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Work and Life Balance
Article Index
Work and Life Balance
Expert Opinion
Implementation
Research Data
Example Cases
Summary
References

Implementation

Any company that plans to implement work/life initiatives needs to do so in a tailored fashion as each has different needs, resources, and issues. However, the following guidance will assist in determining what must be considered when putting a programme together.

Parents At Work, a UK-based charity organisation, identifies three prerequisites for making a work/life programme work. These are:

  • commitment at the Director/CEO level of a company
  • a clear understanding of the local community within which the company operates
  • an existing commitment to equal opportunities.

In addition, both Moody and Frase-Blunt, identify the need to:

  • clearly determine what is needed (often through the use of staff satisfaction surveys)
  • calculate the business benefits and costs of likely work/life initiatives
  • have a champion and role mode for the programme
  • develop a company culture that shows respect for privacy and free time, a corporate custom of leaving work at work, and policies and practices that allow this to occur.

In discussing the establishment of work/life initiatives Lockwood stresses the importance of:

  • establishing if the organisation's culture is ready to support work life initiatives e.g. through surveys or focus groups
  • obtaining senior management support
  • reviewing and aligning human resource strategies regarding work/life initiatives with the mission of the company
  • determining the needs of employees and the life cycle considerations that need to be taken into account e.g. care of children or elders, career aspirations
  • ensuring equitability and fairness by determining the purpose of the programme and who it is to serve
  • packaging and communicating clearly any new initiatives, or repackaging and re-communicating existing programmes to ensure all staff are aware of what is available
  • measuring the return on investment of work/life initiatives using both quantitative and qualitative means.

Nancy Pekala (2001), managing editor of the Journal of Property Management, highlights in her article on retention strategies, the importance of understanding your employee base. She states "employees must be regarded as individuals when structuring retention programmes as each employee is motivated by different factors which need to be addressed", and that "one-size-fits-all no longer applies". This theme is also highlighted by Sandra Burud, principal of Bright Horizons Family Solutions who, cited by Lockwood, states that, "Life cycles are another consideration. People need different things at different times in their lives".

To measure success companies used a variety of sources, the most frequent being employee surveys at 61%, anecdotal information 56%, changes in turnover 36%, and changes in absenteeism 21%. Lockwood suggests that the best place to start measuring is to consider 5 key areas:

  • employee time saved
  • employee retention
  • increased motivation and productivity
  • absenteeism
  • decreased health care costs and stress-related illnesses.

Management Today's last work/life survey in 2001 indicates that UK organisations have raised their awareness of the importance of 'balance', but most still had a long way to go in moving from the theory of work/life balance to workable organisational practices. Maureen Rice (2002) notes that "The results show that there's no such thing as work/life balance, but lots of different work/life balances, with different parts of the jigsaw taking on greater importance at different touch-points in our working lives: our age, our profession, our seniority at work and our personal circumstances all affect our perceptions of what is stressful and what makes a healthy balance" As such, it seems vital, when developing a work/life programme to ask employees what their needs are, to think of creative solutions, and to balance these needs with the needs, outputs, and mission of the organisation.

Lastly, Theo Blackwell, (2003), consultant at the Work Foundation, says it is vital to get the support of the line manager in any a work/life initiative and that management resistance, especially in larger organisations, is the most common hurdle due to the perceived practical impact on this area of responsibility. He also stresses the importance of a senior leader champion, achieving a culture shift rather than target specific employee groups, and, in the early stages especially, a focus on changing attitudes to using work/life programmes rather than getting the exact range and level of benefits right. Cost shouldn't be an inhibiting factor says Blackwell, as the cost of not doing anything are substantial, and the longer-term knock-on financial benefits alone will impact a number of organisational areas such as training, recruitment because of the impact work/life initiatives have on retention.

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