Thursday, January 12, 2012

Work Life Balance pays off

One of my favorite pieces of reading is HR Magazine, which plops into my postbox each month. I find this is always choc-a-bloc with relevant and insightful, informative and entertaining articles which I both enjoy and learn from. The website is pretty good too, and HR Magazine is one of the few publications which always includes a CSR-HR perspective. Some of you may recall that I was a guest speaker at an HR Magazine event last year. Since then, I keep a keen eye on what they are publishing.

A recent article caught my eye (the same eye!). It's called: Work/life balance ranks higher than stress as the biggest health concern for employers, says GRiD. GRiD is Group Risk Development, and they advise as follows:

"After enduring a difficult year where many businesses were obliged to reduce headcount, the survey of 500 employers with 5-1000 employees from the trade body for the group risk industry, found maintaining a good work/life balance for staff remaining in the business ranked as the top health issue for more than one in five employers (21%). This is ahead of stress and mental health issues (19%) - currently cited as the most common cause for workplace absence."

This is a fascinating finding and should make HR Managers sit up. Work/life balance has been one of those amorphous subjects that doesn't quite seem important enough to address in a detailed, formal, structured way.  It's sort of about how people feel and not really a hard numbers easy-to-grasp issue. It's also very easy to ignore. And yet, an uncaring and inflexible work culture can be one of the biggest hidden costs of any business budget and can, to a large degree, be quantified in cost terms related to productivity, absenteeism, health costs, workplace conflict and customer service. 

Volkswagen made news recently when they took a step to force employees to observe work/life balance rules by introducing a ban on work emails outside work hours on employee's cellphones by blocking Blackberry servers. This is an interesting development and may go some way to limit employees' exposure to unreasonable work demands outside hours. However, releasing employees from commitments outside work hours is only one part of a holistic approach to work/life balance issues. A lot of what affects work/life balance relates to how many hours people work and the kind of programs that are in place while they are at work. In 2011, the Quebec Government thought this whole subject was so important that they launched a program for rewarding employers who provide work-life balance benefits to employees.

In my book, CSR for HR, I address this subject. First, I say that there is no such thing as work/life balance - balance is something that we can almost never achieve and sometimes don't want to achieve. Basically, we need to achieve a harmonious stressless approach to managing out total life responsibilities which derive from all our activities in work and outside work. These can be multiple. It's not just about work and family. Here are just some (definitely not an exhaustive list) of the aspects of being at work that can affect the way we manage our total life responsibilities:

And here are some of the overall types of programs and policies that HR Managers can consider in order to assist employees in addressing the way work can fit into their overall harmonious life planning.
We have seen that overall wellness programs in business, which often include elements which affect work/life balance, can deliver a 10% increase in financial performance. So, HR Managers, it is time to wake up to CSR!

And back to HR Magazine, you might enjoy this article which quotes research that found by giving employees input into the development of their workspace, productivity can improve by as much as 32%.

Or this article, which refers to research that found almost two thirds (64%), of employers do not expect female employees to return to work after their maternity leave; of which 47%, say they believe this because of 'previous experience.' Now that's a whole other issue which is of major significance both for women and for businesses. But we should leave that for another post.

In the meantime, I think an ice cream just about right now would significantly improve my work/life balance!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website  

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