HR Practitioner’s Diary: Striking a balance

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There's more to work-life balance than simply minding children; this week Sue Kingston reflects on the importance of an understanding employer in a domestic emergency and finds herself mopping the brow of a hot date.

W/C 18 July
My Saturday morning lie in was wonderful to a point, but then a spot of dentistry got in the way, all will come clear as we go. "Dallas" (Kent-style) continues and some interesting questions raised this week in relation to work-life balance, read on:

Stale Mate!
Alexis won out on her desired title of New Business Development Director, however, her aspirations of a company car being a Jaguar or Aston Martin have diminished into insignificance.

Larry has dug his heels in and insisted that Alexis will only get a company car or car allowance to the value of £300 per month (he’s sticking to his guns on the amount) and the contract has gone out on this basis.

Cliff is still unaware that his job is on the line and Alexis still thinks she is going to be working alongside with him.

With situations like this it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out and then everyone can get on and hopefully do the job properly. In the meantime, those in the know are treading around on egg-shells waiting for things to start hitting the fan.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Alexis reads her contract and speaks to Larry.

We’ll see what happens next week on this one as I think it will run for a bit!

You get by with a little help from your… employer!
Work-life balance is the subject here. It appears to be a goal that no one could object to, but, in practice, employer schemes to improve work-life balance can be divisive and cause resentment.

In principle, work-life balance policies should offer all employees small adjustments to working time and employment arrangements that reduce the friction between job demands and private lives. In reality, most schemes are designed with a single group in mind: working parents or, more specifically, mothers of young children. These often take the shape of policies such as maternity leave, the right to work part-time after childbirth, time off to look after sick children etc.

The need for work-life balance at other stages of the life cycle, and among the childless, is usually forgotten.

Work-life balance policies should be redesigned to be gender-neutral and even-handed between all employees. The need to care for elderly parents, or a sick family pet can be just as onerous as the demands of young children or adolescents. Childless people now amount to around one-fifth of all adults.

In the Netherlands, recent legislation gives all workers the right to ask for a transfer to part-time hours for any reason or none. The aim being to de-stigmatise part-time work, but also to give all employees the option of reducing their working hours to accommodate other life interests, be they further education, politics, sport, arts, community/charitable activities or leisure.

My own personal example of this was two years ago when, early one Wednesday morning, I found one of my dogs (Hershey) paralysed. It turned out he had a disintegrated disc in his spine that had inflamed his spinal cord, which in turn induced paralysis. Imagine my inner panic and distress.

I had carried him out to my car on my own (he’s a full grown Afghan Hound, weighing about 36 kilos!). At the vet's surgery it took four of us to carry Hershey on a stretcher. I think adrenalin gave me my ‘Hulk’ like strength to lift him on my own!

His chances were 50/50. The vet had to reduce the inflammation and find the specific problem area before they could operate. This went on for three days, with x-rays and injecting dye into Hershey’s spinal column to highlight the weakness.

Finally on the Saturday afternoon, after two hours with two surgeons working on Hershey we then had the tentative wait in the critical 48 hours after surgery to see if there was any sign of feeling returning to his back legs. Thankfully on the second day he showed some reflexes in his feet and then began the slow journey to recovery.

He was hospitalised for 10 days and was then was allowed home with me. I had to give Hershey physiotherapy on his back legs and support him with a harness whilst he learnt to walk again. I also took him for hydrotherapy to build up his muscles as the 10 days of total paralysis had wasted his muscles considerably.

Now you can imagine from all of the above that my life was in considerable turmoil. But what does this have to do with HR? Well, my chief executive, Jack, at that time was absolutely superb.

Whilst Hershey was hospitalised, Jack allowed me to take Hershey’s brother, Sorren, into the office with me so that he didn’t fret at home with his brother missing. Also whilst Hershey was recovering after the op, I was given the flexibility to leave early to visit him at the surgery and help to keep him motivated in the early critical stages of his recovery. When he came home I was allowed to work from home whilst I helped Hershey to learn to walk again.

The result of this episode is that Hershey walked again and I appreciated Jack’s compassion and flexibility under these particular circumstances. I don’t have children, I live on my own, but nonetheless, have important responsibilities and was allowed to exercise my rights in respect of work-life balance.

Does anyone have any examples of work-life balance scenarios, good or bad? I’d be interested, so please let me know if you want to share your story.

You may be wondering whether my veterinary friend, Charles, was involved in Hershey's plight. No, he wasn’t as Hershey was dealt with by a special spinal unit based in Northampton who pioneers this type of work in the UK. However, I ended my week with a taster of a different sort of career involving teeth, yes, Charles was something to do with this, see below:

Vital Stats:
For all of those ‘singletons’ out there:

  • Weight – 9st 10lbs (would be so nice to nudge it down to 9st 9lbs)
  • Chocolate – 1 Mars bar – must keep 9st 9lbs in mind!
  • Wine – 2 glasses of red wine administered whilst tiling my recently re-fitted bathroom. Managed to keep the tiles in a straight line!
  • Boyfriends – 1 ‘brief’ date – Charles again – he’s becoming a regular occurrence.
    Hershey and Sorren needed their teeth scaling and polishing, so Charles called Saturday morning and arranged for me to meet him at the surgery for midday – bang went my Saturday lie in, but I didn’t mind. Once things were underway, Charles was happy for me to observe and assist and yes, I did offer to mop his brow! It’s amazingly hot under the theatre lamps. One hour later I had two dogs with gleaming teeth, feeling a little woozy, but keen enough to investigate the cages to see what other ‘critters’ were about. Charles was very impressive in professional mode, we enjoyed a Mars bar and a cup of tea afterwards and I offered to get his shopping for him – two loaves, container of milk and half a dozen tomatoes. If this is bachelor food then maybe he needs looking after? A brief encounter, but a very enjoyable and slightly surreal one!
  • Deep thoughts – I’m happy in life to take one day at a time, as each day with Hershey now is a blessing. I love my dogs!

Keep it simple everyone and enjoy your week ahead!

*Sue Kingston is a self-employed HR Consultant with 23 years HR experience. Sue can be contacted on T: 07966 216561 or at [email protected]

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