Work-life balance needs increasing

Making sure employees balance their personal lives with work is good for both businesses and employees, said Investors in People assessor Tony Kirlew at the Cayman Islands Society of Human Resource Professionals luncheon on Wednesday.

Work-life balance models seek to implement strategies that meet corporate goals and customer needs, while at the same time improving the quality of life for employees.

Mr. Kirlew said work-life balance is an idea that is gaining popularity on both sides of the Atlantic, although for different reasons.

‘In the USA, it is seen as a means of achieving competitive advantage,’ he said. ‘In Europe, it is seen as a function of social responsibility.’

Though the reasons are different, Mr. Kirlew said they are not opposing, but intertwined, because studies have shown there is a link between work-life balance and company profits.

Citing an example, Mr. Kirlew pointed to a study of a UK company that found only 30 per cent of its employees returned to work after maternity leave. However, after a childcare programme was put in place by the company, 85 per cent of its employees returned after maternity leave.

The company determined it cost about a year’s salary to replace those who did not return from maternity leave.

Mr. Kirlew said significant changes in the demographics of the workforce will create more of a need for work-life balance initiatives.

For one thing, the population is ageing. In the UK now, there are more workers older than 60 (21 per cent) than younger than 16 (20 per cent).

‘By 2011, only 20 per cent of the working population will be male, non-disabled and under 45 years old,’ said Mr. Kirlew, pointing out that meant 80 per cent of the workforce will consist of those falling in demographics that most need work-life balance programmes.

Even students coming out of universities are demanding work-life balance.

Mr. Kirlew said a 1999 study of 2,500 students in 11 different countries showed 57 per cent of them considered achieving a balanced lifestyle the top priority in finding a job, even more so than the rate of pay.

Companies around the world are rethinking the way employees are used, Mr. Kirlew said.

‘Some employers are discovering jobs need to be thought of in terms of roles, performance and tasks rather than narrow job descriptions and specifications.’

Mr. Kirlew told about the company Best Buy, which was trying a unique solution to flexible work hours for female employees.

‘Employees can show up any time they wish as long as they get their job done,’ he said. ‘Work is measured not by hours, but by the achievement of company goals.’

In order to be effective, work-life balance programmes must be win-win situations focused on attaining two goals: improving an organisation’s performance and improving employees’ work-life balance, Mr. Kirlew said.

The Investors in People Work-Life Balance Model is non-prescriptive, but provides a framework strategy for employers and measures to check on effectiveness.

For a programme to be effective, it must be embraced from the top.

‘It requires, almost invariably, a major cultural change,’ Mr. Kirlew said.

‘The culture of the organisation creates an environment in which work-life balance is recognised and valued,’ he said.

‘Top managers must act as role models, because they’re partially responsible for setting the culture of an organisation.’

Companies that embrace work-life balance are finding themselves employers of choice.

‘These companies have no recruiting cost because they have a waiting list of people who want to work for them, and it’s the best people coming to join them,’ said Mr Kirlew.