Work life balance
What are the benefits and barriers associated with the achievement of a work – life balance for employees and employers?
This essay explores the importance of the achievement of a work-life balance and the issues which can be faced when initiatives to achieve such a balance are implemented. One issue surrounding the concept is that ‘work life balance’ is often loosely defined as simply referring to the balance between an individuals time spent at work and on home life. In fact employees are usually monitored on various factors including their attention whilst at work. ‘Central to definitions of work-life balance then is the notion that the modern employment relationship is a negotiation to establish the boundaries around the attention and presence required,’ creating the need for employees to consciously incorporate practices into their lives to integrate the work and non-work aspects. Work-life balance can be defined as ‘a reconciliation of paid employment and life.’ (Redman and Wilkinson 2006) It has suggested by McKee and colleagues that a series of historical shifts has shaped, to some degree, the debate about work-life balance. Broadly speaking they suggested these were the absence of fathers from home through war, imprisonment or long working shifts, the entry of large numbers of women into the workforce; the changing composition and structure of the family; expanding male unemployment; the increase in singe working parents; the intensification of working hours; an ageing population and the growing number of cared for groups; and the growth of equal opportunities. (McKee and colleagues) It is accepted that the feminisation of the work force increases the need for family friendly policies, however studies are said largely to have narrowly focused on the experiences of women with the double burden of employment and domestic and child care tasks, at the expense of a broader concept (Ransom, 2007). It also must be noted that the intensification of work and employers high expectations of employees whilst they are at work increases the need for plenty of time for rest and pursuing other interests outside of the work place. Also to be considered are the economic and social pressures and expectations brought about by the long working hours culture which is particularly apparent in the US and UK. On average US employees take only 13 days holiday a year, less than what they are entitled to and whist in Britain it is much higher at 28 days the Bank of England estimates that by late 1996 26.4% of UK employees were working more than 45 hours per week. Presently at an organisational level initiatives within the work-life balance movement tend to be grouped together under three relatively limited sets of activity; • Practices focusing on balancing parenting responsibilities with paid work and generally combining employment with any caring responsibilities • Allowing for time off work for family emergencies and dependant relatives • Pursuing different options to extend the family friendly policies of working form home, (Sparrow and Cooper, 1993). In March 2000 the government launched a work-life balance campaign to tackle the issue with three main focuses; • Tackling the long-hours culture
• Targeting the sectors with acute work-life balance problems • Providing support and guidance to both employees and employers This legislation and the increasing social pressure due to more awareness of employees’ right to request flexible working combined with the increasing power of the labour market means many companies are introducing varied work-life balance schemes. These have many benefits for both employees and employers but the introduction of them is not without barriers. Wood’s institutional theory suggests that organisations adopt work-life balance policies depending on the extent to which they have to maintain a sense of social legitimacy. This will vary according to industry, size,...
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