Today’s recruitment market is the toughest we have seen for a long time. Pressure has increased significantly for employees to work longer and longer hours while employees are trying to manage decreasing margins and increasing costs. One of the areas that is currently “hot” is work-life balance. The employees seem to benefit, but what are the issues for employers?
As we all know the demand for increased productivity, profitability and of course earning more money has brought about more stressful working environments than ever before. There would be few people who would not say that they are working harder than they were ten years ago – whether by choice or because of their employer’s demands. In turn, this has increased stress levels and forced lifestyle changes upon us regarding health, family and general well being.
Also, the economy has been strong for a sustained period and the impact of that on the recruitment tactics of employers is that they need to work harder to attract potential staff to work for them – these days purely salary is not enough. Add to that the fact that turnover in staff reduces profits and damages morale, employers have been forced to review their employment practices with this issue in mind.
Like most new management trends, the application of this strategy varies greatly from company to company. The extremes range from the provision of in-house child care, time off to attend school functions, financial counselling, parenting seminars and life work balance training down to an opportunity to work from home or flexible working hours. The benefits can be far reaching – reduced staff turnover, increased loyalty and productivity, lower absenteeism, reduced occupational health and safety claims, far easier to recruit staff as people WANT to work for you – these are of course key issues for most businesses but particularly those planning to grow and expand.
How far you go is really up to you – and it is vital is to get total “buy in” from the senior management of the organisation. If they are not fully behind this approach it will fail – people are quick to see “lip service” being paid to this sort of tactic and the benefits will not happen as planned. This is quite likely to be a cultural change for most companies and a shift in thinking takes time to permeate throughout the organisation, so commitment needs to be strong.
Implementing a usable work-life balance plan is simply – set some objectives and know what you want to achieve. If the skills needed to organise a program like this do not exist in your organisation and you want to do things on a significant scale, consider calling in professional help.
There is a Work and Family unit in the Department of Employment, workplace relations and Small Business that offers a guide and resource kit, or websites like healthworks.com.au to go to for reference. Alternatively if it is manageable, talk to the key individuals affected and get their input to outline a program. It doesn’t have to start big, just a few options that consider all parties and produce the desired effect.
Obviously not all businesses can offer flexible working hours – although we all saw how well that worked during the Olympics – but there other simple things that can easily be put together. Have a think about finding a financial planning expert to come into the office and either conduct a seminar or give one to one advice – all you need to do is provide the time. You could even “share” the time with employees – half in their time and half in yours.
Working hours though are definitely a key issue – One of the simplest things to do is to create the environment where the person working the longest hours is not necessarily the “winner”. If you don’t recognise and change that then employees will be reluctant to take up opportunities for fear that they will be regarded as less dedicated or committed. As mentioned earlier there will often need to be a shift in the culture of the company whilst this is being implemented.
The communication of the program – it’s reasons, objectives and how it will be measured – are critical to ensure that everyone gets the same message. One issue that has been raised is that non-parents can be disadvantaged because a lot of measures are geared towards family and parenting functions so that is worth bearing in mind. Somewhat surprisingly, younger employees are definitely aware of these issues and are critical in their evaluation of potential employers and what they offer in this regard.
So in summary there is a lot to be gained longer term by some type of work life balance program – definitely worthwhile considering as an option if you are an employer and staff retention and loyalty is important to you.