What do employees want and need? Work/life balance

Employers need to offer flexibility and solutions to the complexities of work and life

For employers to have the best and most committed employees, it is becoming increasingly important to offer supportive environments. More and more, individuals are using work/life balance as selection criteria for prospective employers. Today’s youth demand it — they will not work for a company that does not believe in work/life balance and does not offer flexibility and solutions to the complexities of balancing work and life.
This is not a gender issue. Both men and women require that employers take notice of the fact that they have lives outside of work. Whether that includes children, elders, pets, education or recreational activities, this new workforce is putting work/ life balance ahead of dollars.
With the combination of an aging workforce and an increasingly competitive job market, it is time to act. In the past organizations have been able to ignore the fact that an employee had a child-care or an aging parent issue. The employer would simply hire someone else to do the job that wasn’t being done. An employee distracted from the task at hand to deal with personal business, would often be terminated.
Today, progressive, smart employers are realizing that assisting their employees through life issues makes good business sense. By keeping an employee happy, healthy and as stress-free as possible, an employer is rewarded by the delivery of excellent customer service and quality product development by its employees.
Most organizations believe that thinking outside the box is too risky. In fact, thinking inside the box may very well be the demise of organizations that are unwilling to try new ways of doing business. Businesses better be ready for change. Flexible work options can assist organizations to deliver better services and products in an age where consumers expect 24/7 service.
Aon Consulting Canada has recently completed a study for the second year running, entitled Canada @ Work. This study examines how Canadians are dealing with the demands of work, family and life. Some of the findings are as follows:
•work/life harmony ranked as the first or second most important factor in taking a job by 29 per cent of respondents;
•growth and advancement opportunities are the number one reason for taking a job — not salary or wage considerations;
•although more than two-thirds of respondents indicated that their organizations demonstrated an increased effort to support work/life needs, few employees are actually receiving help in the two areas cited as being most important — child and elder care;
•an overwhelming 41 per cent believe their organizations are not developing effective managers and supervisors; and
•twenty-eight per cent believe their organizations do not assist them to balance personal needs and job requirements, while 26 per cent say their organizations do not recognize the importance of personal and family life.
Jean-Pierre Provencher, chair of Aon Consulting notes: “Successful Canadian business leaders will earn the commitment of their workforce by aligning their business practices to the needs of their employees.”
Health Canada estimates the financial fallout from the challenge of balancing work and family obligations at $2.7 billion due to lost time relating to stress, medical leaves, dealing with dependents and other personal or family responsibilities.
There is often a misconception that in order to be supportive an organization must implement programs and services that are costly. This is not so. There are many things that can be done to give employees that needed extra bit of support. The following are some examples of innovative, relatively low-cost practices:
1) Provide employees who are expecting a baby or who are dealing with a critically ill relative with a pager for free for a limited period of time. This type of service goes a long way toward creating peace of mind during what can often be a stressful situation.
2) Implement a weekly workplace massage program. There are many massage therapists who will make workplace visits. The employer can either pay the full or partial cost of the service or they can negotiate a discounted rate per minute that the employee pays.
3) If a workplace cafeteria exists, nutritious, well-balanced, take home meals can be introduced. Some organizations even offer pre-packed lunches for children so that the busy employee can purchase a family dinner as well as the school lunches for the children the next day.
4) While the concept of lunch and learn workshops have been around for many years, progressive organizations are taking them to a new sophisticated level by integrating them into larger, more comprehensive workplace wellness programs. These can include a full range of health and wellness related supports such as workplace health screenings, wellness education and prevention initiatives such as flu vaccination programs.
5) Many supportive organizations are breaking down the walls of the workplace by making them more accessible to family members — there is everything from the well-known Take Our Kids To Work Day initiative to the more recent Take Your Parents To Work Day. Some organizations encourage staff to bring their pets to work, and staff members facilitate “group pet walks” in the vicinity of the workplace.
6) With the recent extension of the parental leave by the federal government there will be more organizations that are concerned about losing valuable employees if they take an extended parental leave. Progressive employers are implementing outreach programs that offer education, information and supports to new parents. This type of initiative can go a long way toward ensuring that those employees who are away still feel connected and are kept in the loop.
7) It is supportive and smart for employers to scheduled extended training sessions and morning meetings at a time sensitive to the work/life needs of employees. For example, an organization that plans an early morning meeting on the first day back to school is not being very respectful of the pressures faced by employees who have young children. Implementing a late in the evening training session just before the start of a long holiday weekend will not go over very well with employees.
While it may be difficult to address all of the time related issues employees are facing, being sensitive to them makes good business sense as it will most certainly lead to employees feeling more committed to the organization.
Increasingly, collaborative efforts are taking place to collectively answer to the needs of employees. In British Columbia, the Collaboration on Work/life recently formed. Funded by Health Canada and supported by the B.C. Council for Families, this collaboration is bringing together business, labour, community and government to address work/life issues. Participants bring issues to the table for discussion and resolution. Possible solutions are drafted and work groups are formulated to tackle the projects.
For example, two of the collaboration’s organizations are currently working to explore the possibility of sharing an emergency child-care space between the two employee populations. This will allow expanded service provision for the same budget. What is really exciting about this is that these two organizations are actually competitors working together to assist their employees. Their bottom line is to facilitate a work environment that will support work/life balance.
Employers for Work/life Balance in the U.K. is another such group that has been created and is working with the government very closely to ensure that these issues are addressed.
Workplaces are realizing that they have a role to play in society to ensure that people are healthy and supported.

Employers need good employees; and employees need work/life balance.

Wendy Creelman is the administrator of the Collaboration on Work/life and the co-ordinator of Creating Family-Friendly Workplaces. She can be reached at (604) 852-0233.

Jane Boyd is the co-ordinator of the Collaboration on Work/life and president of Work, Family & Life Consulting Services. She is a member of the Provincial (B.C.) Child Care Council. She can be reached at (604) 882-2555.

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