KeywordsHuman Resource Management Supportive Organizational Perception Employee Assistance Program Flexible Work Schedule Human Resource Management Function
Brief Definition or Concept Description of Work-Life Programs
Work-life programs is a concept that has evolved to include the challenges men and women encounter in harmonizing paid work with other components of their lives. The term work-life programs is linked with more humane approaches in contemporary societies to engage all categories of employees as a result of the challenges they experience to synchronize paid work activities and those that fall outside of paid work (Berg et al. 2014).
This chapter focuses on the range of work-life programs that are designed to address the multifaceted needs of employees to balance their work and personal lives. It highlights the significance of these programs in light of the historical changes in the landscape of work. It examines their impacts on many levels and discusses some strategies for successful implementation. There are lessons to learn as organizations and employers forge ahead into the future.
Looking Back and Surveying the Past
Twenty-first century employees’ profiles project shifts and diversions of traditional employees of earlier centuries. These include a wide range of conditions from friendly, family-oriented worksites to hostile, brutal masters ruling over slaves, serfs, and indentured servants.
Even more so, work-life programs were inconceivable for the period of industrialization. Factories were the work environment where efficiency and increased output preoccupied the workers’ task masters. Metaphorically, employees were treated like machines and cogs in a wheel. Therefore, humanizing the work environment with programs such as family-oriented, flexible work schedules and other benefits to help alleviate the drudgery of the intensive factories were ludicrous.
Work-life programs are creatures of our contemporary era. More employers are realizing that work-life programs need to be created to address the complex needs of their workforce. By so doing, employees will be able to pursue their personal lives with critical and legitimate concerns, while at the same time contributing to their professional and work lives which are demanding.
Work-life programs or work-life balance is a more fitting description of a term that has evolved to be inclusive of the challenges men and women encounter in harmonizing paid work with other components of their lives. Initially, terms such as family friendly or work family benefits were used, but these were narrow and excluded individuals in the workforce such as those who are single, childless, have no care-giving roles/responsibilities, and/or performed unpaid work in many informal settings (Chandra 2012; Gambles et al. 2006).
Although work life or work-life balance programs are broader and inclusive, there is still debate how this phenomenon should be conceptualized. Some scholars perceive it as an oxymoron. According to them, work-life balance or work-life programs seem to infer that work is not part of life. Balance also implies a compromise yet work and life are equally important and are not diametrically opposed. According to these authors it may be misleading since it overlooks the differences between paid and unpaid work, and both are important and serve valuable roles.
Therefore, these contemporary terms signal fundamental shifts to earlier terminologies and applications which were limited, narrow, and misleading. A change to newer terminologies came as a result of conscientious attempts to provide a richer description of what this phenomenon measures. It captures not just the issues married men and women experience but those who may be single, childless, and having other caring responsibilities or roles or no caring roles or commitments. Therefore, the term work-life programs or work-life benefits or balance is associated with more humane approaches in contemporary societies to engage all categories of employees as a result of the challenges they experience to synchronize paid work activities and those that fall outside of paid work (Berg et al. 2014).
Significance and Benefits of Work-Life Programs
This topic is significant as it brings to the fore critical needs of contemporary workers, organizations, and societies. There seems in today’s world for people to have such “busyness” and perceptions of inadequate time for leisure, rest, personal relationships, and other personal pursuits. So many employees experience burn out, stress, and fatigue due to overwork and intensely pressured workloads on their jobs. Their activities, demands, pressures, commitments, roles, and whatever else comes with being on the job are part of their lives, and combining other parts of their lives’ activities with work are major challenges of our modern day experiences.
Initially, organizations saw work-life programs as a critical response to more females in the workforce which helped to boost employee satisfaction (Carell 2007). Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that women and, more so, mothers showed an overall increase since the early 2000s, with three quarters of them being among those listed to include more women who are married with children than singles with the same (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2002).
