Work-life professional in spotlight

New professional designation launched – WLCP

In a fast-paced world with conflicting demands of work, family and community, employees are continually struggling to find a balance. Smart organizations have instituted strategies to support the efforts of employees to be successful in all areas of their life, not just at work.

This work-life effectiveness strategy encompasses a broad array of programs, policies, resources and leadership practices at the intersection of all the demands.

A new role, the work-life professional, has emerged to create the overarching work-life strategy, to build the architecture, to expand and manage the ever-changing work-life portfolio and to assess the impact on stakeholders.

The first work-life practitioners appeared in large corporations in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a response to the large influx of women in the workforce. These practitioners investigated child-care issues and solutions for these working mothers. The phrase “work and family” was in vogue, given the preoccupation with the very first work-family issue: Who was going to take care of the children?

Accordingly, one of the first work-life services made widely available to employers was child-care resources and referrals, developed originally for IBM in 1983 by Boston-based Work Family Directions (now WFD Consulting). Not long after, to help address the mounting pressures on what became known as the sandwich generation, this core service was augmented with support for elder-care resources and referrals.

To this day, the work-life practitioner is often an expert in a variety of dependent care issues and responses, including the ability to design and interpret dependent care needs assessments — skills and core competencies that continue to differentiate the practitioner from other HR specialists.

Over the past two decades, organizational support for work-life effectiveness has clustered into seven major pillars, each defined by a robust suite of responses that weave together a number of related policies, programs and practices. Together, these define the work-life body of knowledge.

•caring for dependents (child- and elder-care services);

•health and wellness;

•workplace flexibility;

•financial support;

•paid and unpaid time off;

•community involvement; and

•managing cultural challenges.

Each pillar provides a return on investment over different timeframes. But research also demonstrates the power of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That is, as employees use more and more work-life options across multiple categories in response to the numerous and unpredictable work-life conflicts encountered in the course of a typical career, the greater the benefits.

Since work-life is not a stand-alone function, its practitioners seldom have position authority. And since the pillars usually have little correspondence to governance structure, the work-life practitioner must work effectively with and through all other human capital specialists within the organization. Therefore, power of persuasion, passion, the ability to create cogent business cases on demand, tact and diplomacy and a sense of humour are essential job characteristics.

HR professional association WorldatWork and the Alliance for Work-Life Progress are creating the first work-life credential (Work-Life Certified Professional or WLCP) to ensure new and mid-career entrants to the field learn in a systematic way how to build and manage a work-life portfolio appropriate for their work environment.

Using the portfolio as the framework, four courses have been developed in the series to date: introduction to work-life effectiveness (survey course of the seven categories and best practice exemplars), workplace flexibility, health and wellness and culture change.

Given the ever-expanding charter, the role of the modern work-life professional is dynamic, fun, diverse, somewhat risky and challenging. Some of the key competencies required of a work-life professional are:

•change agent: understanding the culture change process and how to manage it in an organizational context;

•business acumen;

•organizational savvy;

•relationship building: mediation skills, networking, diplomacy;

•strategic diagnosis and action planning: ability to paint a vision of the future that others can see and actualize;

•technical knowledge of more than one category of the work-life portfolio;

•analytical skills: measurement of effectiveness across different domains; specialized needs assessments; and

•exceptional communication skills (verbal, written, platform): persuasiveness, ability to influence key decision-makers and work effectively with managers at all levels and spell-binding storytelling.

Kathleen Lingle is the director of alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP), the WorldatWork affiliate association for work-life professionals based in Scottsdale, Ariz. She can be reached at (480) 951-9191 or [email protected].

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