Social demands and economic conditions have changed the role of work worldwide. Initially, people worked out of necessity and for the need to survive. However, this has changed over the years and so has the workforce composition. Though work is still a necessity today it should also lead to personal satisfaction for the workforce. Work-Life Balance (WLB) is an individual’s control over all the interactions and conditions between and in their family, workplace, community, friends, and self, (DeCarlo, D. & Gruenfeld, D. 1989).
This significant enjoyment and achievement in the day-to-day life of a worker are very important. In organizations, this is arrived at through WLB Programs as well as training. Work-Life Balance Programs are time or financial related programs that are set up by an employer to offer the employees alternatives to address personal responsibilities and work. Success and enjoyment at an individual’s place of work are very important to the life of an employee and that is why these programs are essential.
Historical foundations of WLB Programs in organizations
The term work Life Balance dates way back to the late 1970s. The expression was used to address all the unhealthy choices in life that people were making. For instance, the choice to neglect some very important issues in one’s life like family, hobbies as well as friends in favor of goals and chores that are related to work. For the past 25 years, work has increased substantially owing to advancements in technology and competition within the work environment. The present culture of performance demands so much from employees but only offers less security, (French, J., Caplan, R., & Van, 1982).
Many employees today are burnt out with increased stress and overwork. This has ten resulted in violence at the place of work, more claims for compensation by workers, and increased absenteeism. This unhealthy WLB has seen organizations today come up with programs that provide employees with a balance between work and life. There are so many benefits that WLB Programs bring along both to the employers and employees. Today there is an increase in the number of working mothers and the levels of stress. This has lead to an increase in the general requirement for flexibility.
Benefits of WLB Programs
- Reduced absentee
- Employee loyalty
- Increased productivity
- Reduced stressed
- Morale at the workplace
- Staff retention
- Improved corporate image
Factors/ trends that led organizations to provide employees with WLB Programs
- Time stress: Working men and women have been stressed though women report being severely stressed compared to men due to more working hours and unpaid work and less or no time for family, leisure, and other activities.
- Market Pressures: Organizations have been dealing with intense global competition. This has resulted in the restructuring and downsizing of organizations. There has also been a notable increase in employment in the service sector while employment in the goods production sector has reduced. This has caused pressure on the lesser employees. A shortage in the major areas like engineering, nursing, and management has also contributed to mounting pressure.
- Changing nature of jobs: The advancement in technology has lead to the need for an increase in the level of skilled employees. In addition, it has caused a decline in job security, reduction in employment for unskilled people, increased shift work, long days of work, and over-representation of working women in jobs that are not standard.
- Social and demographic changes over the years: Over the past thirty years, there has been an increase in the number of working women. There have been changes in the family patterns like an increase in the single-parent family, families that have duo income as well as more elderly people in the family.
- Diversity and gender issues: Many employees have been struggling to attain a balance between work and family care. This has seen organizations create flexible working hours, provisions for leave, higher access to benefits that are not wage-related, and the recognition of statutory holidays.
This is a recent concept in organizations today and can be greatly attributed to the widespread accessibility of the internet and computers, (Friedman, S., & Greenhaus, J. 2000). Telecommuting primarily enables workers whose jobs are white-collar to work from their houses by linking the particular employees to the organization’s network and carrying out assignments from their homes. Telecommuting allows the workforce to spend lesser time traveling and also allows them to have more flexible schedules. Presently, approximately 30% of the firms in the U.S. allow telecommuting of some sort.
Telecommuting in organizations has been motivated by advancements in technology. In particular, the internet has made the world a small global village and people can be able to work from their houses enabling them to carry out their social and family responsibilities at the same time with work.
This refers to a work schedule that is variable compared to the traditional arrangements for work that required employees to be at work from 9 am to 5 pm every day. Flextime has a core period during the day when workers are supposed to be working, for example from 9 am to 3 pm. All the other time left in the day is flextime and employees are free to choose their most comfortable hours to work only that they must achieve the required hours for the month, week or day.
