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Promoting the work-life balance

29 April 2005 by

If you want to keep your staff motivated, it's important to help them strike the right balance between their work and home life.

What is meant by work-life balance?

The idea that workers need to maintain a healthy balance between their life inside the workplace and their life outside has become widely accepted in the last few years.

Basically, it means making sure you work to live rather than live to work.

The issue is particularly important in the hospitality industry where long, unsociable hours can severely affect an employee's satisfaction with their job.

For senior managers a "work-life balance" probably means having more time to pursue leisure activities and relax.

For parents of young children it probably means having more time with the family and to sort out domestic chores.

For the boss, or the manager, it's an important consideration if you want to get the most out of your staff. The happier they are in their work, the better and harder they will work, and the ensuing benefits should increase their loyalty to the company.

How can you help your staff achieve this balance?

Employers, particularly the big household names, are becoming aware of the need for flexibility in the workplace and, in some cases, are starting to offer benefits such as better maternity leave and paternity arrangements, career breaks and job-sharing.

If you work for a large company you should be aware of its policies in these areas and how they apply to the staff directly under your control. If it's appropriate, make sure your staff know these policies too and make it clear that you are happy to apply them.

What are the main changes you can make?

There are several methods which are becoming increasingly common in the workplace. The theme running through all of them is flexibility.

Job sharing: For example, rather than having one person working from 9-5, one works from 9-1 and the other from 1-5. Two happy people working hard is better than one miserable one.

The only disadvantages are that you will have to provide extra administration, training, etc.

If you're considering a job share for one of your employees, you need to think about a few practical points:

  • Consider the components of the job, how easy would it be to share?
  • How compatible are the staff who will share? Are their abilities similar, do they complement each other's strengths and weaknesses?
  • Communication and continuity are the priorities.

Flexibility: Letting staff work where and when they want is perhaps a bit extreme, but giving them the chance to work from home every now and again when practical, or to work flexible hours is always useful. Parents especially will appreciate the chance to change their hours when they can.

There can be benefits in this for the employer as well:

  • The employee's concentration and work rate is likely to increase if they are away from a distracting or stressful workplace occasionally
  • They can put in more hours if they're not commuting
  • Probably most importantly, flexible employment policies lead to higher staff retention. According to the Institute for Employment Studies, small businesses save up to £250,000 a year through flexible working policies. Remember how expensive the recruitment process is.

Career breaks: Some large corporations have set policies about career breaks, so check with your human resources department if appropriate. If there's no official policy and it up to your discretion there are pros and cons to consider.

Career breaks can work for the employer as well as for the employee. Taking time out from a job can mean new ideas, a new approach and new experiences when they return.

But people returning from a lengthy career break may lose touch with their job skills, or be out of touch with the current scene. It might be worth considering asking them to return at regular intervals to maintain contact and re-appraise their skills.

Downshifting: This is a personal decision that needs to be made by the member of staff. Essentially it means asking yourself whether climbing up the corporate ladder is you, and whether you'd be happier earning less money, but having more time to spend with family etc. While this is a personal thing, it's up to managers to spot when an employee is feeling unhappy and present this to them as an option, and assure them that if they want to downshift you will try your best to accommodate them.

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