Making work-life balance policies available is an important step in helping employees balance their work and personal lives. However, these policies will be ineffective when employees feel inhibited or are prevented from using these policies.
When introducing policies aimed at helping employees balance their work and personal lives, it is important to ensure that the workplace culture supports employees' use of these policies.
A supportive workplace culture has been associated with a variety of benefits for both employees and employers, including higher levels of affective commitment to the organisation, lower intention to leave the organisation, higher levels of job satisfaction, lower levels of stress and the experience of less conflict between work and family responsibilities.
In addition to the direct positive effects of a supportive workplace culture, perceptions of a supportive workplace culture are associated with greater utilisation rates of work-life balance policies. The culture in the organisation is crucial for determining whether employees will use the policies and their general attitudes towards the organisation. For employees and employers to enjoy the benefits of work-life balance policies, the culture and work environment need to be addressed when implementing such policies.
So, just offering the policies is not sufficient as employees need to feel comfortable using the policies. Both managers and colleagues can make employees feel uncomfortable using benefits. Family-friendly policies will be useless or counterproductive if the work culture does not support them.
The development and implementation of policies is a gradual process, which requires dealing with certain behaviours, attitudes and expectations held by employees and management within the organisation.
Three ways of changing workplace culture may include:
- Education and communication
- Getting management behind the culture change
- Changing key values and norms and cultural artefacts
Changing the workplace culture does not happen overnight and requires commitment from both employers and employees. It is important to build consensus for culture change from the top down as well as the bottom up. Education about the importance of work-life balance, the benefits provided by work-life balance policies and the role of workplace culture is necessary to convince managers and front-line employees of the importance of a supportive ?work-life balance? culture.
Discussions between management and staff may increase understanding of mutual expectations and develop solutions to work-life balance issues. Discussions between team members on how they can help each other with work-life balance should be encouraged, as it provide employees with a feeling of ownership of the problem solving process.
It is vitally important that both senior and middle management get behind the culture change. Active and visible support from senior management is crucial to the effective introduction of work and family policies. Managers supporting a traditional organisational culture, which emphasizes the pursuit of work goals and ignores employees? personal lives, undermine the success of work-life balance policies.
Managers should be a role model for their employees by using work-life balance policies themselves. It is very important that managers use policies in an appropriate way, so employees are given accurate information on how the policy is supposed to work.
For example, under the Industrial Relations Act 1999 (PDF, 1.9 MB) , employees have a right to use up to ten days paid sick leave per year to care and support family or household members who are ill. If a manager then stays at home to care for a sick child, but uses annual leave, he/she sends out a wrong message that while it is ok to stay at home due to caring responsibilities, it should be at the detriment of your own recreational leave. The manager has a right to ten days paid carer?s leave and should set the right example by using the right type of leave.
Attitudes and resistance of middle management and line managers can create significant barriers to employees use and effectiveness of policies. Middle and line managers are particularly important in the change process as they are more directly in touch with the work environment of the employees. Implementation of policies will be more effective if line managers are convinced of the need to implement the policies. Line managers need to know why policies are introduced and how they will improve organisational performance.
An important issue that should be addressed when trying to change the workplace culture are the characteristics of an organisation that reflect and support its workplace culture; the most important one being the organisation?s key values and norms.
One of the most persistent beliefs likely to undermine work-life balance policies is the idea that work and personal lives should be completely separated. With the increase in dual-earner families, as opposed to the more traditional single-earner families where generally the men work, this is a rather unrealistic expectation. Employees? roles these days are not restricted to either the work or family domain, but they have roles in both these domains which they need to balance. This is a reality for both employers and employees and old traditional values and norms about separating these roles need to be adjusted.
When trying to change the workplace culture, it is most critical to address the key values and norms. It is important for organisations to think about the key values and norms the existing organisational structures and practices communicate to employees. For example, some organisations may send out messages about the organisation?s key values and norms through its reward system. Organisations may discourage using work-life balance policies when they provide rewards purely based on the number of hours worked, instead of employees? outputs and performance. Employees may feel pressured to work long hours out of fear that their career will suffer, making it more difficult to attend to responsibilities in their personal lives. The organisation could change its reward system by putting a greater focus on output and performance instead of work hours. The organisation could also consider including a statement on the organisation?s commitment to work and life balance in the organisation?s Value Statements, which outlines the core values, as this may help reinforce work-life balance as a key value of the organisation.
Changing key values and norms may prove very difficult. However, there are things organisations can do which may assist in this process, including:
- Change common myths about work-life balance through education. For example, a common myth about work-life balance issues is that it is only relevant to women. Educating people about the benefits of these policies for both women and men may help change this common myth.
- Give profile to people in the organisation who are high performers and who also use the policies to create a view that success and work-life balance can go hand in hand.
- Organise some social functions at times suitable for children as well as adults and specifically invite the employees? family members.
- Introduce awards for managers or supervisors nominated by employees for having provided an environment where both employees? work productivity as well as their personal needs are addressed and enhanced.
- Organise award ceremonies for those employees who are playing an important role in changing the workplace culture.
- Allow people to have pictures or other personal objects in their work area.
A final important note for organisations is that culture change requires a tailored approach using processes that are right for the organisation. Also, different customer needs should be taken into account when planning for a cultural change.