The following article is submitted by Rob Shorrock, the Voluntary Sector Development and Training Manager for PARENTS AT WORK, the national charitable organisation promoting work-life balance.
The week of 11th to 15th September is Work-Life Balance Week. This gives organisations an opportunity to explore ways in which they can develop a work-life culture and support staff in being able to achieve these balance objectives. Granted, a week is not a long time, but it provides the initial springboard to identifying initial ideas and solutions for change.
What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is about developing practices to encourage a culture in which people are happy about being able to meet the demands of work and responsibilities or interests outside work. The employer is willing to support this because they recognise that the key benefit is improved staff effectiveness and hence a better service to beneficiaries.
It is worth remembering why people want to work in the voluntary sector. They are not necessarily driven by money, they want good interesting work, they want an employer that respects them and values their contribution.
A work-life balance strategy will embrace innovative ways of working, special leave arrangements, support and information to staff and a development and training strategy that can support this. It need not be expensive, but any costs incurred in the short term are usually handsomely repaid in the medium and long term.
What can employers do?
Ask yourself the following question. Does our organisation have work-life problem? The following list of symptoms may help you identify whether this is the case:
- Staff working consistently long hours.
- High levels of absenteeism.
- Significant numbers of staff on stress related sick leave
- High turnover of staff
- New employees do not stay long
- Staff leave because of family responsibilities.
- Staff on maternity leave do not return.
- Low morale
Two or more of these could indicate that you have a significant problem. A high staff turnover costs voluntary sector organisations. On average it costs £3000 (CIPD 2000) to replace a skilled member of staff. This does not include the hidden costs of ongoing, induction, training and support to get them up to speed with the job.
So what can the employer do?
1. Make the commitment
Make a public commitment to achieving work-life balance in the organisation.
This could be the most significant thing that you do for the week. The commitment should be something that comes from the top. It should resonate with the values of the organisation, but be simple and understandable
"We expect a lot from our staff and our staff can expect a lot from us. We are committed to helping staff develop ways in which they can balance their responsibilities in and out of work"
(Work-life mission from a residential care charity)
2. Find out from staff
Find out from staff what the issues are.
These are some questions that could be raised in team meetings.
- Are their better ways of working?
- Are staff finding the current arrangements a struggle?
- What kind of support do they need?
- Are there ways in which the service could be improved to users or beneficiaries?
In our experience, staff can deliver very creative solutions when given the opportunity. A small organisation providing care to disabled adults developed a system of staggered working hours, which suited the staff and enabled the organisation to extend the opening hours of the service.
The test for the organisation is:
'what can we do that is feasible and at the same time maintains and enhances our service to users and customers?'
3. Get on with it
Don't sit around for the next few months trying to write detailed policies for flexible working, carer leave etc. If there is a clear need for a policy, then let the staff develop the framework and put it through a process of testing for an agreed period.
4. Provide support
Provide information to support staff. This could be the local childcare information service phone number, information explaining staff's legal rights.
(PARENTS AT WORK operates a legal helpline for employees, and produces a range of factsheets covering maternity rights, childcare, flexible working and parental and emergency leave. Having this information available adds to the sense that that the organisation cares for and values its staff.)
Finally, give it a year and compare the organisation against the work-life balance symptoms checklist above.
Rob Shorrock is the Voluntary Sector Development and Training Manager for PARENTS AT WORK, the national charitable organisation promoting work-life balance. Rob runs Balance at Work providing training for managers in implementing work-life policies and managing flexible workers.