Work-Life Effectiveness Part II: The Role Human Resources Plays

by julia.hanigsberg | March 28th, 2014

In Part I of this blog series I talked about the context for thinking about work-life effectiveness. In Part III I’ll share my own personal reflections.

While HR policies aren’t sufficient to build an organizational culture that supports work-life effectiveness, they are absolutely necessary.

Policy Needs Culture to Achieve Change

It is critical that organizations put in place those policies that give employees greater choice and freedom within their roles. These policies aren’t just for moms either. Elder care is coming at us like a demographic tsunami and it is one of the most understudied areas of public policy–governments haven’t figured it out–and relatively unexamined by employers.

Flexible work arrangements aren’t just about working from home. There are lots of other examples including flexible work schedules, reduced or compressed work weeks, flexibility around personal time off, self-funded sabbaticals, to name a few. All of these require that both employees and employers be patient and thoughtful. Things won’t always work out perfectly all the time. In some cases arrangements will have to be cancelled by employer or employee. Critically important though is adopting an employment culture that doesn’t see different work arrangements in terms of “keener” and “slacker”! A critical success factor is a culture of acceptance–something leaders need to model in their personal behaviour and respond to their own life needs.

By focusing on some of the basic management skills we know are important, but can lose track of in the mad dash, we can help employees be more effective and we can be more effective ourselves. For example, by measuring performance by clear objectives you can get away from valuing face time. Clear communication practices can help us to lead more effectively and even reduce the burden of the ubiquitous email. Some employers have experimented with prohibiting email evenings and weekends.

The Team Approach

The most effective approaches to cultural shift revolve around whole teams. For example, Dr. Leslie Perlow’s research with the Boston Consulting Group on “predictable” time off,  showed that when the team, rather than an individual, rallied around a work-life effectiveness goal, it was much more likely to be achieved. In that case the team committed to each member getting one evening off no matter how much work the team had or what the deliverable. While individuals were initially reluctant to take their time when their turn arrived, the team supported them and ultimately as a whole was empowered and all individuals benefitted.

Workplace flexibility, when supported culturally, is a benefit to the individual, the team AND the employer. Not only because happier employees are more productive more engaged employees, but also because we can achieve specific business goals and sometimes at reduced cost. For example, if you  have staff who work a 7 am to 3 pm shift and others who work a 10 am to 6 pm to manage child care and commuting, the result is a 7 am to 6 pm coverage without the expense of overtime.

The business case is there for making work and life more effective.

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