There has been a considerable increase in stress levels in the workplace, which is impacting other aspects of an individual’s life. One of the most prominent topics of discussion is work-life balance. However, in today’s society, there are many different responsibilities and commitments. Hence, the debate that is raging about this issue. There are various competing interests in work/life balance, and the employee, employer and government each have their role.
Work-life balance has been defined as the state of equilibrium between a person and their family life (Lockwood 2003). This essay will examine work-life balance by viewing it from the individual’s, employer’s and government’s perspective. Firstly, the issue of work-life balance will be explained. Secondly, how work-life balance is negatively affecting the individual. Thirdly, the role of employers in improving work-life balance will be studied. Fourthly, the duty of the government in ensuring that workers can attain a better work-life balance will be outlined.
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Fifthly, the responsibilities of implementing work-life balance will be scrutinized, and conclusions will be drawn. Finally, the prospects for work-life balance are investigated. Most individuals seek a work balance, but there is a plurality of views as to what it exactly means. Work-life balance is a recent construct, and it was only in 1986 the term was invented. However, work-life balance was an issue before the 1980s, and many organizations instituted programs to improve the balance as most employees wanted to want additional flexibility and control over their work and personal lives.
Workplace flexibility is an integral part of work-life balance to respond to the needs of employees at different stages of their lives (Hill et al., 2008, p.166). However, a significant disparity exists between male and female views of workplace flexibility. Conversely, workers and employers have different views with employees placing too much balance on life and employers on work (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.37). Nonetheless, employers also sought to achieve benefits for themselves from these new programs. For instance, the Kellogg Company introduced six-hour shifts in the 1930s, and the workers’ morale and productivity increased (Lockwood 2003).
Moreover, there has been a substantial deterioration in family life due to excessive work commitments. Some much so, that many in the industry now refer to the issue as ‘work-family balance’ (Kalliath & Brough 2008, p.323). The term’s genesis is due to increasing numbers abstaining from parenthood, but they still are demanding balance in terms of study, travel and sporting activities. Nonetheless, work-life balance means different things to different people. While the majority of the programs in the past few decades have been aimed at women, they are becoming more all-encompassing to include other workers also.
Additionally, employers need the capacity to gauge the results of these policies on workers’ views of the balance (Kalliath & Brough 2008, p.324). Hence, work-life balance is an essential policy for organizations, and employers must get it right. Otherwise, the results are highly damaging. The impact of poor work-life balance policies detrimentally affects employee morale and company performance. The outcome of poor work-life balance is reflected in higher stress levels, mental health issues, lower pay and more family discord.
Ultimately, they result in poor job performance and high staff turnover. Most employees cite work-life balance difficulties as the main reason for changing their jobs (Stimpson 2009, p.19). Employees now do not define themselves by their job, but they view their lives in totality (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.34). Nonetheless, employees face the dilemma of organizing work obligations and balancing them with personal or family responsibilities (Lockwood 2003). In addition, the majority of workers would like time off to perform their hobbies. For example, almost three-quarters of workers in the UK want free time to pursue an art hobby (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.39).
Urban life has created a crisis for many workers as they commute hundreds of kilometres a week. This places a lot of stress on the workers and may force them to change jobs. Furthermore, increased stress levels cause problems for workers and lead to higher rates of alcoholism and drug dependency, which may exacerbate depression and stress levels (Chen & Cunradi 2008, p.337). This is due to a lack of coping mechanisms and balance with non-work life. In addition, the increase in business competition has expanded employees’ workload and reduced the amount of free time they have (Bunting 2004, p.49-50).
Moreover, in the manufacturing sector, their workers are working longer hours than ever, yet there is no evidence that this has led to higher wages or has improved job certainty (Bunting 2004, p.57-58). Furthermore, in these industries where shiftwork is the norm, there is a direct correlation between shiftwork and poor mental health, leaving workers more prone to stress (Haines et al. 2008, p.342). Depression may follow, and absenteeism is also related and may finally lead to dismissal. Hence, the individual must get their work-life balance right to stave off stress, absenteeism, and various health consequences.
