Transforming conflict into balance (Guest commentary)

Flexibility, awareness can swing pendulum

The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture, and the subsequent decrease in work-life balance for employees in many Canadian companies, is robbing organizations of focused, engaged and productive employees. The fallout from the stress related to work-life conflict is astonishing and translates to a negative impact on the corporate bottom line.

Employees experiencing high levels of stress are likely to miss more work days per year, are less committed to the organization, are less satisfied and are more likely to leave. High-stress workplaces are also experiencing rampant presenteeism (attending work yet working below productivity standards) and a plethora of stress-related health issues that lead to disability claims.

According to Staying@Work: Effective Presence at Work, a 2007 survey by Watson Wyatt, 48 per cent of employers say the stress created by long hours, and doing more with fewer resources, is negatively impacting business performance to a great extent. Yet only five per cent of organizations are taking any action to address these areas.

What proactive steps can companies take to swing the pendulum of work-life conflict to one of work-life balance?

The first step is commitment to establish not only corporate initiatives to increase work-life balance, but breathe life into these same initiatives. All too often we see a surge of corporate enthusiasm and an appetite for change in workplace culture through the associated development of practices and procedures.

Unfortunately, these same practices and procedures are often placed on the back burner while other more pressing initiatives take priority. To make a dent in this corporately corrosive phenomenon, commitment and initiatives to improve and activate work-life balance are required from the most senior level of management to front-line supervisors.

There must be recognition that the root of the work-life balance dilemma is, in large part, due to a stressful work environment in which employees must function. This stress erupts most commonly from chronically unreasonable demands and deadlines and not allowing reliable employees the latitude to determine how they might best prioritize their work.

Stress can also stem from conflicts that arise in the workplace. The resultant stress is not simply a health issue that employees must cope with but, ultimately, an issue management must acknowledge and address to reduce the negative impact of workplace stress and conflict.

Detect early signs of stress

It is imperative that employers secure the necessary resources to ensure managers and supervisors are sensitized to not only detect early signs of workplace stress and conflict and its impact on an employee, but to be aware of the various resources available to address the situation and ensure the employee is given the encouragement to access these resources. Early intervention is key to preventing deterioration of an employee’s mental and physical health.

Ultimately, the strategies employers choose to use will depend on the operational requirements of the business and the needs of the employees. There are a number of strategies employers may wish to consider in an effort to contribute to work-life balance. These include:

• flexible working arrangements (flex hours, job sharing and working from home);

• improved job satisfaction strategies (giving employees sufficient training and tools, monitoring their workload and allowing them to control timing, sequence and pace of work); and

• conflict-resolution resources (such as a neutral “go-to” contact to help facilitate conflict resolution).

Susan Philchuk is a vice-president and partner at Banyan Work Health Solutions, a disability-management consulting company in Toronto. She can be reached at (866) 226-9262, (416) 777-1520 or [email protected].

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