Work-life balance is about having some degree of control over when, where and how we combine work with our personal lives. A good balance is achieved when we enjoy a fulfilled life both inside and outside of our working arrangements, which is respected and accepted by everyone around us.
That said, how we go about achieving an acceptable work-life balance will vary for each of us – what may be a good balance for one person may be completely chaotic for another. In addition, work and home pressures can vary from day-to-day, week-to-week, etc. so it’s also about knowing what we need to accomplish in each area and continually evaluating how we’ll achieve that balance.
It’s important to remember that work-life balance isn’t only something that parents want or need. Most of us have interests, hobbies or other commitments that we want to devote time to – two thirds of employees in the UK rated achieving a good work-life balance as their top priority in a 2005 Working Families survey.
For work-life balance to work, therefore, it requires flexibility, co-operation and understanding from all parties and, when it is done successfully, it’s a win-win situation for all concerned.
Reaping the benefits
The business benefits of work-life balance include increased staff productivity; improved recruitment and retention of talent; lower rates of absenteeism; reduced overheads; improved employee and customer satisfaction. Research has consistently shown that employers who offer more choice in flexible working arrangements attract a wider pool of employees applying for jobs.
A recent survey by the DTI found that managers of flexible workers rated 96% of them as outperforming their full-time colleagues, so increasing their productivity levels. A further report by The Institute for Employment Studies shows some small businesses save up to £250,000 on their budget simply by using family friendly and flexible work policies.
For the individual, it means feeling valued, respected and more motivated. It also gives a positive message about the organisation’s approach and commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and the wider corporate social responsible agenda and so enables people to feel good about the company they work for.
Facing the challenges
Sickness absence costs UK business over £2bn per year – 20% of which is estimated to be related to stress resulting from factors such as long hours and difficulty balancing home and work.
There is a common misconception that flexible working equals working less hours, which can lead to some employers feeling reluctant to engage with work-life balance issues. In reality, it is often more about how people work and so can be achieved by some simple reorganising rather than reducing working hours.
Changing working practices can lead to misunderstanding and resentment amongst colleagues – for example, if some people feel they have to pick up excessive workloads due to a colleague changing their working patterns. Open and clear communication is therefore vital for successful and equitable implementation, for example through briefings, intranet sites, company newsletters, poster campaigns, etc. It is always a good idea to directly consult other staff when introducing any new working arrangements that may affect them and to regularly monitor progress and the effects these new arrangements are having on all concerned.
There may well be some initial costs involved, for example if you need additional employees for job-shares. However, these should be balanced against a reduction in other costs, such as office space and facilities for home workers and reduced recruitment and training costs as you will be retaining more staff.
Finally, there is increasing pressure from jobseekers to work for ethical and diverse companies who respect individuals’ needs both within and outside the company, and qualified and interested candidates are attracted to employers who are able to demonstrate that they value their individuality and are willing to work together to achieve the right work-life balance. If they don’t see that commitment from your organisation, they will take their expertise and knowledge elsewhere.
Article by: Karen Sadler