Over the last decade, Work-Life Balance has emerged as a major issue for HRs to contend with. Prior to that, it was mostly considered a personal issue i.e. every employee was charged with finding their own balance. Employers were not involved. In recent times, the expectation has been shifting towards employers. Nowadays, employers are expected to provide an atmosphere in which employees can achieve a work-life balance.
This isn’t necessarily a raw deal for employers. Studies have shown that giving employees a work-life balance can have enormous benefits for the employer. Among these benefits include increased workplace morale, less stress at work, lower levels of absenteeism, increased initiative and enhanced teamwork. All these ultimately not only lead to greater productivity, but they also improve employee recruitment and retention. In a nutshell, helping employees attain a work-life balance ultimately benefits an organization.
The only challenge lies with how to help employees to attain work-life balance. For starters, the concept of balance is highly subjective i.e. one employee’s idea of balance probably differs from another’s. As such, catering to every employee’s needs may be difficult. Even then, there certain things which an organization can do to increase an employee’s chances of achieving work-life balance.
The first step is to understand what constitutes work-life balance. At a fundamental level, work-life balance means that employees can successfully juggle their work and non-work lives. The non-work lives include family commitments, leisure, social engagements and personal pursuits like education. Basically, the idea of work-life balance is ensuring that employees aren’t so swamped by their work commitments that they are unable to function normally outside work.
The simplest way of achieving this is minimizing the hours which employees spend at work. The idea is giving them enough time to pursue other after-work lives. For instance, it must be extremely difficult for Bangladeshi garment workers who work 14 to 16 hours a day for seven days a week to achieve any semblance of balance.
The challenge of reducing work hours is that it has the potential to reduce productivity. After all, under normal circumstances, the more hours spent at work, the more work gets done. However, there are two approaches which can be used to reduce work hours without affecting productivity.
The first approach is through workplace flexibility. Using flexible workplace techniques, employees can be able to work remotely (e.g. from home). Alternatively, they can choose which times to work. Flexible workplaces certainly increase chances of achieving work-life balance without affecting productivity. This is because they enable an employee to work when it is most convenient for them, and thus be able to pursue other interests.
The second approach is to use reduced work hours as a reward for achieving targets. For instance, once employees have been assigned their tasks for the day, and whoever completes the tasks can leave. This approach can motivate employees to work harder, and thus produce more. In the end, they have more time to dedicate to their after-work lives, and the organization benefits from sustained productivity levels.
Another simple way of helping employees to attain work-life balance is through having a favorable leave policy. The government already provides some guarantees through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, employers can go beyond the FMLA to offer their employees an opportunity to take time off from work to attend to other personal matters.
Examples of leave options which are offered in organizations include Annual Leave, Marriage Leave, Maternity Leave, Paternity Leave, Adoptive Leave and Parental Leave. Others include Sick Leave, Carer’s Leave, Sabbatical Leave, Force Majeure Leave and Compassionate Leave. Basically, there are numerous leave options which can be granted to employees to help improve their work-life balance.
However, the challenge with leave goes beyond simply granting it. The challenge is in designing policies around the leave. Take Maternity Leave, for instance, President Obama recently rightly observed that the US is the only advanced country without paid Maternity Leave.
Besides pay, there is the question of opportunities for career advancement. For instance, there are perceptions by some women that taking time off to have babies will stifle their chances of getting promotions. Whether or not these perceptions are accurate depends on the organization they work for.
The bottom line is that using leave to improve work-life balance goes beyond simply granting it. In most cases, granting leave is the easy part. The hard part is ensuring that employees don’t feel pressured not to take the leave. Basically, taking leave shouldn’t be considered a sign of a lack of commitment to the organization. Employees shouldn’t feel that by taking leave, they are stifling their chances of advancement. An organization also needs to think about leave compensation arrangements which are favorable to both the organization and the employees.
Another possible challenge with leave is abuse. There are well documented cases of workers manipulating the FMLA to pursue non-related interests. Basically, every leave policy has the potential to be abused. It is up to an organization to put in place measures to ensure that such abuses are minimized.
Workplace flexibility and leave policies are by no means the only measures which can be used to improve employee’s work-life balance. They are just the easiest for any organization to employ. Another simple approach is offering employees training and development on key life skills. Examples of such life skills include time management, budgeting, stress management, personal effectiveness, and financial management. The training can also involve practical tips for attaining work-life balance. Such training’s empower employees to maximize the opportunities provided by the organization’s work-life balance policies.
There are numerous other measures which are used by organizations to help their employees to attain a work-life balance. Examples include providing a baby nursery and breast-feeding facilities at the work premises, providing a crèche, offering employees subsidized membership to spa and health clubs, providing employees with psychosocial support, and offering occupational health services. Basically, there is no end to what an organization can offer its employees. The only limiting factor is perhaps the resources an organization’s disposal.
In a nutshell, offering employees a work-life balance is one of the best things an organization can do for its employees. The best part is that the benefits ultimately come back to the organization. However, providing such a balance isn’t without its challenges. But, as every HR knows, nothing of value comes easy. Luckily, some of the possible approaches which can be included in an HR’s Work-Life Balance strategy are quite easy to implement.
Therefore, if you are an HR who is committed to providing your employees with balance, you can begin off with workplace flexibility, leave options and personal training/development. You can adopt the other approaches if and when the resources become available.