said. “It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s good to show employees that they should take their leave and not be afraid it’ll hurt their career.”

Also see: Workplace culture more important benefit than wellness

Dovetailing with the industry conversation on employee well-being, Sen. Patty Murray (D. –Wash.) announced her initiative to promote the Healthy Families Act paid sick leave initiative announced earlier this year.

#HFAnow: Share Your Story is new tool to for the lawmaker to hear directly from employees and employers, both in Washington state and across the country, on why paid sick days are so important.

“No worker should have to sacrifice a day’s pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child,” Murray said. “I’m looking forward to hearing from workers and business owners on what they think about increasing access to earned paid sick days, and what it would mean for them and their families.”

Also see: Democrats reintroduce sick leave legislation

Last month, 61 Senators voted in favor of a nonbinding amendment to the Senate budget resolution that would allow workers to earn paid sick days.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit Adviser content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access