Employers need to introduce effective work-life balance strategies to enhance organizational stability and performance. Employers have begun to realize that implementing good policies in this area can improve staff retention. The era of the lifelong career company man is over, and research has indicated that individuals will change their job twelve times in the course of their life (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.34). Thus, it is a prerequisite for businesses better to understand the needs of a company’s workers. While most employers now offer greater flexibility with schemes such as job sharing, part-time work, telecommuting and outsourced, all of which endeavour to improve the balance in employees’ lives (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.36).
These flexibility schemes allow organizations to get the most out of their key workers and involve reducing their work hours or work from home (Stimpson 2008, p.16). Moreover, employers that introduce these changes will receive the respect of their employees and become desirable places to work. Nonetheless, the most effective policies are pre-planned as ad-hoc policies tend to cause difficulties and have been known to stoke resentment if any new policy is regarded as favouritism (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.38). Some employers have been proactive in creating a positive work-life balance, and allow greater flexibility and attempt to pre-empt annual peaks by spreading the workload year-round as much as is possible (Stimpson 2008, p.19).
In addition, adopting tailor-made solutions for each worker has enabled corporations to reduce the number of hours worked by each employee and manager alike and can be adapted for the season. Daskal is an organization that sponsors activities for employees’ families, and even though it does not have any written policies for work-life balance, they are deeply ingrained in the company’s ethos (Stimpson 2008, p.20). Employers are interested in creating appropriate work-life balance policies as they can assist organizations to grow and prosper.
Governments have a crucial role in persuading employers to adopt a work-life balance through incentives and legislation. Traditionally, government policy was based on the male breadwinner model, but societal changes have forced a change in this approach (Ackers 2008, p.223). As a result, the government usually has difficulty meeting the competing demands of employers on one hand and trade unions and women’s groups on the other (Ackers 2008, p.225). For example, in Australia, the government has promoted the expansion of programs both in their number and diversity. However, employers are resistant to these issues because they think too many options are being offered (Bretherton 2008, p.259).
In Britain, it has been acknowledged that policy would be enhanced by governmental involvement (Ackers 2008, p.224). The federal government encourages behavioural change in the workplace, suggests responsible policies dealing with work-life balance and monitors the introduction of ‘family-friendly’ workplace policies (Bretherton 2008, p.265). However, the government requires a better understanding of workplace flexibility issues to inform policy in this area and the differences between each segment of the population (Hill et al. 2008, p.179). For some sectors, such as the executive sector, any statutory controls would be inadequate (Pocock 2005, p.200). Nonetheless, the current Australian approach is inadequate as only one-third of Australian companies have flexible workplace policies.
However, the new workplace agreements introduced by the Australian government introduced family-friendly policies in more than two-thirds of cases (Bretherton 2008, p.262). Additionally, political calculations have caused politicians to react to the electorate’s demands and enact more flexible and family-friendly regulations (Pocock 2005, p.202). Government workers benefit significantly from favourable work-life balance policies, such as NSW offering 14 weeks paid maternity leave. However, the implementation may lag behind the government rhetoric as many businesses forego introducing these flexible policies may face complex management issues involved with their introduction (Bretherton 2008, p.265). Nevertheless, the government has a significant role in advocating work-life balance reform and the introduction of many new initiatives offers great promise.
The most significant responsibility for work-life balance lies with the employer with smaller contributions from the government and the individual. The most significant burden in this issue lies with the employer, and many of them, especially more giant corporations, respond positively to the challenge. However, some organizations are adopting work-friendly locations for their workers and providing internal facilities that match their needs. In some countries, work-life policies are employer-driven, whereas in others government needs to push this agenda (Ackers 2008, p.227).
