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Balancing work and life
Dip LC, CCC, CLTMC
Who do you want to be when you grow up? I am certain that as children, we have all been asked this question, which seems to suggest that we are defined by our choice of career. However, we are far more than our profession, as we wear many different hats. Professional life coaches use a tool called the Wheel of Life, which helps someone consider each area of their life in turn and assess what's off-balance. It helps the person to identify areas that need more attention.
Figure 1 at left shows that our careers are only part of our lives, that we are far more, and finding a balance is something we must strive for. Work-life balance is about people feeling satisfied with the way they divide their time and energy between paid work and all the other areas of our lives. Some of the issues with work-life balance include the following:
• Caring for our elders, children and life partner
• Health and wellness
• Church and community groups
• Educational pursuits
• Hobbies and recreational activities
These are issues that are important to all of us and are our individual responsibility to ensure that we find the right amount of time to attend to them. However, our unpredictable demands from our jobs can impact on achieving the right balance between our workplace and all the other hats we wear.
Employers who are open-minded and understand that what happens at work influences what happens in the rest of our lives, assist employees in making work-life balance possible. The benefits to the employee are: it opens up a greater range of choices about work and careers; reduces the need to sacrifice one for the other; and increase the satisfaction they achieve from work-life balance.
Employers have also found that by making work-life balance possible for their employees, they stand to attract a wide range of candidates when they are recruiting new employees. They will also see an increase in productivity, staff morale, and employee relations.
Every organisation will approach work-life balance differently. However, the ones who follow a similar path and work in partnership with all stakeholders will reap the benefits. The following checklist outlines the key steps for developing work-life balance practices in the organisation.
Management support: Involves the right employees; or if unionised, get them involved in the process. Set up a working group which will assist in developing a strategy for work-life balance in the workplace. In trying to make it easier for staff to achieve a satisfactory work-life balance, it will not be possible to treat everybody the same way. Different jobs, different work pressures and different personal needs will require various solutions.
Current reality: The culture in every organisation is unique, therefore you must identify what is needed to develop the strategy. Decide how you are going to gather and analyse the information which you will use to create the strategy. Having all stakeholders involved is crucial to the success of information gathering.
Identify possible solutions: Work-life balance issues vary from organisation to organisation. It depends on the nature of the business, size, location, etc. Some solutions should include open communication of relevant issues, need for flexible working hours, job design (full-time, part-time, job-sharing), and initiatives to streamline planning and reporting of workload.
Implement the strategy: Not only does the content of a work-life balance strategy need to be tailored to your organisation, but the way you implement that strategy will need to be custom-made as well. Focus on knowledge on the organisation and its culture, decide whether to have formal or informal policies, and spend time on marketing your work-life balance strategy to the stakeholders.
Measuring and maintaining progress: “What gets measured, gets done.” Therefore, it is equally important to know what is actually making a difference and not only how many solutions are implemented. Measuring progress will help identify what is working, what needs modifying, or where an alternative approach might be needed. It will also ensure that initiatives are prioritised, limited resources are targeted, and convince managers and employees of the value of the organisation’s work-life balance strategy.
Organisations who decide to take an active role in work-life balance will join many forward-thinking businesses around the world. These organisations will display that they care about how issues in the workplace impact on the many hats their employees must wear to live and how they can find balance.
Finding and implementing the right combination of win-win solutions to meet the needs of all stakeholders is not a quick fix. There will be a need to revisit the strategy from time to time as the internal and external factors of the organisation change. As former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch said, “Control your own destiny—or someone else will.”