Over the past few decades, a dramatic change has occurred in the labour market and types of employees.
Families have shifted from the traditional male ‘breadwinner’ role to dual-earner couples and single parent families. Also work is demanding an increase in employee flexibility and productivity.
The traditional “job for life” has changed into an environment of instability and job uncertainty. Workers’ perspectives and expectations have also changed towards work. Life-long learning, personal and career development, and an increased awareness and need for a balance between work and life have affected organisations with new flexible working policies. As a result of these demographic, employment and organisational trends, workers have experienced an increase in demand from the familial, household and work.
What is Work life Balance?
Work-life balance is a broad and complex phenomenon, with no real universal definition, Greenhaus and colleagues define work-family balance as the
“extent to which an individual is equally engaged in – and equally satisfied with – his or her work role and family role”.
Work-life balance is generally consider to have three elements:
- Time balance refers to equal time being given to both work and family roles
- Involvement balance refers to equal levels of psychological involvement in both work and family roles
- Satisfaction balance refers to equal levels of satisfaction in both work and family roles
Therefore, in order to achieve a work-life balance these components should be considered.
When individuals struggle to maintain and satisfy the demands placed on them by both the work and family, an imbalance may occur. Work-family conflict can be defined as a source of stress resulting from irreconcilable pressure from the work and family spheres.
This can take two forms:
- Work to family conflict
- Family to work conflict
Changing world of work and families: Perspectives and statistics
In the European Union, 64.2 % of the population are in employment with about 19.2% in part-time employment.
Over the past 20 years in Europe, particularly in countries where policies are in place for flexible working, part-time employment has been on the rise. The traditional eight-hour working day is no longer the norm. The emergence of information communication technology ensures that employees may access work 24/7. In addition to this, flexible working hours and shift work have been introduced into organisations. Although these developments have resulted in changed working environments, differences exist across countries.
Not only has the working environment transformed working time and accessibility to work, but the content of work has also changed.
There is an increased need for employees to be adaptable, multi-skilled, and having the ability to work to intensive deadlines.
In the EU about 60% of employees perceive that at least a quarter of their time consists of working at a very high-speed. Work-life conflict is prevalent in Europe. It is estimated that more than a quarter of Europeans suffered from some form of work-family conflict.
Work life conflict and health
Work-family conflict may be viewed as a stressor for individuals.
Both work to family conflict and family to work conflict are associated with negative effects for the individual.
Frone and colleagues conducted a study examining the relationship of work to family conflict, and family to work conflict on health outcomes. The results indicated that both are associated with depression, poor physical health and heavy alcohol use. No significant gender differences were found in this study.
Kossek and Ozeki found that both directions of work-family conflict have negative relationships with job-life satisfaction. Additionally, this relationship was stronger for women.
Levels of work-life conflict have also been associated with workaholism.
Bonebright, Clay and Ankenmann examined the differences between two typologies of workaholics in relation to work-life conflict, life satisfaction and purpose in life. Enthusiastic workaholics and non-enthusiastic workaholics may be defined as those who exhibit high work involvement and a high drive to work; with the former differing in high enjoyment in work, and the later reporting low enjoyment of work. The study found both types of workaholism report higher levels of work-life conflict, but enthusiastic workaholics have more life satisfaction and purpose in life.
The important thing to note though is that worklife conflict causes problems for the individuals, but it is also bad for organisations.
Work-life conflict and organisational outcomes
There can be knock on effects for organisations in many areas as a result of employees experiencing work-family conflict.
Work-life conflict has been found to be associated with:
- Decreased employee job satisfaction
- Increased staff turnover and absenteeism
- Lower performance and increased job stress levels
- An intention to leave the organisation
For example, PricewaterhouseCooper implemented a number of work-life balance initiatives. They provide workers with increased control over where, when and how they worked.
As a result satisfaction scores for staff’s work life balance increased by 30%.
Costs of work-life conflict for the person and organisation
Work-life conflict may also incur economic costs for the person, society and the organisation.
Job stress is estimated to cost industry in the US more than $300 (c EUR 226.7) billion a year in related costs such as absenteeism and reduced productivity.
Stewart, Ricci, Chee and Morganstein estimate that productivity losses due to personal or family health problems cost US employers $225.8 (c EUR 170.6) billion a year.
In the US, more than half of adults report that family responsibilities are a source of stress and 55% indicated that they experienced work-family conflict in the past 3 months. Not only does work-family conflict affect organisations, but it can also affect people through a loss of pay and medical expenses. Personal costs may also occur for the individual.
Practical advice for employers and workplaces
Here are examples of interventions in the area of working hours which have been successful in improving work life balance.
They include part-time, compensated reduced working hours, flexible working hours and compressed work weeks.
Part-time working is one way to cut working hours and thereby improve work-life balance. There are, however, some potential built-in negatives e.g. risk of reduced career opportunities and increased workload, because the demands are not decreased correspondingly.
Fully compensated reduced working hours
In Sweden a reduction of weekly working hours from 8 to 6 hours per day with full wage compensation led to the experience of more time for social activities, particularly time for friends and relaxation.
Flexible working hours
Flexible working hours or self-rostering covers flexible start and finish times and a possibility for employees to request specific working hours on a regular basis which increases choice and control by the employee. The system monitored either the old fashioned paper based way or by use of computer; several cases show increased worklife balance.
Compressed work weeks
Compressed work weeks imply work schedules with fewer, but longer workdays. The number of worked hours per week are the same. It could be four 12-hour shifts with three or four days off. This gives more days without work, less commuting time, but also longer workdays.
Workplace policy on work life balance
A formal workplace policy on work-life balance may include organisational practices such as:
- Flexible hours arrangement e.g. job-sharing, flexi-time and part-time working
- Flexible leave arrangements e.g. career breaks, sabbaticals and parental leave
- Possibility of teleworking
- Availability of information on possibilities
- Emergency childcare
Agreed rules and policies can help to manage exceptions, cut the amount of queries, ensure equal treatment of all workers and help line managers in the application of work-life balance policies. Such procedures include:
- Surveys to analyse staff needs
- Disseminating information on the work-life balance policies to staff
- Include work-balance issue in the induction programme and/or manual
- A changing culture
To be successful, management need to understand the rationale behind the introduction of work-life balance programmes and buy in. So it’s a good idea to include work-life balance training for managers and supervisors.
Benefits and acceptance of flexibility and innovation as the norm need to be communicated, if a work-life balance programme is to succeed.
A communications programme addressing these issues can form part of the overall work-life balance strategy and could include the following:
- Awareness of possibilities among employees
- Acceptance of work-family balance among employees and employers
- Availability of work-family balance options for men
- Availability of work-family balance options for employees without children
- Time limits for scheduling and announcement of important meetings and overtime
Warwickshire County Council an online toolkit to address work-life balance. This guide is specifically aimed at employers with practical advice to help employers and managers create and implement action plans for the development of work-life balance policies and to address and manage work-related stress.
The guide provides a business case for work-life balance and shows employers how to conduct audit policies and procedures to plan a cost-effective framework for the developed work-life balance strategy. In addition, case studies of Employers of Choice in Warwickshire can be found online. These case studies demonstrate the positive impact flexible working and other employee benefits can have on the workplace.
Article adapted from Work Life Balance Factsheet
See also Stress Risk Assessment