In addition, if companies look after their worker’s other needs, such as laundry or grocery shopping, they can benefit the organizations as their employees are satisfied and will be more productive (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.39). Westpac Bank is an organization that provides significant flexibility but in the context of solid business expansion. In addition, two-thirds of its employees are female, and one-third are part-time (Bretherton 2008, p.263). The individual also has a role in work-life balance, and women choose part-time work as a means of achieving it (Pocock 2005, p.203). Since many employees have difficult home situations, it makes sense for companies to accommodate these, such as when the employee has a child in childcare (Stimpson 2008, p.17).
A challenge for companies with an influential work-life culture is to be fair and consistent with employees. Nonetheless, work-life balance is not just to satisfy the regulations, but there is an overwhelming business argument for its introduction (Stimpson 2008, p.22). Conversely, in the modern context, the employer’s voice is under-represented as the employee dominates the debate and is often presented as being in crisis. The inability to introduce family-friendly policies is often blamed on employers (Bretherton 2008, p.260). Moreover, research indicates that employers want to introduce work-life programs but face resistance from line managers.
The voluntary approach works best in a country that suffers from labour shortages and falling birth rates (Ackers 2008, p.227). The proactive approach is being followed by many companies such as IBM Australia, which introduced 12 weeks of paid leave (Pocock 2005, p.205). Introducing work-life balance is a complex task and involves employers, managers, culture, trust and training of all persons involved in the program (Bretherton 2008, p.261). Government, employees and employers each have a role in promoting work-life issues. However, employers have the most crucial role, and with government advocacy and regulation, they can change the face of the workplace for the better.
The prospects for work-life balance are mixed. One of the paramount wishes of employees now and moving into the future is a greater level of flexibility in terms of work, time, lifestyle and rewards (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.34). Employees in certain professions may select employers who best reflect their lives and how they want to live. However, the current recession may act as a retardant on improved work-life balance policies. In addition, the change in demographics means that workers will have to work longer and face a range of new responsibilities such as childcare and caring for their elderly relatives (Johnson & Chadwick 2009, p.37). Some companies have started to offer specific work-life programs which address eldercare (Lockwood 2003).
Moreover, the entry of women into certain professions will force them to adapt their policies, such as the accounting industry, which has introduced more flexible practices to allow women to combine career and family. Furthermore, younger workers have grown up with a culture of more work-life balance than their predecessors and hence have higher expectations (Stimpson 2008, p.20). The advent of new technology has provided tangible benefits in the work-life balance, allows greater flexibility, and allows workers to work from home. However, this has not proven the case; new technology has worsened job conditions and increased stress levels.
For instance, new communication tools allow employees to always be in contact, limiting their flexibility (Bunting 2004, p.35-36). Many individuals will primarily consider work-life issues when deciding on a job, especially the case of the younger demographic (Stimpson 2008, p.23). Hence, these programs are being promoted in recruitment advertising brochures. Organizations will need to be more active in engaging with employees on work-life issues. Various strategies may be necessary to assess their concerns, such as surveys, exit interviews and appropriate literature (Stimpson 2008, p.24). The changing demographics, technologies and individual expectations will dramatically alter work-life balance issues.
In conclusion, work-life balance is critical for organizations to adopt and for individuals to achieve. The interest in work-life balance is a recent phenomenon and primarily has focused on women. The depth of the programs has now broadened its reach. The work-life balance of employees has been characterized by rising stress levels and mental health problems. Moreover, most employees seek a more excellent balance, but delivery in many industries has been limited. The perspective of employers toward work-life issues has altered, and they are driving change to introduce flexibility.
Additionally, they believe they will reap a benefit from these policies. The government has been lacking in this sector, and policy has been more reactive to voters, trade unions and employers. Nonetheless, recent developments represent a more positive omen for the future. Responsibility for work-life balance is shared between each group with the most significant role for employers. The future of work-life balance is complex, and many uncertainties pertain. However, changing demographics, new technology, economic development and greater expectations should see a more significant role in the future. Work-life balance is critical for the worker, employer and the general society. Consequently, effective policies are required to initiate improvements, and it is the employer who delivers this change is likely to achieve happier employees, company stability and higher profits.
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