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An employee has a whole life to live outside the workplace as manifested in roles like a mother, father, uncle, church elder and community leader, among others. They will need to fulfil these responsibilities while at the same time being an employee who is expected to perform duties and tasks at the workplace. The need to balance work demands and those of other aspects of life is crucial in human resource management. This article attempts to clarify the meaning of work-life balance, its importance, approaches to work-life balance, strengths, weaknesses, and challenges.
What is work-life balance?
Armstrong (2006) defines work-life balance as a practise concerned with providing scope for employees to balance what they do at work with the responsibilities. And interests they have outside employment and so reconcile the competing claims of work and home by meeting their own needs and those of their employers. Thus, it is about employees achieving a good equilibrium between work and non-work activities; that is a win-win situation that keeps the employment relationship going. White and McGovern (2003) also define work-life as practices at the workplace that acknowledge and aim at supporting the needs of employees in achieving a balance between the demands of their family life and work life.
Thus, the concept recognizes employees as assets or human beings who have other obligations to fulfil besides their day-to-day assignments at the workplace. The inherent nature of employment relationships is that the employer and employee always want to maximize returns in their relationships. Still, the employee who eventually is at the receiving end of work-life balance is not implemented due to stress, fatigue and tiredness. Holbeche and McCartney (2002) argue that employees were experiencing anxiety, work overload, loss of control, pressure, long working hours and insufficient personal time if the work-life balance is absent in an organization.
Approaches to work-life balance
According to Derek et al. (2008), the work-life balance phenomenon had its genesis in the United Kingdom in late 1970 but is now being implemented globally due to major drivers such as:
- Changing demographic make-up of the potential workforce.
- Changing social roles.
On the other hand, Noon and Byton (1997) believe that employers need to respond to what is now termed a “24/7” society where there are constant changes in the demands of the workers hence the need to come with more flexibility in employment relationships. Work-life balance as an approach can be implemented in various forms, which are part-time management, flexitime, paid leave, working from home, compress week and unpaid sabbatical, among other conditions.
Part-time management involves a situation in which employees do not have to be with the organization permanently but would be like casual workers hired and released when a specific task or operation is complete. This usually appeals to individuals whose skills and knowledge are scarce but in overwhelming demand in various organizations, say professors of different disciplines in short supply in most African universities.
The term flexitime refers to a situation where employees are allowed to be absent from work for a particular period while attending to personal life demands. On the other hand, compress week happens when employees in an organization prefer to go for the extra mile during a working time like having more working hours than prescribed to have more time from work. This would result in a situation where one would work four days a week and rest for the remainder of the week.
Working from home is a situation where employees do not have to be necessarily at the workplace all the time but duties and tasks being carried out at home while feeding the overall organization performance. While it was applicable in developed countries where there was advanced technology to communicate between the employee and the workplace and amongst the employees themselves, advancement in technology makes this relevant even in developing countries. In 2020, work from home became a new thing in most parts due to an attempt by governments to contain the Corona- 19 pandemic.
Leave is the most common form of achieving work-life balance. An employee takes paid or unpaid sabbatical leaves, compassionate leave, study leave, sick leave, maternity leave and annual leave ranging from a few days to one or two years.
Benefits of work-life balance
Work-life balance, which is about treating the workforce as human beings who have feelings and other personal agendas, can produce a win-win situation for employers and employees. However, employee relations should be healthy for both the employer and employee to derive maximum benefits from work-life balance. All the two parties stand to benefit if work-life balance practices are implemented.
Flexibility to meet family needs, personal obligations, and life responsibilities is an enormous advantage to employees because employees are not locked in the organization without opportunities to attend to the private worries of their lives.
The employee has an increased intrinsic feeling of control over schedule and work environment because of work-life balance. According to Lockwood (2003), employees’ psychological contract improves highly. When they feel that they are in charge Thus, the expectations the employer or employee expects from each other are positive. On top of that, work-life balance reduces employee burnout due to overload at work. In Kariba PCL, its employees are entitled to 30 days vacation leave per year,12 days’ annual leave days per year and 12 days of special leave per year. Granting such benefits to employees would relieve them from day to day demands of work and give them more time to concentrate on their personal life.
Whenever the employee is happy with work-life balance, the employer would be the ultimate beneficiary of realizing more profits. This is so because when the employee who oils the organization’s day-to-day operations is happy, it results in a competitive advantage for the employer- increased employee morale. Employee engagement and commitment to the organization will manifest sound work-life balance practices at the workplace. In such contexts, employees are prepared to go an extra mile beyond prescribed minimum performance, resulting in improved productivity and quality of work.
Another benefit is reduced turnover of valued staff due to work-life balance. This means that employees would not necessarily abandon or leave the organization to another competing organization. Still, they would stay with their organization to balance their work and personal responsibilities. There is also potential for reduced absenteeism and tardiness by the employees. They will be loyal to working time bearing in their minds that their obligations are catered for when they want to do so. Work-life balance raises the employer’s profile as an employer of choice and role model.
Challenges of work-life balance
Despite all the advantages associated with work-life balance, the following challenges are related to work-life balance:
- Difficulties in supervising and managing people working at home. The moment employees are on leave, and their whereabouts cease to be known only to resurface when the holiday is over, which poses some challenges in managing them.
- Another challenge that hinders the realization is the merit of the rare commitment by employees to the organization even when there are work-life balance practices. This is because conflicts characterize employment relationships, and no matter what may be done at the workplace, employees feel exploited. In trying to fix the employer, the employees will adjust their input, labour and eventually negatively affect production and quality of work.
- Understaffing and scarcity of specific skills in the labour market compound the aura of challenges associated with work-life balance. There is limited personnel with particular skills in such a case, and the organization is unprepared to hire extra staff. It will be challenging to implement these practices in a situation where technical departments are understaffed due to the scarcity of such professionals. It becomes a challenge to deal with without the technical staff. These and others like engineers rarely go on leave not because they do not want to but because of the demands of their duties, which cannot be easily substituted.
However, the solution is to offer attractive remuneration and other intangible and tangible benefits to attract personnel with such skills. Once a good number of technical personnel is available in the organization, it becomes easier for the technical staff to leave like anyone else.