Work-life balance strategy
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Aim of the strategy
To address attraction and retention of employees by improving the uptake of work-life balance policies for the Queensland public and private sectors.
Who does it involve?
The strategy will be rolled out across the whole of the Queensland public sector, as well as in a smaller sample of private sector organisations. Participation in the strategy is voluntary.
Why is the strategy important?
Although the labour market deteriorated during the economic down turn, there has been an improvement in labour market conditions in recent months. It is anticipated that the growth in employment will continue. Getting quality staff in the workplace and keeping them there is a key priority for employers no matter the status of the economy, as evidenced by the costs associated with turnover.
The decline in the number of young people available for employment and the increasing number of employees nearing retirement age will continue to pose significant challenges to obtaining and maintaining sufficient numbers of quality employees.
It is important for organisations to have enough employees to deliver on its goals and objectives, hence the importance of attraction and retention. Staff turnover poses a major cost to organisations, which is estimated at between 90 and 200 per cent of an employee’s annual salary. Thus, measures that improve attraction and retention and reduce staff turnover costs are important for business.
Part of being an attractive, competitive employer involves the provision of work-life balance policies, which can help retain older workers, as well as attract parents who have been out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities and young workers who want to combine work and study and leisure or who are planning to have families in the short-term future.
For example, a recent survey by the Australian Human Resources Institute (non Queensland Government link) amongst 1822 of its members, who are primarily HR managers and professionals, found that 80 per cent believed that paid parental leave is significant in attracting good staff and 82 per cent believed that offering paid parental leave contributes to employee retention. More specifically, 67 per cent of respondents working in organisations offering paid parental leave estimated that more than half of women on paid parental leave returned to work after their period of leave, compared with only 39 per cent of respondents estimating a similar return rate in organisations that offered only unpaid parental leave.
The UK Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) outlined in their report, Working outside the box: Changing work to meet the future (PDF 929 KB) (non Queensland government link), that 6.5 million people in Britain are not using their education, skills or management experience in the labour market. It was suggested that these people could be using their skills more fully if more flexible working were available, either by working or working at a level at which they used to work.
The EOC argues that inflexibility in workplaces is creating a massive waste of talent and potential. The EOC found in their investigation that trading down and working under potential can be the outcome of the failure of high-level work to offer flexibility and new ways of working. Furthermore, a third of unemployed people could be encouraged back into the workforce if flexible working was available according to the report.
Work-life balance policies help employees reduce the impact of work on family life, thereby often reducing stress levels, while increasing focus and motivation at work knowing that family and work commitments are being met. For employers these policies often mean greater staff loyalty and commitment, resulting in lower turnover, and higher attraction levels.
In Australia, various organisations are implementing work-life balance policies and reaping the benefits. The National Work and Family Awards showcase organisations with outstanding provisions accommodating work-life balance for employees while meeting business needs. For example, Greenslopes Private Hospital, an award winner in 2005, found that investing in better work and family initiatives led to a 5.5 per cent reduction in employee turnover and a 23 per cent reduction in workers' compensation costs. St George Bank, a winner in 2007, reported reduced staff turnover from 18 per cent in 2001 to 15 per cent in 2006 and improved staff satisfaction from 48 per cent of employees in 2002 to 73 per cent in 2006 as some of the positive outcomes of introducing work-life balance initiatives. Freehills, winner in 2007, provides 12 weeks paid parental leave and adoption leave for primary carers and reported an 85 per cent return rate from parental leave, while the Cancer Council of Queensland had a 100 per cent record of employees returning to work from parental leave which is offered as 6 to 12 weeks paid leave. Pricewaterhousecoopers, another 2007 winner, reported reduced staff turnover by almost 10 per cent from 2002 to 2006 as an outcome of its work-life balance policies.
For work-life balance policies to be effective, employees need to be able to use them. Research undertaken by the then DEIR in collaboration with the University of Queensland showed that while organisations might have various work-life balance policies, they often experience significant difficulties with the actual implementation of the policies, due to lack of communication, education and training on policies and failure to address the workplace culture. The development of the work-life balance strategy has drawn heavily on these findings and will have a particular focus on how to make work-life balance policies work for employers and employees through proper implementation.
What activities will be undertaken?
Available research shows that factors associated with low uptake of policies could lie with both employees and management (from line managers to the CEO). To investigate the factors and possible causes for low uptake of work-life balance policies in Queensland organisations, there will be a focus on employees, management as well as Human Resources (HR).
Information on possible contributing factors and causes of low policy uptake associated with employees will be obtained through the Better Work-Life Balance Survey, which measures a number of factors identified as important for an organisation to address in order to properly accommodate employees’ work-life balance. These factors include employees’ awareness of policies, dissemination of policies, the workplace culture as perceived by employees and formality of policies.
Focus groups will be run for managers to identify issues regarding policy implementation that managers deal with, which may impact on the uptake of policies (e.g. lack of knowledge on how to make policies work for employees) as well as identify the particular work life balance issues they face themselves.
In addition, focus groups will be run for Industrial Relations (IR) and HR managers to gain a better understanding of the possible difficulties they encounter in rolling out the policies in their organisations and how FSWQ can assist in providing information on work-life balance policies.
Based on the outcomes of the investigation, appropriate initiatives will be developed. Depending on the factors or causes identified in a certain organisation, a specific package of initiatives can be adopted by the relevant organisation to address these factors. This means that organisations are able to tailor the strategy according to their specific needs, thereby maximising organisations’ ability to attract and retain employees.
Several guides have been developed to provide managers with practical tools and information on ‘how to’ implement work-life balance policies in a way that works for both the employee and the business. These documents include a manager’s information kit as well as quick reference guides for the public and private sector.
Further resources are being developed for employees to educate them about their rights as well as responsibilities in this area.
Share your stories
We are interested to hear from you. Whether you are an HR manager who has seen an increase in the number of job applications after advertising jobs available on a flexible basis, a manager who successfully dealt with an employee request by coming up with a creative and workable solution for both parties, or an employee who was able to successfully negotiate and use work-life balance policies, share your stories by emailing them to email@example.com
Your stories can help others achieve work-life balance.