Work life balance is about individual choices that enable businesses and workers to manage the interaction between work and the demands of life that affect health, families and communities.
When our lives are more balanced, we are happier, more productive, take fewer sick days and are more likely to stay in our jobs.
There are increasingly more workers who care for children or elderly family members, manage work and study, seek graduated retirement or balance demanding work and life commitments. This necessitates a new approach to working arrangements.
The interest in policies and practices addressing work life balance is also driven by demographic factors such as the ageing population, skills and labour shortages and the need to maximise participation in the workforce.
Flexible work and leave arrangements
The key to achieving work life balance is flexible work and leave arrangements. There is no 'one size fits all' solution. Everyone is different and the right balance may alter over time as families grow older and personal commitments change.
A flexible work arrangement is any work arrangement that changes standard hours, days or location of work on a temporary or long-term basis, such as:
- part-time work or job sharing
- compressed hours
- home-based work or telework from alternate sites
- flexi-time, formal or informal time off in lieu, or formal rostered days off
- working non-traditional hours, such as staggered start and finish times
- transition to retirement, for example by reducing hours progressively over a certain time period rather than ceasing work completely
- career, study or community participation breaks
- purchased leave.
5 steps to implementation
Introducing flexible work arrangements is as easy as following these five simple steps.
Step 1 – Develop the business case
- Identify the needs of your business, customers and workers.
- Review your organisation’s experience.
- Consider the operational needs of the business.
- Identify legislative requirements.
- Ask yourself what you want for your business. Do you want increased efficiency and productivity; a more engaged and satisfied workforce; to attract and retain quality staff? Could better results be achieved with a flexible workplace?
- Rethink how you work, for example could redesign of roles and tasks be an option?
Step 2 – Define policies and practices
- Hold discussions with workers about how to progress the ideas.
- Give them the opportunity to make suggestions and raise concerns.
- Build an open and trusting environment and a supportive workplace culture.
- Draft a policy that is clear and accessible to workers and invite feedback.
- Develop a process for requesting flexible work arrangements.
- Trial some options to gauge the benefits and identify areas for improvement.
- Ensure your policies comply with legislative requirements.
- You may think a particular job can’t be done flexibly, but there may be an alternative work pattern which suits both the organisation and the worker.
Step 3 – Provide tools, resources and training
- Provide workers, supervisors and managers with checklists and examples to help them in thinking through the options.
- Develop or source a flexible work arrangements request form.
- Include managing flexible work arrangements as part of an existing or new training program.
- Provide web-based tools, briefing sessions, conversation checklists or coaching to help successful implementation.
Step 4 – Implement
- Engage managers and build a supportive workplace culture.
- Clearly communicate available options, policies and procedures to workers.
- Discuss those options and any constraints with your workers.
- Be clear about expectations and outcomes, including the right to say no and to vary an agreement to meet business needs.
- Discuss specific requirements with individuals requesting flexible work arrangements.
- Respond to requests in a timely manner.
- If possible, negotiate alternatives when a requested option does not fit business needs.
- Discuss trial periods and set review dates.
- Agree on a start date and review the arrangement at agreed intervals or as required.
- Declare reasons for declining requests.
Step 5 – Monitor and review
- Monitor flexible work arrangements – recognise and address problems early.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of those arrangements i.e. impact on customers, business requirements, absenteeism and productivity.
- You may need to redefine how you measure workers’ productivity.
- Talk to staff and keep reviewing arrangements, make suggestions for and negotiate change as required.
At first, implementing flexible work arrangements may appear difficult. However, with planning, communication, consideration of all options, some creativity and a willingness to try something new, it is possible to realise the benefits of a flexible work environment.
Benefits for workers and businesses
Valuing and promoting flexible work arrangements has many benefits, for both workers and businesses.
Managing work and life demands is possible for workers if they are allowed to work in non-traditional work patterns or locations that better fit their personal commitments. Through work life balance options workers can:
- engage with other workers and customers if working at alternate work sites
- focus on specific work tasks outside of a busy or noisy work environments by working from home
- balance child care and other family responsibilities
- actively participate in the workforce in ways more suited to personal circumstances, such as parent, carer or mature-age worker
- undertake volunteering and other community or recreational activities
- reduce stress
- increase their job satisfaction and morale
- save on transport costs and commuting time.
For businesses, providing flexible work options provides an antidote to loss of skills and experience and the high cost of recruitment and retention in a competitive labour market, at the same time as improving worker morale and commitment. Businesses can:
- improve workplace productivity and financial performance
- become more sustainable and adaptable to change
- achieve savings in utilities, office fit out, parking, security and other associated costs when staff work from home or alternate sites
- become an ‘employer of choice’, attracting better talent and broadening the employment pool
- improve worker retention and reduce recruitment costs
- increase staff engagement, co-operation and motivation
- reduce absenteeism and staff turnover
- reduce stress in the workplace
- provide a pathway to gender equality
- encourage older workers to return to or stay in the workplace
- create a more diverse and inclusive workplace
- improve customer service.