Later, these programs became more relevant to the growing need for cafeteria style benefits for a multigenerational workforce. The younger generation is more interested in family and lifestyle issues. One study reinforced this variation by generations, highlighting 50% of Generation Y and 52% of Generation X versus 41% of Baby Boomers had this interest. Hence, this shows a deviation from previous generations and periods of times (Family and Work Institute 2005).
Diversity in the workforce also reflects these variations in preferences about work and life interests. These are then translated to reflect employees’ concerns about their benefits. Hence, public organizations should aim to attract prospective employees who would be retained, and in order to do this, they must offer a variety of benefits to accommodate for their changing needs and other pursuits in their lives.
Subsequently, work-life programs have the capacity to provide benefits to employees, employers, societies, and communities. Essentially, these programs seek to provide, as discussed already, balance between employees’ professional and personal activities by managing the changing stressors they face on both sides. Empirical research has indicated that a positive correlation exists between work-life programs and job satisfaction, and programs can be used as predictors for job satisfaction (Giancola 2013).
Additional benefits on macro and micro levels relate to employers observing positive organizational impacts as there is greater productivity, and employees also demonstrate on individual and group levels positive behavioral changes. In short, employees are able to perceive through these programs that organizations support their need for balance in their personal and professional lives, thereby reducing stressors from these challenges. Research also supports positive effects on employee retention and motivation. These can be counted as organizational benefits, hence a symbiotic effect for organizations and employees. They reflect other positive behaviors as greater commitment and loyalty to their organizations.
Managers also gain as they become more caring, compassionate, and empathetic to their employees’ needs. On the flip side, employees go above and beyond their prescribed behaviors in terms of performing their duties and responsibilities. They also avoid or minimize proscribed behaviors such as absenteeism and tardiness. Managers in turn also impact their own personal lives at home: they become more effective leaders; develop a repertoire of skills and competencies for work; and overall improvements in their attitudes, demeanors, and performance.
Analysis of Work-Life Benefits Programs
One cannot deny the numerous benefits that can be gleaned from work-life programs across the board and from multiple levels of analysis. This section attempts to examine and analyze the dimensions of work-life programs that exist. They are not exhaustive but attempt to identify the major ones discussed in the literature. They include as follows: flexible work schedules or work-life flexibility practices, dependent care programs, wellness programs, employee assistance programs, domestic partner programs, career development programs, and any other programs that may not fall under those listed earlier.
Flexible working schedules or work-life flexibility practices are not recent innovations and share a history where organizations have used them for particular occupations (e.g., police officers and firefighters), careers, and persons. They can be described as policies and practices that are designed to facilitate adjustments to employees’ preferences to change their work schedules or arrangements whenever, wherever, and however needed in order to balance their paid work and nonwork commitments. There are many reasons for their flexibility from personal prerogatives, cost efficiency concerns, environmental, traffic, and others.
Contemporary organizations have expanded the use of flexible work-life practices due to the increase of more women in the workforce, dual-career couples, and individuals with care giving roles and single parent families. Other flexibility needs arise as a result of industry needs such as for professionals (e.g., managers, technical, and sales). There are individuals who have personal flexibility needs, pursuits, or responsibilities. Examples are those engaged in volunteerism, charity work, seasonal employment, and personal or family concerns. For the latter, flexibility concerns may arise unexpectedly such as a terminal illness of a significant other or a short-term issue as a personal emergency or crisis.
Characteristics of flexibility work practices allow employees scope for selection and management of their schedules. Employees are able to select their start and end times for work, day-to-day flexibility schedules, compressed workweeks or schedules, and or part-time (e.g., job sharing) or shorter/reduced time schedules. Job sharing occurs frequently with part time work and entails two or more individuals who are sharing one position, with different schedules, hours, and times in order to complete a work period and days scheduled. Seasonal workers such as those employed in agriculture, landscaping, life guards, and the like are employed for a short season or period of time as work is needed for these jobs at specific times. Telework is also a flexible work practice where employees work from home or another location outside of their workplace. Telework assists employees to meet their personal needs by reducing times spent traveling to and from work; allows for convenience and flexibility in their schedules. Employers also gain as employees tend to be more motivated, empowered, and productive, thereby enhancing organizational goals and objectives while exercising boundary management techniques. Some studies report at least 10% to as much as 30% productivity increases. Therefore, for varied reasons flexibility work practices are very attractive to employers and employees alike since each of their needs may be fulfilled. At the organizational level the literature details the benefits that adoption of work flexibility programs provide for organizations and impacts on their determinants such as economic efficiencies and effectiveness (Cayer and Roach 2008). However, there are challenges within flexible work schedules and these will be covered under Challenges to Adoption, Access, and Usage.
