Work-life balance is no longer only a management buzzword, and it has become one of the most pressing HR issues globally. This is because intensifying level of competition has increased the amount of demand and pressure for organisations and their individual members. At the same time, it is understood that “for many employees throughout the world, balancing their work and personal lives is a significant concern” (Mathis and Jackson, 2011, p.67).
First of all, it needs to be specified that “work-life balance can be seen as the reconciliation between paid work and life, or the balance that needs to be orchestrated between work and non work demands” (Al-Araimi, 2011, p.119).
Organisations differ in terms of their approach and the level of their involvement in achieving work-life balance for employees. It has been stated that “those organisations who have recognised work/life balance as important, report they have increased the availability of flexible work options, such as part-time work, flexible starting and finishing times, study leave, paid parental maternity leave, and team work, and their employees have increasingly accessed these options” (Budhwar, 2004, p.245).
Maintaining work-life balance is a considerable HR issue for UK organisations. It has been identified that “UK workers work the longest hours in Europe, and many managers and professionals claim to be working more than 60 hours per week” (Flexibility.co.uk, 2012, online). Moreover, according to a research conducted by Bupa, a leading international healthcare group, more than six million UK employees are chained to their desks, and only thirty per cent take a lunch hour (Bupa, 2012, online).
At the same time, the numbers of alternative working patterns are increasing as a response and partial solution to this issue. Specifically, it has to be noted that “in the UK, around 3.5 million people are working full-time or part-time from home. Some 56% of self-employed people work from home. According to the Federation of Small Businesses annual survey, 40% of small businesses are home based” (Flexibility.co.uk, 2012, online).
Work-life balance remains to be a significant issue in USA as well. According to the results of the survey conducted by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) involving 1,043 US citizens, 89 per cent of respondents specified work-life balance to be a problem with 54 specifying the issue as a significant problem (Gurchiek, 2010, online).
Moreover, the results of the same survey indicate that 43 per cent of respondents consider that their employer is not doing enough to address work-life balance issue and 38 per cent of employees stated that the recent global economic crisis had detrimental effects on their work-life balance.
The issue of maintaining work-life balance is even starker for young professionals in emerging markets, and there are even cases with fatal outcomes. The case of Raluca Stroescu, an audit manager for Ernst and Young in Romania, where the thirty one year old died because of overworking attracted the most publicity (Briscoe et al., 2008)
China, as an emerging superpower has been traditionally notorious for the lack of work-life balance in local organisations, both public and private. Giving priority to their assigned responsibilities over their personal lives is closely associated with a local culture in China that has been cultivated over a long period of time (Chan et al., 2008).
However, there are evidences that the situation with work-life balance in Chinese organisations is changing for the good. Specifically, it has been noted that “Chinese workers have begun to discover the joys of sloth. Leisure – which has had a bad rap on the mainland – is making a comeback” (Waldmeir, 2012).
Among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and development (OECD) countries South Korea is the one that has the longest working hours negatively affecting work-life balance of its citizens. Namely, it has been established that the average South Korean works 2,390 hours per year which is “over 400 hours longer than the next longest-working country and 34% more hours than the average in the United States” (Sajja, 2011).
Interestingly, it can be observed that there is a positive correlation between work-life balance of employees and a standard of living within a country. In other words, the higher standard of living within a country from an economic perspective, the better work-life balance employees enjoy. However, there are some exceptions to this general pattern. For instance, there is a highly negative work-life balance situation in South Korea even when employees have high standard of life economically possibly due to the cultural differences associated with the country.
In summary it is faire to state that although the issue of maintaining work-life balance presents considerable HRM challenges for UK organisations, the situation associated with work-life balance is even more detrimental in many other countries in general, and developing and newly emerging economies in particular.
Suggestions about managing work-life balance
Suggestions and recommendations can be made to organisations, as well as, employees in terms of achieving a better work-life balance. Firstly, organisational managers at all levels need to adopt a proactive approach towards the issue by expressing sincere interest on work-life balance issues of their subordinates. This can be done through tête-à-tête consultations, devising relevant questionnaires and simple observations.