Flextime in organizations has been motivated by social as well as demographic changes where most families today have a duo income, are headed by a single parent, or have elderly persons that need to be cared for, (Gottlieg, B., Kelloway, K., & Barham, E. 1998). This working arrangement allows employees to vary their working schedule and this comes with some benefits. For instance, employees can avoid traffic during the rush hour, allows parents to have time with their children, and also allows employees to have time for part-time classes. Flextime however applies just to employees who hold part-time jobs.
Under this kind of plan, workers are given an accounting of all the money they put in from their wages to cater for standard benefits like retirement funds and health care. There is a menu that the employee can choose from to redirect the contributions. The main challenge of implementing the cafeteria-style benefits is the cost implication to the organization, (Greenhaus, J. 2003).
This kind of WLB Program is highly personalized and all the basic information of the employee must be put in the organization’s database before the worker becomes eligible. This calls for a lot of accuracies. Organizations today are however implementing this program with the hope that they can control the cost involved or pass this cost to the workers.
The motivating factor to having cafeteria-style benefits is the increasing cost of living. Health care, in particular, has become very exorbitant and employees with families and children need such kind of an arrangement to help them meet the cost of health care.
Job sharing opportunities
This is a working arrangement where two workers share one particular job. Job sharing benefits both the employees and the organization. For example, the two people working together bring a wider range of knowledge and skills to the assignment at hand and this would not be possible with a single employee. More this, it brings other unique and desirable qualities to the workplace like trust, dependability, and compatibility between the partners.
Some challenges are associate with this kind of arrangement as well. The management is skeptical about it and significantly resists job sharing. The corporate as well as the nature of that particular job may also make job sharing difficult. The inexperienced employee is often worried about how to manage a job partner and what consequences they would face if the arrangement did not work.
The factors that motivate organizations to have job sharing under their Work-Life Balance programs include the increasing pressure of the market and the nature of the job. Today, the market demands high-quality products and services and the input from two people in the same job goes a long way in helping organizations meet the demands of the market today.
As a result of the economic conditions in the recent past, the organization’s view of the WLB programs is taking a different turn. Organizations have become much more conscious about the cost implications of these programs although they are still acknowledging their importance. The Programs that are putting organizations at a cost disadvantage are not very popular, ( John W. & Sons. Kanter, M. 1997).
Changes in technology, the adoption of information technology, and automation in organizations today have brought about changes. For example, Employee Assistance Programs and job sharing opportunities are only regarded as a standard offering. With the dawn of the internet age, WLB Programs are only a bonus meant to attract as well as retain employees who are high quality.
Currently, these benefits have changed from significant bonuses, company cars among others to more tangible benefits like dry cleaning and employee fitness centers. Most organizations today are no longer in a position to afford the financial compensation they used to pay out in the early 1990s. With the increase in layoffs, organizations are now using inexpensive ways as tools of building loyalty and as tools for encouraging teamwork among the workforce.
The success of the WLB Programs at achieving their intended purpose
The success of WLB Programs in organizations is not particular. Some of the programs do work effectively like flextime, telecommuting, and job sharing. However, the cafeteria-style benefits have not been very effective as it has high-cost implications to the organization. Sometimes, the organizations have had to transfer the cost involved to the employees, (Jossey B. 2002).
Emerging social and demographic trends that will directly affect WLB programs over the next several decades
The workforce composition will continue to dramatically change in the coming decades. Older workers, women, and minority groups will be part of the workforce. Organizations will need to accommodate these diverse employees and this will need them to adjust their current Work-Life Balance Programs. For example, an increase in the number of older workers will call for organizations to meet the higher cost of health care and benefits for retirement.
Within the next few years, firms will be opening up to new international markets. There will be the integration of the global economy into one large marketplace. Many international organizations will move their operations to other countries in the quest for skilled labor as well as cheap labor. This will call for a restructuring and expansion of the existing WLB Programs by organizations.
Over the coming years, changes in technology will see employment change from some occupations. Manufacturing systems will change to become computers aided and there will be an increase in robotics, (Lee, M. 1997). Unfortunately, this will see the holders of blue-collar jobs replaced with lesser but highly skilled employees. Organizations will have to offer different incentives, compensation plans as well as WLB programs.