Dependent Care Programs are categories of work-life programs that cater for employees who have children and or elderly care responsibilities and desire to maintain balance to their roles at work and in their personal lives. An absence of this kind of support can create negative impacts on employees in terms of their outputs, efforts, motivation, ability to focus at work, and overall increased stress due to these perennial parental and childcare responsibilities outside of work. Employers can also be badly affected by employees’ absences, sick leave, distractions from work, attrition rates, stress, fatigue, and other related conditions or behaviors.
Therefore, with the adoption of dependent care in many organizations, existing employers may get more from their employees as they perceive such programs positively, as proactive strategies to recruit and retain talented employees. As seen with flexible work practices, both parties benefit and also persons in the employees’ immediate households. In fact, a federal government survey forecasted that 54% of employees had dependent care needs and that about 19% would expect this need to be fulfilled in the near future (U.S. Government Accountability Office 2007). An emerging issue to consider is HIV/AIDS. In some countries where the rates of those infected are growing (e.g., South Africa) dependent care programs should address employees’ needs who give care to significant others and those who are infected with the disease.
These dependent care programs can take the form of low cost or no cost and direct costs to the employers. One study in 2002 alleged that approximately one third to a half of employers offered the no costs or low cost programs, with 45% of the same actually providing them. Employees may also gain in receiving tax exemptions as much as $5000 for childcare expenses. Fewer provided (7%) direct cost childcare within the workplace or nearby. In the same study, one third of the employers provided resources and referrals for childcare. Similarly, those who had teens in the same study, only 7% of employers with 50 or more employees, provided such programs to them. When it came to elder care, the same study reported more supervisors (79%) as representatives of employers had offered employees time off with no adverse effects on salaries (Bond et al. 2005).
Additionally, employers made resources available or referrals for eldercare. Examples include adding a family member to the healthcare insurance plan and geriatric care and management in coordinating these services. Others provided group rates for long-term insurance care insurance coverage and day care for the elderly. Conversely, countries in Europe are way ahead of the USA in terms of their practices. They tend to have more proactive approaches such as educational and sensitivity programs to enlighten persons of the diverse options available to them – wellness, promotion of best practices, and care facilities. A good example is Sweden where the government promotes educational awareness of the impact of fathers in childrearing and their benefits. Similarly, they are very supportive of parents taking more active roles in their children’s lives. Leave is given to parents with sick children between 12 and 16 years. Men and women also enjoy 120 benefit days per year and 7 days for a child annually. Overall, these programs help to support strong family units although they can be expensive in the long run. Hence, in the USA it is not uncommon to see states create consortia to provide child and elder care and set up fee systems where services can be accessed at a nominal fee. These are ways to enable costs to be managed effectively. Bureaucracies and organizations take more advantage of consortia such as Internal Revenue Services and IBM and Citigroup (Todd 2004).
Wellness Programs strive to project well-balanced and healthy lifestyles for all employees. One possible rationale is that a healthy employee will be a productive employee. There will be compelling benefits for organizations in terms of less claims on health care or medicals; preventative strategies in terms of an increase in attendance and regularity; and a decrease in absenteeism, sick leave, and other leave that may have medical implications such as stress, fatigue, or depression.
