New Manager

The importance of work-life balance

Kavita Singh | Updated on March 25, 2014

BL26_IT_WORKLIFE

It’s a win-win for corporates as staff productivity and commitment improve

As a professional have you ever wondered if you are achieving a healthy work-life balance in your organisation. Tell-tale signs of poor work-life balance include high stress, overtime, absence and staff turnover.

With the passage of time the relevance of work-life balance becomes very important when family responsibilities increase, and care for children or other dependants becomes a priority.

Balancing home life and work enables you to meet several of your basic human needs. Let’s face it, working fewer hours frees up time to focus on other things such as your community, your health, your family, your hobbies and so on. So, it may be timely to assess your work-life balance.

Think different

Can you moderate your life, live in a smaller house, make fewer trips, or buy less stuff? Build a business online so it doesn’t matter where or when you work? Could you rent out a room in your house or sell your stuff on OLX? Achieving a work-life balance could be more than whether your employer offers compressed hours or part-time work. Work-Life Balance (WLB), from an employee perspective, is the maintenance of a balance between responsibilities at work and at home. Employers view the benefits or working conditions that they provide to help employees balance their family and work life as WLB strategies.

WLB was considered mainly an issue for working mothers in the 1960s and the 1970s as they struggled with the demands of their jobs and raising children. During the 1980s, organisations such as Merck, Deloitte & Touche, and IBM were among the first to recognise the value and needs of their women contributors and changed their workplace policies, procedures, and benefits by providing them with maternity leave, employee assistance programmes (EAPs), flextime, work-from home, and child-care referral.

Doing vs getting done

There is a big difference between doing things and getting something done. Most WLB efforts by HR Departments and special teams fail despite a “lot of doing”. An organisation may have the most employee-friendly policies in the form of health insurance, vacation time, various benefits, and possibly EAP or education programmes or flexible work policies but still these may not give positive results.

In addition to laying down these policies, it is also important to have them implemented and put in place and ensure that they are working. As an enforcer of WLB policies, it is also important to keep on reinforcing on them. For this you need to:

Reinforce through better communications what you are already doing. All the work-life benefits, procedures, and policies of the company need to be put together and communicated to the entire organisation rather than keeping them isolated. It is essential to publicise them as a package and post it on the web site of the company.

It is advisable to give a half day off on Fridays ensuring that the individual has completed his work and has no other engagement with any stake holders

Give a choice to the employee to work from home one day a week.

Offer subsidies for off-site exercise.

Provide one or two days off with pay for approved community involvement work.

Create and encourage an annual or quarterly “bring your family to work” day.

Encourage employees to have a mandatory “disconnect from work” vacation policy with no cell phones or laptops.

Create a more accommodating “on- and off-ramp” policy for those who leave the firm, especially if it is to spend time with family. When they show interest in coming back, make it easy for them to get back at the level where they left.

It is often noticed that even with such employee-friendly policies and comprehensive programmes, the results are not very encouraging. This happens because the companies focus on only one aspect of the programme — that is, putting these practices in place. Just by doing so you won’t be able to manage to retain people, boost morale, and or improve revenues. What is more important here is to focus on the question: “What has the individual employee done for himself or herself to create their own best work-life balance?”

Shifting goalposts

The reality is that we are different from one another as individuals. The best work-life balance for you will be different from that for your co-worker, your boss or your neighbour. For some, working long hours creates value, is a source of relaxation and balance in their lives. For others maintaining a routine can be quite tiresome and result in low productivity. Also the 'best' work-life balance changes for each individual over time. The ideal WLB at entry level may not hold good mid-career, or towards the end of a person’s career. A good WLB for someone who is single is different from that for a single parent with two children. Your own best work-life balance will change, often on a daily basis. As a result it becomes very difficult for a company or an organization to create the best work-life balance for its employees. As individuals, we must find and create it for ourselves.

There may be different reasons for employees to be under stress at the work place. A study by TeamLease Staffing Solutions found that in Bangalore 74 per cent of the employees felt pressured keeping up with advancements in technology. In Delhi, 73 per cent attributed the work load as the major cause of stress and 71 per cent said that office politics and lack of influence led to stress. In Kolkata, 78 per cent employees experienced most stress when asked to manage other people’s work and 77 per cent respondents in Mumbai felt stressed due to relationships with other people. In Hyderabad, 64 per cent employees felt stressed out while making decisions.

According to top honchos of the corporate world, “Indian corporate employees work under a wide range of uncertainties. They have to continuously prove themselves in very tough competitive environment. Many work across different time zones. Besides, there’s a constant struggle to maximise the profits for the company. By the time they reach the age of 40, they are already burnt out. In the West, people take vacations seriously; in India there are many who still take pride in the fact that they’ve worked continuously without a break. The battle for survival has spilled into the corporate sphere.”

Company initiatives

The other facet of the situation is equally interesting. There are many organisations which have taken initiatives to ensure that employees at work are relaxed and happy. Cisco India has set up a dedicated wellness centre with both a doctor and a dietician for the employees. They can consult with the doctor in person or using tele-presence remotely and these services are available free of cost. A provision of 24x7 connectivity to the staff enables them to work from home when the need arises. It has also set up an employee assistance programme aimed at helping employees deal with life and work situations.

Employees at Nokia are often allowed to work from home. It not only allows them to take care of the family responsibilities but also helps them beat traffic induced stress. At Patni Computer Systems the aim is to focus on three pillars of employees’ life — physical aspect (health and fitness), the psychological aspect, and providing a conducive work environment — to improve their work-life balance. Employees at Directi Group are encouraged to take lessons in foxtrot, rumba, rock ‘n’ roll, tango and waltz to beat their stress. There are facilities to join yoga classes or read in the library.

Interestingly, at Directi, employees can also ask for a beanbag for their respective workstations to work and relax. Intelenet Global Services has a doctor on call and a fully equipped in-house gymnasium. An employee assistance programme helps people deal with stress.

American Express helps employees modify their perceptions about others, improve their personality and even understand their colleagues better through a facility called as I-Counsel. The healthy living programme set up by the company epitomises this commitment and offers a new way of thinking about good health. It’s a classic win-win. Companies which offer flexible working enabling employees to achieve a work-life balance will increasingly become employers of choice. In return, employees with a good balance between life and work generally offer many benefits to a company — they don’t call in sick, they are loyal, and save money.

The writer is Associate Professor, Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi and is the author of the Pearson textbook on Organizational Behaviour.

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Published on March 25, 2014
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