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Work-life balance programs. A Canadian approach

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The work/life dichotomy appeared, as a notion, during the mid-1800s and it referred to the human being’s need for balance both at personal, and at professional level. In other words, it encompassed strategies to attain a state of equilibrium between lifestyle and career.

The term “Work – Life Balance” was first used in the 1970s, in the United Kingdom. Since then, it has extended its meanings to become, nowadays, a central aspect not only for researchers but for every person within the workforce. More and more studies have proven the beneficial impact this equilibrium provides to people’s daily lives and psychic.

The main aspects associated with work/life balance usually regard the lack of time (due to bad scheduling or conflicts), stress (overwhelming duties and roles), pressures (deadlines, priorities) and a sense of uselessness, or meaningless.

One of Canada’s Federal Departments, Health Canada, has defined its mission and vision around the sentence: “to be among the countries with the healthiest people in the world”. In this sense, they have been developing many programs and projects regarding health issues that affect nowadays societies. Among these, a study entitled “Reducing Work-Life Conflict: What Works? What doesn’t?” sets the basis of an efficient implementation of a work/life balance program.

Researchers from Health Canada have identified four categories associated with work / life balance:

  • Role overload: A form of work-life conflict that occurs during time-related pressures, such as the case of excessive demands, or roles, which are too great to be performed adequately;
  • Work-to-family interference: A form of role conflict that occurs when family-role fulfilment becomes difficult, due to work responsibilities and demands.
  • Family-to-work interference: This type is the opposite of the above mentioned Work-to-family interference, and it occurs when family demands and responsibilities make concentration during work hours too difficult.
  • Caregiver strain: A multi-dimensional construct which regards the “need to provide care or assistance to someone else who needs it.”

To this extent, the concept of work/life balance has been continuously developing through the implementation of initiatives. These latter can potentially deal with a wide range of issues including: employee assistance programs, flexible work schedule, elder care programs, on-site childcare, etc.

A work place that considers implementing such programs, generally attracts new employees, improves morale, reduces absenteeism, increases performance and productivity, while also decreasing stress levels.

Work/life balance initiatives should be part of a health promotion program and they should meet both the needs of employees and those of the overall business. Two particular aspects remain to be taken into consideration should be: on one hand, the requirement of a significant commitment from senior management and, on the other hand, the evaluation, or feedback systems.

According to Canadian researchers, when setting up a work/life balance program, several steps are required in order to achieve a high level of implementation proficiency:

  1. Assess the current situation and objectives. This step involves conducting surveys on employees, supervisors and managers, which should regard the assessment of needs, concerns or other difficulties.
  2. Get the buy-in of employees from all levels. Training and educating all the members of a company in order to identify common concerns or challenges, for example misconceptions such as: “people should keep their personal lives at home; one program is good for everyone; being present equals being productive”, etc.
  3. Clearly monitor productivity, hours and deadlines. This step involves setting realistic targets and implementing a system of resolving workload issues.
  4. Create a policy or set guidelines. A set of rules and guidelines are essential for organizing any type of activity, by clearly stating the needs and purposes demanding it. For example: clear guidelines regarding compensation or other benefits.
  5. Initiate a trial period and/or pilot studies. This step provides both the employer, and the employee, with a clear perspective regarding performance and job fit.
  6. Monitor, re-survey and make any adjustments that are necessary. An organization should consider employees’ proposed initiatives in order to improve, modify, and adjust future enhancements.

A significant amount of health programs regard the concept of work/life balance and an increasing number of organizations have already implemented such programs. Meeting both the employees and the overall business’ needs, work/life initiatives are successful and sustainable, providing employee satisfaction, engagement, job fit and also high performance levels, together with financial benefits.

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