Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The “Uncommon” Balance!

The issue of work-life balance gets a whiff of fresh perspective… .....

Key learnings:

  • Work-life imbalance can lead to high employee turnover, high employee-burnout and low employee productivity
  • Work-life balance can be attained through an integrated solution where programme quality, culture and individual responsibility complement each other.

Work-life balance is not as much about the “balance” as it is about the “imbalance”. Corporate burnout rate is rising at an alarming rate with employees feeling the pain more than ever before. Organisations are turning increasingly to wellness programmes and other such work-life balancing strategies, but are left wanting for more. Corporate psychologists believe that while organisations are putting in a great deal of effort to establish a fair balance between work and life, it is not enough. Analysing the issue of work-life balance and identifying the problems and possible solutions requires one to first search in the right place. While most believe that majority work-life issues can be sorted out focusing on the individual, experts believe that in reality it is the organisation and its approach to work-life balance that needs fine- tuning. Statistics indicating the plight of employees caught in an imbalanced work-life equation reveal some eye-popping facts. These include:

  • Employees under stress result in huge corporate spending by way of wellness programmes and counselling. The impact on corporate spending is almost fifty percent higher than in the case of employees who work in relatively relaxed conditions
  • Work-life imbalance is one of the most dominant reasons for ailments like heart attacks, depression, cancer and migraine. Hence, health benefits costs too rise considerably.
  • Workers who often take a break from work because of stress and pressure are more likely to leave the job as compared to their colleagues. In addition these workers begin to show a rather dismal attendance pattern with time.

The aforementioned findings reveal that work-life balance is as much about the role of the organisation as it is about the individual. Hence, to attain the right balance organisations need to focus both on the individual and the approach the organisation takes to tackle issues of work-life balance.

In addition, study on the subject has revealed that for best results there has to be coordination between three pillars of work-life balance. These include: organisational initiatives and programmes, corporate culture to support the initiatives and the role of the individual. These three factors play a critical role in determining the success of corporate work-life initiatives.

Building strength

Programmes and initiatives To begin with every work-life initiative should be screened first at the programmatic level. Organisations that pursue seriously the cause of work-life balance ideally have a series of programmes and initiatives catering to employee needs. These programmes help organisations channelise their energies in the right way, thereby lowering work-related stress and discomfort. The following is a programme menu that depicts the type of programmes that should be included in the work -life effort of every organisation:

  • Employee assistance programmes or EAPs that aim to provide employees with emotional and professional support in stressful times
  • Flexi time initiatives that allow employees to work long hours and take an extra day off in lieu of the extra hours
  • Day care centres and other children-friendly arrangements like an on-campus crèche
  • On-campus gymnasium and yoga classes that help employees unwind

Experts believe that programmes such as these work better as they are more precise and user-friendly. Interventions that discourage employees from working overtime in the name of work-life balance do not work well. For, employees finally end up taking extra work home without really getting rewarded for it.

Cultural sculpting Work-life initiatives like other initiatives can fail if corporate culture does not support them. By a supportive culture we mean the involvement of the CEO and other top management executives. Senior executives must demonstrate in their actions their concern for employee needs and the significance of work-life balance. Mere lip service may not yield the desired results. When leaders say that employees should not over- stress themselves and also pile up work for them then the whole campaign begins to look like a farce. Thus, support from senior management by way of practising ideas that reflect concern for work-life balance is important for the success of work-life programmes.

Individual responsibility Work-life initiatives may fail to show the desired results in spite of an effective programme and a supportive culture . This experts say is because of lack of individual responsibility and accountability towards maintaining the desired balance. Employers can only provide the necessary benefits, but the option of using them lies with the individual. For instance, the employer may give an individual personal time –off from work , but if the employee chooses to catch up with work deadlines in that time then the responsibility of a tilted balance lies completely with the individual. Hence, individual responsibility plays a major part in creating a successful work-life balance.
Work-life balance is an essential aspect of a successful professional life and a satisfying personal life. Either one is incomplete without the other. Hence, organisations should strive towards attaining this balance and educate employees about their role in achieving the same. An integrated solution that blends programme quality, culture and individual accountability is thus the only way forward for success with work-life initiatives.

Ref: TheManageMentor

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