Additionally, empirical studies reinforce other positive outcomes like high returns on their employees’ investments. An example cited is Citibank which claimed about nine million savings in healthcare benefits by instituting a wellness program which was estimated to cost approximately two million (Ozminkowsi et al. 1999). It is also preventative. Programs institute exercise and on-site and off-site gym activities, nutritionist programs, consultations, and informational sessions. Many US universities such as Arizona State University have created student recreational centers, Olympic size swimming pools, weight training rooms, indoor basketball and track for jogging, tennis courts, massage therapy, yoga, pilates, and meditational approaches and other elaborate wellness programs, activities, and classes for students, faculty, and administrative and support staff (Arizona State University 2016).
The philosophy behind wellness programs is to cater for the entire person’s wellbeing – i.e., body, mind, and soul – which is holistic in order to cultivate a healthy lifestyle. They orient preventative stress management programs that incorporate a tier system of prevention. Primary prevention identifies the stressors or health risk factors. Secondary prevention is geared towards directing strategies to manage them effectively. Tertiary prevention is where efforts are focused on healing persons from the effects of distress and strain. Some organizations make it like a cafeteria style where persons can select accordingly based on their physical and health needs. Other places like in Florida, Sarasota, employees’ fitness targets are built around leave incentive programs where they can earn as much as six leave days per annum.
Wellness programs also include health screenings, medical testing, and other forms of preventative strategies. In fact, studies have shown that 25% of healthcare sunk costs are directly related to at least 10 risk health factors that can be managed or minimized via wellness programs, such as hypertension, diabetes, and smoking and its ill impacts and obesity (Cayer and Roach 2008).
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) just as the title suggests provide assistance to employees with personal issues when they conflict with their work roles and demands. The content of EAPs may appear eclectic since they reflect difficulties that employees encounter in balancing their lives and work. Some major ones from the literature are drug abuse management approaches, testing; counseling for areas of family, spousal and children issues; and managing personal relationships. They provide financial and legal advice. Terrorism being a contemporary problem in our societies, EAPs are prepared to treat employees who experience traumatic situations such as 9/11 terrorist attacks, violence in the workplace and harassment, and a whole range of other coping and interventionist strategies and activities that a twenty-first century employee would need to survive in their workforces and societies. A corollary to wellness programs, EAPs can address stress management and prevention. By so doing, these help to mitigate health threats and manage risky behaviors that may be harmful to employees to the extent of causing them physical, emotional, and psychological damage or injury.
Domestic Partner Programs are now being incorporated into work-life balance programs. They create debate and intrigue especially since they represent a contemporary issue in the work place of sexual orientation. The idea behind these programs is to allow for inclusiveness of groups that may not have been defined traditionally such as gays, lesbians, and transgender groups. They aim to provide similar or comparable benefits to heterosexual monogamous relationships between a man and a woman with these latter orientations. The rationale is to provide equity to those parties who would not be eligible for these benefits under previous Human Resource Management policies.
State laws and organizations including private and public are divided over this issue of domestic partner benefits. There is a lack of consensus on the precise description or definition of a domestic partner. One thing remains salient is that in contemporary settings there is an increasing development of couples (same sex and opposite sex) who are choosing to cohabitate versus marry. Other trends today are same sex marriages, alternative family structures versus the nuclear or extended families of earlier centuries. These shifts and diversions make these programs relevant in order to meet the needs of a changing society.
Statistics across states highlight the growing pattern for coverage although it is still not in a majority. According to the Human Rights Campaign Fund, in 2007, about 9375 employers of which 8657 were from the private sector, provided domestic partner health benefits. This is noteworthy since among benefits health is the most common for all employees ( 2007). Yet, the federal government does not offer such benefits.
Similarly, 145 city and county governments, 13 states, and 303 universities and colleges provided such benefits to their employees. Parallel to this among cities in California, government contractors are mandated to provide similar benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples to homosexual couples. Cost is a major concern; studies have shown costs do not increase substantially with this added benefit (less than 1% between 0% and 5%). Just as other work-life programs help in contemporary settings, the existence of these program and the benefits that employees can gain from them such as satisfaction at work and equity demonstrates an effort to address issues of marginalization of groups who contribute to the national economy (Cayer and Roach 2008).
