Achieving the balance between work and personal life is becoming increasingly difficult due to the pressure current society has placed on individuals. This paper attempts to define what work/life balance is and identifies the benefits it can bring from both employer and employee perspectives.
It also examines the complications in achieving the balance between work and personal goals and discusses the current trends and solutions organisations have in place for their employees to assist in achieving the balance between work and their life.
In conclusion, the paper makes recommendations for Human resource professionals in implementing success work life balance policies on their organisations to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In today's competitive society work/life balance is considered important by many. Australian organisations are rapidly looking for ways of making their employee lives well balanced between work and family.
Traditionally employment was considered the means to which you support your private life. Work Life Balance improvement provisions means that employers can now achieve competitive advantage from creating a more symbiotic relationship with a person's home and work. This results in lower stress in the work place and greater enjoyment in the home (Guest, 2002). This causes the improvement in employee performance in the work place and positive public image for the organisations
Everyone is looking for perfect balance in life as this can be the key to a healthy living. Reaching the top of the corporate ladder rapidly by sacrificing quality family time and working too much can have a heavy negative impact on family life. However in today's competitive world, one has to concentrate on improving professional career to be able to financially support his family.
Due to the current skill shortages faced by both Australia and New Zealand and the prospect of an ageing workforce, it is now imperative for organisations to embrace work/life balance practices to attract and retain talent, not only from traditional sources but also from untapped and diverse social groups (Cohen et al, 2002). These social groups can often demand greater attention to work/life balance: working mothers, mature workers and some minority groups.
It is imperative that organisations ensure that they not just encourage but mandate a practical and workable work/life balance policy, meeting the needs of both the organisation and its employees to stay competitive in market. And importantly, organisations can expose themselves to increasing numbers of dissatisfied and unproductive employees by not providing real opportunity for employee work/life balance. So it is important to realise that creating a work/life policy structure is not enough; development of an organisational culture that supports the use of available policies is also of great importance (Bratton, 2003).
Many organisations are reluctant to implement flexible work conditions due to concerns about the cost implications. Many Work-life balance policies and practices do not have any actual cost implications but rely on a more imaginative approach to everyday working conditions (Hughes et al, 2007). Flexible working arrangements such as flexible working hours, part-time/job share arrangements, unpaid leave; work from home arrangements doesn't cost organisations much. Areas such as childcare, cares leave and work-life balance counselling can however cost an organisation but its long term benefits and advantages to the organisation far out weights the costs.
This paper explores the many definitions of work/life balance, including the benefits for employers and employees. Further, it outlines the need for work life balance in an organisation and provides recommendations and strategies for developing work/life balance agendas.
Life is a balancing act, and it is safe to say that in current fast paced society everyone is constantly looking for the right work/life balance. It is imperative to find the true meaning of work/life balance for both employees and employers. Following chapter is aimed at discussing many definitions of work/life balance attempts to find the most relevant definition.
In a broader sense Work/Life balance can be described as the 'fit' between multiple roles in a person's life (McCartney, 2002). Some would say it is the need of all individuals to achieve and maintain the balance between their paid work and their life outside of work (Lockett, 2008)
Although the meaning and definitions vary, work/life balance is generally associated with maintaining an overall sense of harmony in life (Clarke .et al, 2004)
Studies of work/life balance generally consider one's ability to manage simultaneously the multiple demands of life. Traditionally work/life balance is assumed to involve the devotion of equal amounts of time to paid work and non-work roles. However more recently the concept has been recognised as more complex and has been developed to incorporate additional components.
Following aspects have been studied and measured recently in regards to work/life balance (Greenhaus et al, 2003),
This work/life balance Model which includes time, involvement and satisfaction components, facilitates the emerging of an extensive and more inclusive picture.
For example, a person who works only three days a week and spends the rest of the week with their family or friends may be unbalanced in terms of time, but may be highly satisfied with the level of involvement in both work and family (balanced satisfaction) and may also be equally committed to the work and non-work roles (balanced involvement).
Someone who works sixty hours a week might be considered as not having work-life balance in terms of time. However this person might be highly satisfied with their involvement with work (balanced satisfaction).
Someone who doesn't enjoy their job much but works the normal 37.5 hours a week may have found the balance of time but unbalance in terms of involvement and satisfaction. Hence, work-life balance achievement needs to be considered from multiple perspectives.
In recent times, what used to be known as work-family balance has been replaced by work-life balance due to the growing diversity of the family structure. The concept of family has evolved rapidly in the past few decades to encompass extended families, same-sex relationships, single parents, shared parenting, and a wide range of social communities. So the semantic shift from work-family to work-life to recognise the fact that care of dependent children is no longer the only important non-work related role. Other activities such as sport, study, health and fitness, volunteer work, hobbies or care for elderly also need to be balanced with work. So it is important for human resource professionals to better understand the 'family' relationships of their staff and the impact it is going to have on businesses.
Caring for elderly is becoming a growing issue for many employers and employees. Australian companies currently employee about one third of the 600,000 Australians who provide principle care for elderly such as their parents or relatives (Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business, 1998).
Typically, organisations only concentrate on men or women who are married or living with a partner and with children when preparing policies for work/life balance. This should no longer be the case due to aforementioned reasons.
Job seekers today expect Work-life balance. Life in the 21st Century is increasingly complex with people juggling multiple roles. Therefore employees will consider a job only if it offers flexibility.
In response to economic and cultural trends, many with focus on women and parents with children, a range of public policies supporting work-life balance has been developed. Many government organisations such as State Government of Queensland have developed detailed policies in achieving work-life balance (Department of Justice and Attorney General, 2010)
Legislative reforms such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 156, Workers with Family Responsibilities 1981, antidiscrimination and affirmative action legislation and industrial relations changes have also lifted the profile of issues related to work/life balance (Tully, 2005).
