The term 'work/life balance' refers to how we meet the often conflicting demands of work and home. The best analogy is that of a juggler: some of us happily juggle many balls at any one time, others prefer to juggle fewer. Occasionally, all of us will drop some balls. Whether we are happy or unhappy about our particular situation is a matter of personal perception. Work/life balance is particularly relevant to wealthier industrialised countries, where dual earner families with substantial financial incomes and outgoings are the norm.
Juggling your priorities
The working conditions in many countries are not conducive to helping people juggle their priorities. To illustrate, the UK has a history of working long hours - among the longest average working hours in Europe - but is also one of the least productive nations on that continent. Working practices don't help most people to combine their personal and work duties; there are added complications for people with children. Childcare is expensive, poorly regulated and often inaccessible. Other countries have similar problems, although childcare provisions in Sweden and Holland and also France are better than elsewhere.
In the United States work/life balance traditionally refers to freeing employees from home duties, for instance by offering concierge services. In other words, someone else is paid to book your annual holiday, buy your spouse some flowers or walk the dog. There are other international differences, as in some countries the divide between work and home is clear whereas elsewhere the demarcation is more fluid.
How can employers help and increase productivity at the same time?
Research shows that employers can help work/life balance and well-being through relatively cost-effective measures that give control back to employees: the option of buying and selling annual leave days is a good example. Recent debates resulted in the argument that work/life balance issues should concern each and every employee, not just working parents. The benefits of effective work/life balance management to organizations and individuals include:
- Reduced absenteeism
- Reduced sick leave
- Reduced staff turnover
- Improved productivity
- Improved morale
- Improved employee commitment.
Six basic points for HR managers on work/life balance
The majority of countries still have a long way to go, but better work/life balance results in huge benefits for all parties concerned. Internal HR policies and practice can help, but many companies use external experts to address an area which is often new to them. Below are six basic points that most organizations can get right in order to facilitate work/life balance:
- Conduct a survey, with expert advice, that asks employees about the core issues
- Publicise the results of the survey to your workforce and consult them on strategies for further actions
- Keep employees involved and consult them on any amendments to working practices
- Stay flexible and responsive; work/life balance is a fluid concept
- Offer a tool-kit of possible work/life interventions: coaching, workshops, mentoring etc.
- Get managers to lead by example.
Further information and advice on work/life balance
Contact us if you would like expert advice on employee surveys, work/life coaching or work/life workshops, or for further information about research on work/life balance.
Training in the administration of psychometric tests
Human Resource professionals need to be specially qualified in order to administer psychometric tests. Both psychologists and non-psychologists can obtain these qualifications. A Level A certificateis required for the administration of ability tests, and a Level B certificate for personality testing. The Psychometrics Centre offers 5-day training courses leading to both of these qualifications (issued by the British Psychological Society).
©Almuth McDowall, January 2005
Almuth McDowall is an Occupational Psychologist