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Work-Life Balance: Policy v. Reality

By Elizabeth Bales Frank

It appears that work-life flex policies are wonderful, until employees actually try to put them to work in their own life. That seems to be where the trouble starts.

A recent survey issued by WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress in conjunction with its annual awareness week demonstrates a disappointing disparity between the in the philosophy and the practice of policies extended to employees among international leading corporations.

“More than half of the surveyed managers think the ideal employee is one that is available to meet business needs regardless of business hours,” states an article in the British-based HR Magazine, 40% of surveyed managers “believe the most productive employees are those without a lot of personal commitments” and nearly one in three think that employees who use flexible work arrangements will not advance very far in their organization.

Of employees surveyed, 25-30% responded that they believed that availing themselves of flexible schedule, even when it is stated company policy, would result in negative repercussions, including unfavorable job assignments, being passed over for promotions, fielding disapproving comments from supervisors and colleagues, and an overall professional shunning.

In other words, employees suspect and managers admit that in most cases, a “flex-life work policy” is a perk more attractive in a recruitment brochure than in an actual work environment.

Challenges to Corporate Policies

Why is buy-in so difficult? One reason is policy definition. Is it a business strategy or an HR perk? Another is inclusion confusion. Options should either be offered to all employees or no employees. And third, is the fear that employees will abuse the privilege and/or become less productive.

When flex time is not offered, or offered only in spirit retention, productivity, health, creativity, work, and life are all negatively affected. It’s a conundrum.

“The only way we’re going to solve it is if we begin to grapple with the fact work, life, and work/life fit initiatives are not perks. They’re not a policy you put in a handbook. They’re not a program you run for managers. They are strategies,” says Cali Williams Yost. “They are a way of doing business. They are a way of operating.”

Yost, CEO and Founder of Work+Life Fit, Inc., has been tackling misconceptions about work/life policies and implementation for close to two decades now. It’s not just an issue for women; it’s no longer an option that’s “nice to have.” “There are no boundaries between work and life anymore,” she states. “The global economy has erased the nine to five.”

Additionally, the aging baby boomer population, who are simultaneously delaying retirement and grappling with eldercare for their own parents will tilt the balance even further towards companies who focus on closing the gap between what managers publicly support and how they privately behave.

Strategies for Success

How do they get there? Yost advises focusing on “what’s already working in your organization. You already have a few managers who figure out that people’s lives and their work are one and the same.” Others may have to alter their attitude, and “create a strategy to get from your current state to that envisioned future state” to focus on “what everybody’s role is in making [a flex policy] work.”

Until that time, a few tips from Judy Martin, in her article “Taking Work Life Balance by the Horns,” provides some tactics on how to manage a disapproving manager.

Managers need to recognize that people want to work differently, not less. Employees are more productive when they can work on a schedule that best suits them. As outlined by CFO magazine, the accounting firms have found a number of ways of implementing successful policies, proving that employers who treat a non-traditional work schedule as viable means of retaining engaged, energetic talent find that such talent composes a lot of their workforce.

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