There will be a shift from manufacturing to service jobs in organizations in the next few decades. Jobs like retailing, legal work, teaching, and consulting will be created in the service industry. These changes will lead to new demands on balancing work with other personal responsibilities for the workers.
Nature of work
Globalization and technological trends will lead to significant changes like work. Technology for instance will allow organizations to relocate to areas with lower demand for wages. There will also be an increase in temporary and part-time employment rather than permanent employment. WLB programs will have to be adjusted in the future to meet the needs of the changing employee types.
Generally, organizations have realized the benefits of WLB programs and they are continuously considering such initiatives. Today, these programs are founded on that which the employer can be able to do for the workforce. However, to truly attain WLB, the employees will have to consider how they can adopt some behaviors that can help them attain this balance. The employees may need to be given training that will address any personal shortcomings that may keep the employees from attaining WLB after all.
Some of the additional programs that organizations may need to adapt over the coming decades are mentioned here below.
Health wellness programs at work
Most of the people in modern society spend almost all their time at their place of work. The workplace has become complex and very demanding with a lot of emphasis on productivity and performance. This has lead to stress among the employees and increased cases of occupational hazards, (Parasuraman, S., 2002). To cater to these occurrences, organizations should come up with programs that look into health wellness at the workplace. Such programs can cater to employee wellness, safety, time management, job sharing, stress management, and healthy lifestyles. These programs should be built by both the employee and employer to make and maintain a healthy place of work.
To effect this, employees should consider being responsible for their wellness and health. With the long hours that employees spend together comes increased chances of violence at the place of work as well as sexual violence. This kind of program can help minimize such threats through the creation of awareness initiatives. The main objectives of health wellness programs at work are the creation of a healthy workforce, improved work culture as well as happier workers.
Paternity leave and child care
The issue of paternity leave has been receiving attention recently especially with the Family and Medical Leave having been passed. This Act had the purpose of standardizing the employee rights to family leave. It was initially meant to cater to working mothers but it has been expanded to synchronize the changing demands of the families in America. The population today is dealing with single parenting, child care, and caring for the elderly. Such initiatives can help employees in attaining work-life balance and become more productive and satisfied with their jobs, (William M. 2000).
Most of the conventional families are dual-income. Consequently, companies should offer benefits for child care as a way of enticing the employees who have families. The methods that organizations can use to support the workforce are many and include facilities for in-house child care, referral services, subsidizing child care, and after-school programs among others that employers can use to assist their employees in caring for their children.
Organizations have not significantly looked into this issue. Most of the organizations only offer a two-week break to new workers and this is the standard in the U.S. They should look into the welfare of their employees and have an organization policy on vacation as a means of attaining a competitive advantage. Currently, the senior employees are granted more time for vacation and only countable organizations give more time for a vacation to reward work well done.
Work-Life Balance programs enable the employees to strike a balance between their work and normal life responsibilities like family and society. The current job market has been characterized by long working hours leading to pressure and stress on the employee. To cope with this, both the management in organizations and workers have settled for programs that make working life beneficial to the organization and the employee as well.
DeCarlo, D. & Gruenfeld, D. (1989): Stress in the American workplace: Alternatives for the working wounded, New York.
French, J., Caplan, R., & Van. (1982).The mechanisms of job stress and strain. New York.
Friedman, S., & Greenhaus, J. (2000). Work and family—Allies or enemies? What happens when business professionals confront life choices? New York: Oxford University Press.
Gottlieg, B., Kelloway, K., & Barham, E. (1998). Flexible work arrangements: Managing the work-family boundary. New York.
Greenhaus, J. (2003). Toward reducing some critical gaps in work-family research. Human Resource Management Review, 12, 3.
John W. & Sons. Kanter, M. (1997). Work and family in the United States: A critical review and agenda for research and policy. Russell Sage Foundation, New York.
Jossey B. (2002). How organizations cause personal stress and what to do about it. San Francisco: Inc.
Lee, M. (1997). Fighting back against stress in the work-place. Chiron International Publishing, Minneapolis, MN.
Parasuraman, S., (2002). Work/life balance: The role of the manager. Russell Sage Foundation, New York..
William M. (2000). Work/life initiatives, 2000. Mercer, Incorporated. New York, NY.