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Finding the work-life balance

A positive work-life balance has long been recognised as an important aspect to keeping employees happy in their job. There are a multitude of flow-on benefits, including improved productivity, attracting and keeping the most talented employees, reducing your recruitment and training costs and preventing workplace accidents.

In addition, new employment legislation now stipulates that, in certain circumstances, you must consider an employee’s request for flexibility to help them achieve their work-life balance. This article outlines some practical strategies for improving the work-life balance of your team.

Understand your employees’ life needs

To help someone achieve a work-life balance you first need to understand the “life” side of their equation. Discuss with your employees (and keep the conversation flowing on a regular basis) their particular work-life balance needs. Do they have children, elderly parents, sporting commitments or a passion for volunteer work? Once you understand this you can talk about how their work can support their life. It could be a simple thing such as looking for win-win situations that benefit both your business and the employee. For example, an employee who cares for a sick parent once a week may be able to match their time-off requirement with your low demand day. Recently, I discovered that an employee of one of my clients was planning to resign because they couldn’t cope with working during school holidays. When the matter was raised we found that person’s work could be rescheduled to be done outside school holiday time. Understanding your employee’s needs could save you truckloads of cash that would otherwise be spent recruiting and training new team members.

Don’t pay lip service

Many organisations have policies in place to help their employees achieve a work-life balance, such as shorter working days for parents to pick up their kids from school. Yet few organisations manage to pay more than lip service to achieving work-life balance for their employees. I left the corporate world because of the pressure I felt to work long hours in the office. Even though I had negotiated to work some hours from home, I still felt eyes follow me out the door whenever I left before 5pm. The company had agreed to support my work-life balance, but in reality it was perceived that the managers who came in early and left late were more valuable to the organisation.

Rewrite your unwritten rules

Unwritten rules can be more powerful than written rules. Unwritten rules spring from within your organisational culture and are most powerfully reflected in the behaviour that is modeled by your senior management.

To discover which unwritten grounds rules are in place in your organisation run a focus group with an independent facilitator, or ask employees to fill out an anonymous survey. To create a business culture supportive of work-life balance you need to communicate clearly the work-life policies that your business supports – and then role model the behaviours yourself.

Adjust the workload

There is no point in an employee scaling back to part-time hours to achieve a work-life balance, if you still give them the same amount of work to complete in less time. Make sure that the work you allocate to those team members working flexible hours is adjusted to match the hours they work.

Focus on outcomes

There is still huge reluctance on the part of employers to let people out of their line of sight, even though, in reality, people may be spending half their time in the office surfing the net, having breakfast or gossiping over the latest management change. What your business really needs is results – and whether those results are achieved by an employee spending 10 hours a day hours chained to a desk, or by an effective individual that comes into the office 30 hours a week, is irrelevant. What you must have is a clear process to measure whether an employee is achieving results. An effective performance management process is crucial to achieving work-life balance. It involves setting clear performance expectations, ensuring the team member is trained and coached to succeed, and regularly and objectively measuring their performance and their outcomes. Focusing on the performance output of individuals, rather than the hours they sit at a desk, must be highly valued within an organisation that is genuine in the desire to achieve work-life balance for their people.

Other practical work-life strategies include:

  • Company health programs
  • Flexible working hours
  • Working from home
  • Proper holiday cover, so employees don’t return to a backed-up workload

Gone are the days when employees would tolerate being chained to their desk 40 hours a week. If you want to attract top talent to your business, you must pay more than lip service to achieving work-life balance in your organisation.

Sheralyn Guy is director of HRhelp, a company dedicated to providing affordable, practical and effective HR services to small to medium sized businesses. For further great HR ideas sign up to our newsletter, follow us on twitter @HRhelpU or like our facebook page HRhelp.