Moreover, initiating discussions regarding work-life balance issues with employees in an informal environment can play an instrumental role in dealing with the issue. Specific tools and methods available to employers include arranging alternative working patterns such as flexitime, telecommuting, job sharing, and compressed workweek patterns to be discussed below in a greater detail.
Arranging the employment on a flexitime basis whenever possible can be optimal solutions for organisations. Flexitime can be explained as “variable schedule that allow employees to vary the start and end times of their workdays while still working a standard number of hours within a given workweek” (Smith and Mazin, 2011, p.84).
Telecommuting represents an alternative option available to employers. Telecommuting involves organisations allowing employees working from their homes or other locations outside of office. Apart from contributing to achieving work-life balance for employees, telecommuting also provides the opportunities for cost-saving for organisations i.e. savings can be made on company overhead.
Moreover, organisations can also offer the opportunities of job sharing for their staff. This type of employment involves two or more employees sharing the responsibilities of a single position, and thus, the best qualified employees can be retained through assisting them to pursue their lifestyle choices.
Organisations are also recommended to consider the option of offering compressed workweek for suitable positions. Compressed workweek allows employees to complete their workweek in less than typical working week – five days. However, the implementation of this recommendation needs to be undertaken with a great care taking into account the specific traits of relevant employees because, “compressed workweek tends to lead to diminished work performance owing to longer hours during the days being worked” (Cameron, 2012, p.119).
Employees can also take specific measures and initiatives in order to improve their work-life balance on a personal level. Specifying personal health and related activities such as exercising and having appropriate amount of rest as their top priority would be a great step for employees at all levels in the way of achieving better work-life balance.
It has been confirmed that “in today’s corporate culture, many people feel that they are not allowed to say no when asked to take on extra assignments” (LaRock, 2010, p.88). Therefore, the courage and ability of employees to say no when they are requested to take on extra tasks at the expense of their outside of office hours is another way of improving work-life balance to a significant extent.
Moreover, explained as “ranking responsibilities and tasks in their order of importance” (Seaward and Seaward, 2011, p.331), prioritising is another technique that can individuals in achieve more efficient levels of their work-life balance. Specifically, prioritising involves understanding that all of the tasks and demands cannot be addressed at once, and accordingly, engaging in responsibilities and tasks according to their importance and urgency.
Summarising this point, it can be stated that although the issue of work-life balance is a significant HR problem with potential negative impacts on personal and professional levels, the issue can be successfully dealt with if both, employees, as well as, employers actively engage by adopting a proactive approach towards the issue by applying a range of available technique and methods discussed in this essay.
- Al-Araimi, F. (2011) “Power of Human Resources” Author House
- Balancing work and the rest of your life (2012) Available at: http://www.flexibility.co.uk/issues/wlb/tune-in-turn-off.htm Accessed April, 15, 2012
- Briscoe, D.R., Schuler, R.S. & Claus, L. (2008) “International Human Resource Management” Taylor & Francis
- Budhwar, P.S. (2004) “Managing Human Resources in Asia-Pacific” Routledge
- Cameron, S. (2012) “Handbook on the Economics of Leisure” Edward Elgar Publishing
- Chan. C.K., Ngok, K.L. & Phillips, D. (2008) “Social Policy in China: Development and Well-Being” The Policy Press
- Gurchiek, K. (2010) “Survey: Work/Life Balance Off-Kilter in US” SHRM. Available at: http://www.shrm.org/Publications/HRNews/Pages/WorkLifeOffKilter.aspx Accessed April, 15, 2012
- LaRock, T. (2010) “DBA Survivor: Become a Rock Star Dba” Apress
- Mathis, R.L. & Jackson, J.H. (2011) “Human Resource Management: Essential Perspectives” Cengage Learning
- Sajja, I. (2011) “Work-Life Balance” Available at: http://indirasajja.blogspot.com/2011/04/work-life-balance.html Accessed April, 15, 2012
- Seaward, B.L & Seaward, B. (2011) “Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being” Jones and Bartlett Learning
- Smith, S. & Mazin, R. (2011) “The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals” 2nd edition, AMACOM
- Waldmeir, P. (2012) “China’s young warm to the west’s work-life balance” Available at: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/fcb542e6-6789-11e1-b6a1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1sSCjHnIB Accessed April 16, 2012