Career Development Programs can be seen as an extension of activities of training and development and performance management which are critical human resource management functions. Everyone gains especially when activities are effectively streamlined to match the strategic plans of organizations through good Human Resource Management (HRM) planning. Employees are able with the assistance of their organizations (supervisors in particular) to develop goals to channel their energies in achieving their professional and personal goals and organizations’ strategic priorities.
Training focuses on improving employees’ immediate needs in performing their jobs such as gaps in their knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, and other characteristics. Development hones in on employees’ preparation for their careers. This ensures that succession planning occurs smoothly. For instance, when vacancies occur, employees would have had adequate preparation in the past to perform them through advancement and growth opportunities, enabling them to be equipped for promotion to challenging roles in the future.
Other components of career development include mentoring, learning, coaching, cross training, educational preparation, buddy systems, college and university training centers, external consultants, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, shadowing of role models, special assignments, acting, job rotation programs, and on-the-job training. Flexible work schedule practices may be incorporated and this can improve employees’ opportunities at various stages of their career development to balance with personal life circumstances to secure these opportunities for their future promotions and advancement. For instance, research universities such as Arizona State University (ASU) have created adjustable tenure track programs to allow women of childbearing age the flexibility to give birth and resume their careers without hindering their retention. Hence, these programs are integrated into ASU’s HRM functions to ensure that candidates who are recruited and selected are retained; programs are designed to assist their performance; compensation and benefits are restructured to accommodate for work-life balance practices (Arizona State University 2016).
Finally, retirement and voluntary separation are aspects of career development programs. Organizations need to prepare employees for that final phase in their careers. This is where work-life programs can assist in making flexible working schedules available: job sharing, shorter work weeks, phased retirement, and part time work arrangements as possible options. These programs assist other employees who may have to learn their roles and perform similar responsibilities. They may also help in succession planning. There will be effective transitioning of employees into their new roles of preretirement employees. Overall, employees at retirement age will be prepared for permanent retirement where they see that there is quality life beyond the world of work through counseling, consultations, and financial and legal advice.
Other Work-Life Programs include activities that may not fall under those previously discussed. Employers today may use, as stated earlier, a cafeteria style approach to access and implement these benefits. Some that are noted are group life insurance, medical, and health coverages. In terms of group life coverages, employers may cover a fixed rate of agreement and then employees could pay their fixed premiums or increase to more if desired. Universities in Arizona provide benefits such as life insurance policies which are comparable to their employees’ yearly salaries with the latter having the discretion to increase to more if they prefer. Other programs cover vehicular and home insurances. These may be given at attractive rates that are affordable to employees given the group coverage rates. These agreements are made with the respective insurance companies and employers on behalf of their employees on reduced rates.
Recognition and reward are contemporary strategies used to enhance employees’ motivation, performance, and productivity. Like other work-life programs this can be mutually beneficial to employers and employees; the latter’s high morale, job satisfaction, and motivation can impact their engagement and commitment to their organizations (i.e., employers) among other positive impacts.
Breast feeding programs again are contemporary programs that reflect the concerns of many stakeholders who see children’s health a critical factor in child rearing practices. Hence, organizations have created lactation and breast feeding areas for mothers, providing them with breaks to allow for breast feeding and pumping. Minnesota and other states have passed legislation to protect mothers’ rights to breast feed. The literature also underscores that programs of this nature positively impact both employers and employees. Organizational impacts can be felt in reduced claims, high quality of life experiences, and employee morale (Cayer and Roach 2008). The important thing is that work-life programs have expanded to reflect some of the complex needs of employees in this era. There are still many yet to cover, but they have evolved into covering broad areas for employees’ needs and concerns about their personal and professional lives.
