People and the Work-Life Balance

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Introduction

In today’s society, the role that management plays in all facets of life cannot be elaborated enough. Man’s ability to plan for the present and future is purely based on the fundamentals of management. As such, management in whatever capacity is the key determinant to the success or failure of any proposed venture or activity. Over the last few decades, people have had to put more effort into their jobs to meet their responsibilities and needs. This has been especially so due to an increase in the cost of living and unemployment. Aggressive Competition in the business sector has not made the situation any better. Organizations and businesses are considerably pressured to raise their levels of performance and productivity. This is especially so in the modern-day business environment which is characterized by aggression and excessive competition. Businesses are therefore constantly forced to exhibit innovation and enhanced performance to remain relevant and profitable in the ever-increasingly competitive arena. To achieve the organizational goals of increased productivity, employees are forced to work harder.

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This has led to a sad state of affairs whereby most people spend too much time at work trying to meet deadlines and improve their performance, all the while neglecting their responsibilities to their families. This has led to a serious problem in most parts of the world, whereby employees fail to balance their work and family responsibilities. This paper shall therefore set out to explore the work-family balance and recommend measures that can be employed to counter its effects. To achieve this, a case scenario shall be used. In addition, theoretic frameworks and principles shall be applied in a bid to create a viable solution to this rapidly escalating issue.

Scenario summary

In this particular case, we find an ordinary citizen in the lower-income class trying hard to satisfy his job responsibilities and those of his family. In regards to financial stability, the case represents him as a low-income earner working for an online grocery store as a delivery man. He is twenty-nine years old and has a young son who attends school. He is separated from his wife but they share custody of their son who stays with him in a rental flat and visits his mom over the weekends. From this setting, we see the responsibilities that Chris has to fulfill at home. They include rent and utility bills and food for his upkeep, school, and recreational fees for his son. In some cases, his relatives assist in some of his fatherly responsibilities such as picking up his son from school, feeding him, and keeping an eye on him in the afternoons before Chris gets off from work.

At work, he normally works the day shift which requires him to be at work from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. However, sometimes he has to work the late shift which begins at 2:00 pm until 11: pm at night. His line manager prefers that he works this shift because it is the busiest and Chris is among the best delivery man he has. His employer has a reward and performance evaluation system which he uses to monitor the performance levels exhibited by each delivery man and reward great performances at the end of every four months.

As such, Chris is always working hard to ensure that he meets the set standards because he needs the extra income to cater for occurring childcare costs and special occasions such as Rob’s (his son) birthday and after school clubs whenever Chris’s relatives are not around to pick him up. He has been keeping good scores since he always comes home in a jovial mood whenever he meets some of the stipulated requirements. He values his work partly because good performance at work is among his goals, and it presents him with an avenue through which he can meet his needs and those of his son. As a result, whenever he gets closer to achieving his goals, he is more relaxed and can give his son undivided attention.

Since Rob started school, Chris has been having trouble coping with the demands that this situation comes with. Considering that he attends school on a part-time basis, this has been challenging for Chris probably due to time conflict and escalated costs of keeping Rob in school. This situation has affected his performance at work and his relationship with his son. While at work, he worries about his son, and while with his son, he thinks about his declining performance at work. This is a clear indication that Chris is suffering from stress. Mullins (2008), states that stress is mostly a result of too much pressure exerted on an individual in different situations. While stress is arguably commonplace for most adults, there is a type of stress that is destructive while another kind of stress benefits the individual.

In this case, Chris suffers from both types of stress in the sense that work-related stress is a result of his ambitions and desire to get the bonus. As such, he has to work extra hard and is worried that if his performance drops, he will not achieve his goals. This worry builds up and becomes a stressor. On the other hand, his inability to meet his son’s needs as well as his own (financial and job satisfaction) causes him stress. This stress leads to him feeling guilty about his inability to satisfy these needs. This is a negative stressor while his desire to meet his goals is a positive stressor. The diagram below shows a scale that can be used to identify positive and negative stress.

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A scale that can be used to identify positive and negative stress

This stress build-up has led him into having a guilty conscience whereby he feels as though he is not performing his duties as a father, and he is not as efficient as he would like at work. As a result, he has developed sleep problems since these stressful situations often keep him awake. These symptoms of intense stress are discussed and elaborated by George and Jones (1999).

To make matters worse, his line manager has sent him a text message stating that he is concerned about Chris’s declined performance. To counter this, Chris organizes a meeting with the manager to discuss his eligibility for the bonus pay. However, the manager informs him that his performance does not qualify him for the bonus. In a desperate bid to salvage the situation, Chris explains his home situation to the manager and expresses his disappointment towards the manager’s decision. Chris argued that his manager should understand his situation or expect his resignation from the job. Considering his work ethic and performance, the manager tries to figure out a way to help Chris attain some balance in his life.

