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Work-Life Balance – A Workplace Issue

Celéste Olivier

There seems to be a continued debate around work-life balance and how to achieve it. In the EAP field we daily see employees accessing their companies’ support programmes, feeling overwhelmed, stressed and at the point of burnout due to unending pressures from both work and home.

In their struggle to obtain a healthy work-life balance employees are more often than not left to find this ever eluding concept on their own – mostly unsuccessful.

The nature of business today creates various challenges for employees in their quest to obtain a healthy work-life balance. Technology makes employees accessible around the clock while fears of job loss incentivise longer hours in the office. A Harvard Business School survey revealed that 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week. Experts seem to agree that compounding stress from never-ending work days is damaging to employees. The damage is often seen in the disintegration of personal and work relationships, employees’ health and their overall happiness.

According to Clutterbuck, work-life balance is an important and critical issue in the 21st century. However, human resource practitioners only recently began to see work-life balance as a business issue that has benefits for both employees and employers.

If we then understand that work-life balance or more specifically an imbalance creates general unhappiness and less productive employees it is obvious that employers will benefit from helping employees create a greater level of work-life balance in their lives.
Research that supports the benefits of work-life balance for organisations is substantial. It highlights a positive, although indirect, influence on organisation profit. It also includes, employee satisfaction and well-being, reduced absenteeism and turnover, successful recruitment and retention, increased productivity and customer satisfaction.

A study by Accenture revealed that work-life balance, ahead of money, recognition and autonomy is the key determiner for more than half of men and women on whether or not they have a successful career. One study revealed that 38% of its respondents considered leaving their current employer to gain a better work-life balance, even if it meant reduced pay.

It therefore seems that not only has the nature of business changed but also the needs of employees. Gone are the days were employers offered higher salaries to secure happy employees. Today’s employee is in search of something much harder to supply.
Companies that can help their employees navigate both their professional and personal lives are likely to see strong employee engagement and enjoy an advantage as they recruit and retain high performers.

In an attempt to support employee work-life balance many organisation introduced work-life balance policies. Although research around the implementation and success of these are still inconclusive, it does appear that organisations that choose to invest heavily in work-life balance report lower employee turnover.

Work-life balance policies improve the autonomy of workers in coordinating and integrating their work and non-work areas of their lives. Mayberry (2006) has identified over 100 variations of work-life balance policies. Amongst the alternatives that organisations offer are on-site or subsidised child and/or elder care, flexible working schedules, job sharing and employee assistance programmes. Although these alternatives vary, according to research most work-life balance policies fall into five categories:
1.    Flexitime work schedules
2.    Flexi-place or telecommuting
3.    Job-sharing
4.    Part time flexi-place
5.    Sabbaticals or career breaks

To determine which of these work-life balance policies would be best for your company it would be important to understand the needs of the employees as what would work in one company, might not be effective in another. Accenture SA human resource director Nicky Moses was quoted in saying (2013) that it is imperative for companies to realise that employees require flexibility in their work schedules and that the measure of performance should focus on outcomes and not how many hours an employee spent in the office.

Celéste Olivier is the EAP manager at Kaelo Consulting. She has a BA in social work from the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg) and an MA in occupational social work from the University of the Witwatersrand.