Challenges to Adoption, Access, and Usage
Studies have shown that although work-life policies are adopted, many employees may not be able to access and use them effectively. In a US Census Bureau report only 53% of employees were able to access their flexibility benefits, while 63% could work away from work and only 22% reported they could do so. Yet, a 2012 National Study of Employers’ survey of 1000 HR directors asserted that 77% of employers permitted their employees to adjust their schedules (Giancola 2013).
Overall, complex factors at multiple levels are cited as among challenges for work flexibility practices and generally for work-life programs. From 2005 to 2012 Families and Work Institute surveys documented an acute decline in organizational support of work-life initiatives. One report showed only 25% of organizations continually informed employees of their available work-life resources. One will observe that these problems are at the macro (e.g., organization and system) and micro (e.g., individual) levels of analysis. Some are listed here such as individual characteristics in negotiations, supervisors’/managers’ discretion, industry demands, occupational dictates, work-life supportive organizational perceptions, work-life supportive supervisory/leadership behaviors, supervisor/top leadership support, work-life cultures, employee performance, affective organizational commitment, and job self-efficacy (Mills et al. 2014).
Another issue where research should address is the role that unions play in managing problems of access and usage especially in unionized environments. One study identified several areas for concern. These are listed but not discussed in detail. First premise is the role of “collective voice” is lacking in the literature. Secondly, employers and unions need to clarify in their formal agreements and collective bargaining the areas open for flexibility and justifications for variations among classification of employees by nature of tasks, industry, and professions. Thirdly, framing issues at the union level for collective bargaining mobilizes bias using diverse stakeholders in the work-life debate which shifts the focus away from a micro level issue of individual-employer (Berg et al. 2014).
Additionally, governments especially in the USA need to play a major role in the framing of work-life programs. In 1993 the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) helped to streamline organizational policies as it related to leave for reasons such as care giving roles and child rearing circumstances. However, this law gives the right to take time out of the labor market only for some employees (e.g., care givers) and there are employers who under this law may be exempt. With increased legislation, it may signal to employers and employees that this issue is of major importance at a macro level warranting societal attention. Greater attention, responsibility, visibility, and intervention will certainly help in the framing of policies and in making more organizations responsible for critical areas of work-life programs.
The USA lags behind other governments in Europe and Canada who have given more attention and adopted policies to ensure that employees’ lives are holistic and that organizations are able to meet their strategic priorities while addressing the needs of their current workforce. During the USA presidential campaign for 2016 Donald Trump as the Republican representative and Hilary Clinton as the Democratic representative during convention speeches alluded to their commitment to giving attention to a critical area of work-life programs which may affect institutional change. Trumps’ daughter Ivanka announced a childcare policy proposal for affordability and accessibility (Baltimore Sun 2016). Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recommends Hilary Clinton as the presidential candidate to give paid family leave and equal pay for women (MSN News Online 2016). Perhaps, if either becomes president, it may usher in a new era of government reforms for the USA to change laws that can signal the importance of childcare programs, paid family leave, and equal pay for women who constitute a greater percentage of the workforce and many who remain childless as a result of the challenges in balancing their dual roles in the twenty-first century workforce climate.
Examples of other emerging issues for national policies to address in the USA are paid leave arrangements for parents during early years of parenting and when children may get sick and maternity leave to include extended parental leave such as countries like Canada and in Europe. The USA is one of the few countries globally that does not have a universal entitlement to paid maternity leave.
Japan has mandated for a National Commission in the Falling Birth Rate in order to examine how as a nation it can better support men and women in balancing paid work and their personal and or family responsibilities. Internationally, some countries have instituted conciergie services and on-site recreational and social activities for their employees. In the USA, more private and large corporations provide such benefits, but this is something that can be implemented across the board to as many organizations for their employees within reason of their resources. Other global challenges to adoption, access, and usage are countries where HIV/AIDS rates for affected persons are on the increase such as South Africa and many African nations. A challenge is presented here in rethinking work-life programs for affected employees. Studies have shown that women bare more of the caregiving roles in families and perhaps organizations may need to consider those affected with the disease and those who have significant others who need assistance during crisis times and closer to their passing. Recommendations include extending work flexibility arrangements for those with HIV/AIDS and in instances during their treatments to allow some telework or closer to their deaths provide shorter work week or compressed work schedules to such employees (Gambles et al. 2006).