Recommended solutions to these problems

It would seem as though organizations today operate daily in line with the operational and management models that assume that an employee’s family responsibilities are of no concern to the employer. The truth behind this statement can be deduced from Chris’s example whereby the employer focuses on productivity and performance, all the while disregarding the family issues that have led to a decline in Chris’s performance at work. In addition, it seems as though the work-family connection is viewed as a private matter. However, as people continue struggling and increasing their responsibilities (getting children), this issue will eventually need to be addressed so that employees can find a common ground where balance can be achieved.

In regards to the given scenario, there are various strategies that Chris can implement to ensure that a work-family balance is achieved in his life. The best approach, in this case, is by implementing the boundary-spanning strategies. According to Voydanoff (2007), these are actions that are taken by an individual to reduce the forces that interfere with their plans at home or work. By implementing such strategies, Chris will have solved most of his family issues, all the while maintaining a clean record at work. Arguably, reducing the stressors in an individual’s life enhances productivity and social capabilities. To find solutions to the problems, we will have to analyze the causes then draft comprehensive solutions.

Job stressor

There are some types of work that are time-demanding, ambiguous, and lack adequate support from employers. This is the case in this scenario. Chris cannot formulate a schedule since his job is demanding and dependent on the clients. In addition, he spends most of his time making deliveries (150 miles a day). In addition, his manager expects him to perform even better if he is to get a bonus. As such, Chris is forced to dedicate more of his time at work than at home since he needs extra income. To solve the issue of time at work, these are among the strategies that could be implemented to facilitate a work-family balance.

Chris should make a list of the essential activities that he needs to cover or maintain each day at work. This will help him schedule his day adequately. In addition, he should set guard limits (boundaries) to ensure that his schedule is protected against any interfering forces. The key to maintaining a schedule is by learning to say a firm ‘NO’ to activities and involvements that are unexpected. And finally, Chris should learn to delegate or work with fellow workers whenever things get tough. Though admirable, Chris’s situation is his undoing. For example, he can negotiate with a co-worker such that they exchange shifts whenever he needs to spend time with his son. This ensures that he meets his son’s needs, all the while maintaining a clean performance record at work. By implementing these strategies, Chris will be able to maintain his performance record and at the same time, spend time with his son.

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Similarly, Crane (2009) proposes that job demands, as well as resources, affect individuals’ ability to maintain a healthy work-family balance. In his book, the author explains that when a job is demanding and the resources are limited; employees often have to put more effort to meet the set goals. This is very stressful and influences the work-family conflict directly through over-commitment to work or indirectly through the other boundary-spanning demands mentioned below.

Family characteristic

Family make-up also acts as a stressor to many employees. Some of the main characteristics in this segment include but are not limited to children (their age, health, presence of disabilities, and the workload represented by the child), relatives, and partners. In this case, Rob is in school, requires finances to get an education, needs extra care due to his age, and rarely sees his mom. Rob’s mom stays far away and only caters to him during weekends. The relatives though helpful are not as reliable. This family situation is highly stressful to Chris as can be deduced from the fact that he does not get enough sleep, he doubts his fatherly capabilities and thinks about his son at work.

To solve this issue, there are some measures that Chris should take to ensure that his son is well catered for and any other distraction is waived off. These measures include negotiating the best arrangement possible with involved parties (relatives and Rob’s mom) on how Rob’s needs and requirements can be shared amongst them equitably. From this scenario, it seems as though Chris handles most responsibilities. By negotiating advantageous terms, he will be able to schedule his family and work responsibilities more efficiently. According to Poelmans (2005), results from a survey indicated that individuals who discussed their family situation with co-workers and their work situation with their families were more satisfied and performed better in both areas than those who kept these issues personalized.

If Chris follows this strategy, he will be better placed psychologically since people around him will understand his situation and help more efficiently where necessary. In addition, Chris should ensure that he makes long-term plans with Rob’s mom regarding Rob’s upkeep. This will help him meet his goals and those that they share. Similarly, he should ensure that he informs and engages Rob’s mom in weekly arrangements and plans. In addition, he should review his set activities every evening to ensure that everything is well planned for before the following day. This strategy ensures that he stays focused at work since every aspect of the day is catered for.

In his schedules, he should include slack time and create provisions for emergencies. A schedule cannot be effective if an individual commits 110% of all his available time. This leads to more stress which invariably affects performance at home and work.