In Australia, as a result of these reforms following rules are now in place. (Ministerial Task Force on Work and Family, 2002)
-Mandatory reporting of policies by organisations with more than 100 employees
- Expansion of legal protections to include explicitly those with family responsibilities
- By agreement with the employer, part-time work up to a child's second birthday
The Australian and New Zealand governments also encourage employers to provide childcare support for staff with families. Provided the contract of employment is not broken, employees in public and private sectors in both Australia and New Zealand are entitled to 12 months' unpaid maternity leave. After this time, they are entitled to return to the position held before the leave, or to a position of comparable status and salary. Unlike New Zealand, where employed women are entitled to 13 weeks' government-funded paid maternity leave, Australia has no statutory paid maternity leave.20
The New Zealand Government also supports and partly funds the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust which, among other things, initiates annual Work and Life awards; tracks progress on work and family initiatives within organisations; and promotes the issue through conference speeches and press releases.
The Department of Labour in New Zealand established a Work/Life Balance Project in the last half of 2003, which ran until the middle of 2004. Results from the project showed that many people perceived their work and non-work lives were out of balance (Department of Labour, 2004). One recommendation was government assistance for employers to help them provide work/life balance initiatives.
People place high importance on the quality of their personal lives. The common saying "Do not live to work but rather work to live" confirms this. If there is a choice between work and their private lives work will most certainly loose. Employees are now looking to work for organisations where career advancement is not hindered due to one's family commitments. So they expect support and encouragement from their employers to improve and excel in their personal lives as well as their work commitments.
In addition to the development of public policies supporting responsibilities outside of paid employment, organisations have increasingly been developing formal policies that attempt to facilitate the work/life nexus. Work/life balance strategies enhance the autonomy of workers in coordinating and integrating the work and non-work aspects of their lives (Felstead et al, 2002).
Three broad types of work/life strategies have been created to help employees balance their work and non-work lives: flexible work options, specialised leave policies and dependent-care benefits (Morgan et al, 1992)
Following are some of the initiatives organisations have implemented in improving work/life balance amongst their staff.
Positive Return of investment is the main driver behind an employer's commitment to invest in work/life balance. Does it really have positives returns? In recent years, organisations increasingly realise that there is a direct relationship between the quality of an employee's personal and family life and their work quality. Hence there is a valid reason to promote work and family integration.
Australia is heading towards a skills shortage due to its aging population and declining population growth (ABS, 2010). It is anticipated that there will not be enough skilled workers to fill the positions left by retired workers. Also, people caring for elderly in the labour force will increase as a result of this. Following chart shows the population projections for Australia. As you can see elderly population has a trend to grow in coming years.
So it is imperative for business to adopt flexible work /life balance options in their workplaces to attract skilled staff.
Employee retention is a huge challenge faced by many organisations at present. "Employee experience" can be improved by balance work/life policies and can contribute positively in retaining employees. Ernst and Young estimated that the cost of turnover in a client services role averaged 150% of a departing employee's annual salary (Hewlett et al, 2005).
The turnover cost of an employee is a combination of separation costs, replacement costs and training costs (Bohlander et al, 2004). Due to these huge costs employers are always on the hunt for ways to retain employees within their organisations. The direct correlation between the provision of flexible work options and reduced turnover means that work-life balance is now a strategic Human resource issue.
Organisations who have genuine interest in promoting and supporting work-life balance policies often considered good corporate citizens. However an organisation's keenness to be perceived as a good company may depend on its visibility to public, the nature of their business or the size of the business. Although large organisations might provision flexible work/life options to gain a good public image, small organisations might not do the same due to its low return of investment in a small organisation.
A government organisation might opt to consider flexible work conditions due to their responsibility towards public, but a private organisation which is driven by profit might not consider flexible work conditions to seek approval from public.
There are many more advantages of implementing flexible work/life options in an organisation. These include and not limited to
Many studies have found absenteeism is reduced as a result of flexible work options. Stratex Networks Ltd has confirmed it has reduced absenteeism by 8% and employees averaged only 2.9 sick days as year (Managing Work/Life Balance International, 2004)
Following are some recommendations for flexible work options aimed at providing a better balance between work and life for employees.
Work/life balance initiatives have the potential to significantly reduce absenteeism, improve employee morale and retain organisational knowledge and staff, particularly during testing economic times. In today's global marketplace, as companies aim to reduce costs, it falls to the human resource professional to understand the critical issues of work/life balance and champion work/life programs. Be it employees whose family members and/or friends are called to serve their country, single mothers who are trying to raise their children and take a living, Generation X and Y employees who value their personal time, couples struggling to manage dual-career marriages, or companies losing critical knowledge when employees leave for other opportunities, work/life programs offer a win-win situation for employers and employees.
However developing a work life balance policies is not enough. These need to be practiced and supported especially by the top level managers.
Employee expectations are very high in regards to flexible work conditions at today's society. So it is imperative for businesses to have highly functional work life balance options to stay competitive and attract the highest skilled staff. Hence many organisations view work/life balance as a human recourse directive with strategic importance.
Organisational culture plays a key role when it comes to work life balance provisions. So an organisation with co-worker and managerial support will excel with carefully created flexible work options. It is apparent that the HR policies in terms of work-life balance mostly concentrate on individuals who have families with small children. Due to the diversity of the concept of family now, work/life balance improvement policies should address every aspect of family such as single parents, shared parents, elderly care and singles.
Finally, we need to adapt a "give and take" philosophy. This means that both employer and employee need to be willing to bend a little. Small compromise will go a long way in achieving perfect harmony between personal and work lives.
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