Working towards life quality

Stage set for corporate innovation and creativity to improve work-life balance

The evidence continues to grow. From an organizational perspective, the quality of work environments and work experience is linked to increased productivity and profits. From an individual perspective, the quality of life, health and relationships are key contributors to peak performance and job and life satisfaction. From a community perspective, work-life quality leads to reduced strain on the health-care system, increased economic performance and enhanced social outcomes.

Achieving work-life quality requires the involvement of employers, employees, labour organizations, governments and communities. The idea of work-life and well-being is certainly not new but some of the language is being updated. We are moving away from the language of “work-life balance” towards the term “work-life quality.” Work-life quality integrates health and fitness, mental health and well-being and non-work commitments, as well career aspirations and job satisfaction.

Key drivers

The international work-life quality agenda is being driven by some shared work-life experiences: more people are working longer hours, stress leaves are on the rise and more people say it’s hard to achieve work-life balance. We are all getting older, work demands continue to increase and expectations continue to rise.

Employees are saying enough is enough and disengaging, demanding support or leaving. Employers are paying a heavy price for presenteeism, absenteeism, regrettable turnover and loss in productivity.

Organizations are responding by shifting their efforts from a programmatic to a strategic approach — addressing work-life and well-being issues holistically and linking initiatives to organizational priorities, HR objectives and existing workplace supports. Comprehensive strategies are designed to engage employees, reduce turnover and maximize individual and organizational performance.

The focus is shifting from accommodating employee needs to leveraging employee potential. This means creating supportive work environments that respect individual interests and commitments outside of work, setting reasonable timelines and manageable workloads, providing adequate and appropriate resources to meet the challenges, clearly communicating expectations, ensuring employees have control over how, where and when work gets done, recognizing and rewarding contributions, promoting health and well-being and facilitating work-life harmony.

Recent research

In a report released earlier this year, Who Is at Risk? Predictors of Work-Life Conflict Work, Canadian professors Linda Duxbury and Chris Higgins explain that non-work demands, such as child care, elder care and home chores, are not substantive predictors of work-life conflict. In fact, the key predictor is culture and work environments. When employees perceive that it is not acceptable for them to say no to more work and that family responsibilities limit career advancement, staff will experience higher rates of work-life conflict.

Work-life conflict leads to higher rates of absenteeism, lower productivity and higher incidents of depression.

Innovative practices

Leading organizations are paying attention to their employees and the evidence. This summer, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare launched Freedom 6-to-6 (no e-mails after 6:00 p.m. or before 6:00 a.m.; no meetings after 4:30 in the afternoon). They are helping employees draw boundaries between work and life and finding ways to achieve balance and rejuvenate.

Organizations now see work-life quality less as a “program” and more as “a way of doing business” day in and day out. They’re realizing that wellness cannot be just a head-office solution.

For example, although IBM traditionally does not have fitness centres at its work sites, it does have a very strong commitment to organizational health and wellness, so it has introduced TriFit’s web-based fitness program for at-home use for 20,000 Canadian IBM employees.

The City of Burlington, Ont., provides wellness opportunities for all employees, including transit workers, firefighters, road crews and their parks and recreation staff.

And in 2005, Xerox introduced a 2.5-hour training session on mental health for all managers, helping them identify the signs and take appropriate steps to have a positive influence on that situation.

Public initiatives in 2005 included the federal compassionate care benefits being extended to all caregivers. And 10 federal-provincial agreements on early learning and child care were signed, resulting in thousands of new licensed programs across Canada.

We are at, or near, a “tipping point” with respect to work-life quality. Organizations are aware of the issues, taking action, being innovative and measuring results. Employers are approaching work-life quality comprehensively, equitably and strategically. Expect more innovation and creativity in the months ahead.

Nora Spinks is president of Work-Life Harmony Enterprises and chair of the Work-Life Quality Audio Conference Series. She can be reached at [email protected] or (800) 965-2414.

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