Implementing work and life balance

Leading employers know that they need to attract and retain talent - and part of being an employer of choice is demonstrating a commitment to workplace flexibility. For those employers who want to be best practice (or check that they still are!), take this quick health check.

This article is based on writings by Juliet Bourke, Partner, Aequus Partners from 2006. It has been updated and revised.
 
Leading employers know that they need to attract and retain talent — and part of being an employer of choice is demonstrating a commitment to workplace flexibility.
 
For those employers who want to be best practice (or check that they still are!), take this quick health check.
 
Background
 
Workplace flexibility means employers and employees working together to agree upon the time and location of work. Most commonly this term refers to flexible work practices such as part-time/job-share arrangements, working from home and flexible working hours (eg changing the start and finish times of the day).
 
The employees affected
 
Flexible work practices are often viewed as a concession to working mothers, however the Federal Government has been championing flexible work practices as a strategic business move by employers to meet the changing demographics and expectations of a much larger pool of employees (eg those with elder care responsibilities, mature age workers and people who would like a better balance between life and work!).
 
Higher productivity
 
In addition, research by IBM, for example, has demonstrated that workplace flexibility generates higher levels of productivity. The research showed that workers who had control over when and where they worked had a 'break point' of 60 hours before having difficulty balancing work and life commitments. This compared with 52 hours for employees working the same amount of time, but to a rigid timetable and location.
 
Not easy
 
Those employers who accept the talent and/or productivity arguments are talking up their commitment to workplace flexibility. But implementing change may be another matter. No-one says that implementing workplace flexibility is easy — that's why there's a gap between the rhetoric and reality — but the bottom line is, it's a business imperative for best practice to bridge that gap.
 
Health check
 
Take this health check (provided by Aequuus Partners) to see if you have what it takes to be a best practice employer in relation to workplace flexibility.
 
If you can answer yes to the questions below — then we offer you congratulations.
 
1. Policies: Assuming you've got the basic elements of a good written policy on workplace flexibility which identifies your commitment and gives implementation guidance, check whether:
(i) the policy is endorsed by the executive
(ii) the policy is inclusive of men and women and accepts a broad range of reasons for seeking flexibility (ie not just to accommodate family responsibilities)
(iii) the policy is flexible — ie to allow variations in individual business and personal circumstances
(iv) the policy is communicated broadly and regularly.
2. Perception: How are you perceived by others?
 
Are you perceived internally and externally as a best practice employer in relation to flexible work practices — ie  do you have a reputation as being work/life friendly as identified by public awards or industry talk?
 
Do you actively try to create the perception of a commitment to workplace flexibility (eg via your website)?
 
Do leaders talk positively about workplace flexibility to employees — or convey that it's a problem and a risk?
 
3. Practices: Audit your organisational data to identify who is working flexibly.
 
Is flexibility applied broadly or limited to a few 'valued' employees, or those working at a certain level (eg only for management and not for the production line), or for one group of employees only (eg women)?
 
Do you have a low level of complaints about flexibility or a series of complaints (eg coming from a particular business unit?) If you do have complaints — do you actively engage with the problem (eg by investigation), or hope it will just go away?
 
Do people working flexibly have access to good quality work and conditions (eg pay and training opportunities) when compared with full-time roles?
 
Do you have accountability and reward structures which recognise and reward good practice (or do you ignore it)?
 
Do you track career progression (and if so, does your data show that employees who take up/support your workplace flexibility policy have good career prospects)?
 
Is working flexibly actively supported (eg by the establishment of a team based structure) or are employees left to sink or swim?
 
4. Proactive: Whilst industries face different challenges and opportunities, best practice employers are all proactive about workplace flexibility — they  seek out opportunities to create workplace cultures which are supportive of flexible work practices.
 
Do you proactively promote workplace flexibility (eg are flexible work practices part of the employment offer or are they reluctantly metered out to women returning from maternity leave)?
 
Do you have a regular evaluation process to review current practices, and learn from other employers?
 
In summary
 
Best practice employers know that in the war for talent, being recognised as offering and implementing great flexible work practices, provides a point of unique differentiation.
 
It is of no surprise that flexible work practices are being talked up by employers — because that is precisely what savvy employees are seeking.
 
Now you have taken the health check, you can answer the question: Are you one of the group of best practice employers who are walking the walk, or are you just talking the talk? And if there's more talk than action, what's your next step?
 
 

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