Employee characteristics

Being a single parent has diverse effects on work-family balance. This is concerning the workload of the single parent, the age of the child/children, and the availability of the partner. However, most single parents can work efficiently and cater to the needs of their children. As such, there may be other factors that affect the work-life balance of single parents. Some of these factors include an unusual work schedule, lack of adequate support from partners and the level of commitment one has towards work.

In this case scenario, Chris seems to have a tight schedule, less support from his partner, and is overly committed to his work than he is to his immediate family. Commitment to family refers to the extent to which an individual identifies to his family roles, self-image, and the importance of family. Arguably, family commitment has a great impact on the work-family balance exhibited by an individual. A person who focuses more on attaining his career goals is more likely to neglect his family than one who views his family as a priority. In this regard, Chris should re-evaluate his priorities and rearrange them accordingly. For example, if he has to pick up his son from school in the afternoon, he should schedule his work such that it allows him to attain this. In addition, he should minimize working on weekends or taking jobs that threaten his schedule. This strategy will help him balance his commitment levels and relocate his attention to where it matters the most (his son).

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Availability of work-family balance measures

As mentioned earlier, the work-family balance is a common but hidden issue among the workforce. While organization leaders acknowledge that it threatens productivity, little has been done to address the issue. Most organizations do not implement measures to help employees cope with the work-family conflict (Halpern & Murphy, 2005). A case in point is from this scenario whereby Chris complains that his manager does not understand or offer any assistance in alleviating his conflict. As a solution, the employer should provide measures such as on-site daycare, flexible work schedules, and home working. However, considering the nature of Chris’s job, flexible work arrangements, voluntary part-time work and leaves could go a long way in resolving his work-family balance.

Such measures give employees the leeway they need to plan their time adequately between work and family. For example, Chris is facing difficulties when it comes to planning his time and dividing it between work and family. Flexible work arrangements would help him organize his schedule such that he works more hours during the weekends when his son is with his mother and fewer hours during weekdays when he is with him (Voydanoff, 2007). In addition, by working the voluntary part-time work program, Chris can be able to meet his career goals and financial needs without necessarily having to compromise or sacrifice the time he shares with his son. Not only will these strategies reduce his stress levels, but they will motivate him to work more and boost his self-image regarding performing his fatherly duties.

Implementation of work-family balance strategies

It should be noted that there is no one-shoe-fits-all approach to achieving a work-family balance. As such, it should be viewed as an ongoing process that requires commitment and careful planning from a personal level. In most cases, people fail to attain this balance due to poor planning, scheduling, and misplaced commitment. As Lewis (2009) elaborates, an individual should draft a trial schedule and test its applicability both at work and at home. The results achieved from this exercise can be used to perfect the schedule by adding or subtracting activities or involvements that affect it desirably or undesirably.

In addition, individuals should ensure that concerned parties are kept in the loop regarding the strategies an individual hopes to implement to attain a healthy work-family balance. This can be attributed to the fact that their knowledge of this transition prepares them for the changes that will take place. Similarly, it enables them to offer support where necessary, thereby making them allies as opposed to the enemies they may become without this knowledge.

Conclusion

In the world we live in today, everyone must work harder than ever to make ends meet. Such pressures may have detrimental effects on our family life if we do not take care. As such, we should strive towards maintaining a work-family balance that benefits all parties involved. Similarly, organizations should invest in the development and implementation of work-family balance programs for their employees. These will go a long way in guaranteeing commendable performance from employees who experience work-family balance conflicts.

From this report, various strategies that can help mitigate the effects of an unhealthy work-life balance have been offered. These have been applied to the given scenario in a bid to come up with viable solutions to the problems presented therein. The strategies that have been offered have proven to be successful. As such, employees should find ways of making such strategies because, at the end of the day, family is equally as important as the jobs that we do. As such, it should be given its fair share of attention if sanity is to prevail.

References

Crane, R 2009, Handbook of families and work: interdisciplinary perspectives, University Press of America, USA.

George, JM & Jones, GR 1999, Understanding and Managing Organizational Behavior, Addison-Wesley, New York.

Halpern, D & Susan, M 2005, From work-family balance to work-family interaction: changing the metaphor, Routledge, Sydney.

Lewis, J 2009, Work-family balance, gender and policy, Edward Elgar Publishing, California.

Mullins, LJ 2008, Essentials of Organisational Behaviour, Pearson Education Limited, Harlow, Essex.

Poelmans, S 2005, Work and family: an international research perspective, Routledge, Sidney.

Voydanoff, P 2007, Work, family, and community: exploring interconnections, Routledge, New York.

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