Challenges and Solutions
Nancy R. Lockwood
HR Content Expert
SOCIETY FOR HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
2003 SHRM®Research Quarterly
Abstract In organizations and on the home front, the challenge of work/life balance is rising to the top of many employers’ and employees’ consciousness. In today’s fast-paced society, human resource professionals seek options to positively impact the bottom line of their companies, improve employee morale, retain employees with valuable company knowledge, and keep pace with workplace trends. This article provides human resource professionals with an historical perspective, data and possible solutions—for organizations and employees alike—to work/life balance. Three factors—global competition, personal lives/family values, and an aging workforce— present challenges that exacerbate work/life balance. This article offers the perspective that human resource professionals can assist their companies to capitalize on these factors by using work/life initiatives to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Work/Life Balance: Challenges and Solutions
n a society filled with conflicting responsibilities and commitments, work/life balance has become a predominant issue in the workplace. Three major factors contribute to the interest in, and the importance of, serious consideration of work/life balance: 1) global competition; 2) renewed interest in personal lives/ family values; and 3) an aging workforce. Research suggests that forward-thinking human resource professionals seeking innovative ways to augment their organization’s competitive advantage in the marketplace may find that work/life balance challenges offer a win-win solution.
began to offer work/life programs. While the first wave of these programs were primarily to support women with children, today’s work/life programs are less gender-specific and recognize other commitments as well as those of the family. Work/life balance initiatives are not only a U.S. phenomenon. Employees in global communities also want flexibility and control over their work and personal lives. However, for the purpose of this article, the research and surveys presented focus on work/life balance in the United States.
Defining Work/Life Balance The Genesis of Work/Life Balance
Work/Life Balance: n. A state of equilibrium in which the demands of both a person’s job and personal life are equal.1 Phrases and words serve as cultural signposts to explain where we are and where we are going. The term “work/life balance” was coined in 1986, although its usage in everyday language was sporadic for a number of years. Interestingly, work/life programs existed as early as the 1930s. Before World War II, the W.K. Kellogg Company created four six-hour shifts to replace the traditional three daily eight-hour shifts, and the new shifts resulted in increased employee morale and efficiency. Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s seminal book (1977), Work and Family in the United States: A Critical Review and Agenda for Research and Policy, brought the issue of work/life balance to the forefront of research and organizations.2 In the 1980s and 1990s, companies 2 Work/Life Balance: Challenges and Solutions
Life is a balancing act, and in American society, it is safe to say that almost everyone is seeking work/life balance. But what exactly is work/life balance? We have all heard the term, and many of us complain that we don’t have enough of it in our lives. Among men and women alike, the frustrating search for work/life balance is a frequent topic of conversation, usually translated into not enough time and/or support to do, to handle, to manage … our work commitments or personal responsibilities. “Juggling competing demands is tiring if not stressful and brings lower productivity, sickness, and absenteeism, so work/life balance is an issue for all employees and all organizations.”3