The Mindset of Work/Life Balance?

By Heather O’Keefe, CPHR

There is a lot of talk today about HR’s strategic goal to provide a more balanced work/life environment for employees. Why has that become so important in today’s work place? Are the days of expecting the job to come first really over?

Competition in the workplace hasn’t diminished much according to many employees who find that job security is more fleeting than ever. For many employers, the idea of providing a more balanced work environment can be costly to the bottom line. So it turns out that it may be more of a hope than a reality even when put into the company manual as a corporate value.

Today’s work force is made up of approximately 45 per cent baby boomers, those who are retiring (or trying to) in the next five to 10 years. They aren’t likely planning any career moves. They also come from the generation that was more likely to be workaholics always putting the job first. The thought of work/life balance was a foreign idea – until now. So where is the balance needed? We tend to associate work/life balance manly with younger employees who have growing family needs. What about caring for elderly parents verses career?

It’s been my personal experience working as an employee relations manager for a number of years that the work/life balance philosophy evolved out the need to accommodate a changing mindset regarding the priority of work. Here are some of the factors that make work/life balance a growing need.

New Generations in the Workplace
Generation X and Y are predominately single or young families who have grown up in an environment where they did not lack the basic needs of life. Their expectations were not to sacrifice themselves for the corporate profit. With the proper perspective, it is still possible to accommodate the needs of the employee, to have time and energy for family and self, with the need of the employer, which is to make a profit.

Winning Over New Recruits
Demand to replace baby boomers makes companies try harder to win over a diminishing workforce. Even individuals entering the work place who may have immigrated from countries where life was more difficult may be influenced by their peers who have an expectation within the North American workplace to be provided with more perks and less demands.

Technology Creates Expectations
Whoever thought that technology and automation would give us more time? Technology has created more competition and more demand to meet the expectations of the corporate giants. There was a time before cell phones and voice mail and email when it was possible that if you could not be reached by a land line they would have to call back. No expectation to return the call or answer an email within minutes while the person at the other end is waiting impatiently.

Do More With Less
To compete in the market place, companies need to discover how to do more with less. That often means the demands on employees increases. Less hiring, less time off, less perks. However, this often backfires as the younger generations are not prepared to go the extra mile for long. Turnover will be higher, employees off for illness (or burnout), increase to safely costs may also be a factor as employees are required to work longer hours or with unsatisfactory equipment. Of course, the ‘do more with less’ is meant to mean ‘working smarter not harder’. This takes a strategy in itself to be more than just words.

Population Shifts
The number of seniors who require additional care is increasing as the baby boomer generation, and the one before them, leave the workforce. For some, the obligation to care for aging parents is an expectation. Possibly the cost of care outside the home is out of reach or not an option for personal reasons. Baby boomers are scrambling to make sure they have enough to retire on, which is a real concern, and therefore, continue to put work ahead of what they may feel are family needs. This of course, may not be a problem for employers but if they truly want to provide a work/life balance for all their employees, something has to give so that all employees feel their job is secure even though they have demanding family obligations to consider.

While the work/life balance seems to be a value that should be implemented into the corporate work environment, it still has a lot of work to be done to achieve the reality of it in many companies. The benefits to employees and companies to make this a win/win accomplishment needs to be recognizable.

Knowing that employees are more satisfied in their job when their efforts and ideas are recognized, valued, and acknowledged creates long term employee relationships that keep on giving and adding to the corporate bottom line. Perks are great to entice new employees but keeping them is less about perks then recognition. Training managers to look to their employees to find ways to work smarter, benefits the company because it costs less, it gives employees recognition and value so they are engaged to work hard. This allows employers to reward their employees with a work/life benefit strategy. It may involve working part time from home, job sharing, job security with needed time off to care for long term elderly parents or serious ill children (not just 6 weeks from EI when death is imminent). Having executive participation – not just by-in – makes this strategy successful.

Heather has been working in human resources for the past 15 years and has been a Chartered Professional in Human Resources since 2009. Her experience as employee relations manager and management training developer has provided the insight to look at issues that human resources professionals struggle to achieve in their effort to balance and maintain a positive and culturally effective work environment. Heather is currently working as an independent HR consultant.


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