A final area for discussion about challenges is the impact that recessions have on public organizations such as cost containment initiatives. Within this context, a growing trend to note is the declining support from organizational leaders and their cultures toward work-life programs and benefits. This may be explained due to the lack of skills to supply solid business proposals for using them. There is an absence of strong corporate cultures to support work-life principles and practices (Giancola 2013).
In spite of this, many organizations are still supportive of work-life programs, perhaps since because of their low cost and positive impacts to HRM processes and functions, such as compensation where work-life benefits may provide added value to benefit packages for employees. Work-life professional have also helped to keep the phenomenon visible and significant.
On a micro level, recessionary times have created some mixed reactions from employees, which have dampened their support and skewed their perceptions of work-life programs. These programs have become low priority for employees. According to Giancola, employees perceive that having a job and reasonable compensations are more relevant. Thus, work-life programs will play a pivotal role in their lives; but given recessions and cut back management policies, employees have put them on hold (2013). If these perceptions are accurate then work-life programs may revive to earlier prominence when economic conditions improve and labor shortage arises. In the meantime, organizations have been able to create some compromise in their modest attempts to provide some balance in combining paid work with employees’ personal lives.
Strategies for Successful Implementation
At the beginning of the chapter, it was proposed that work-life programs seek to blend paid work with other segments of employees’ lives and as a result, can offer significant benefits to numerous stakeholders at the macro and micro levels. These include employees, public (and the third sector-NGOs) and private organizations, societies, countries, governments, communities and families. This phenomenon is so complex that it should be addressed at many levels of analysis. Having multiple lenses will also facilitate all-encompassing approaches, with multiplicity of perspectives.
Macro analyses will allow for the problem to be conceptualized at the organizational, governance, system, global and structural levels. It was already noted the need for stronger roles by governments, top and line managers’ roles, and organizational support. Organizational cultures also need to be re-aligned to support and promote work-life programs. Inconsistencies in cultural practices need to be addressed and confronted through open communications in order to ensure that there is total support for these programs from top management, line supervisors, managers and employees. For instance, work-life cultural practices may be effectively communicated through HRM policies and how they are implemented. These include but not limited to training and development initiatives, effective HR planning using needs assessments, costs/benefits analyses and other forecasting methods; recruitment and selection strategies that appeal for diverse employees; compensation and benefits policies and practices that incorporate cafeteria style work-life benefits plans for employees; job classification systems and work designs for job analyses should be restructured to facilitate flexibility in work arrangements and practices.
Positive attitudes and behaviors need to be demonstrated from organizational leadership at all levels such as directors, HRM professionals, and supervisors in support of work-life programs. Similarly, negative attitudes and behaviors need to be corrected. Organizational communications and discussions in meetings, policies, practices and other forms should reflect a supportive work-life culture (Chalofsky 2008). Hence, changes at the macro level can be institutionalized, formalized and sustained to usher in transformations to allow for the enhancement of societies’ wellbeing and employees’ quality of work-life experiences.
Micro analyses will hone on issues that impact employees at the personal, individual, and group levels and their ultimate impacts on their organizations especially in their ability to achieve their end results such as performance, productivity, motivation, service, and the like. Employees as colleagues should reflect and communicate supportive perceptions and conversations about individuals accessing and using these programs. For example, this can be expressed through group and individual levels family supportive perceptions and strong work-life balance values. Awards can be given from different levels for employees who reflect affective job self-efficacy and proper usage of work-life programs which lead to their effective performance on the job and positive impacts on organizations’ strategic priorities. In the same vein, managers and supervisors who are able to marshal organizational resources to support work-life balance programs and develop initiatives that contribute to employees’ harmonization of work-life programs given their needs should be rewarded in symbolic and tangible ways (Mills et al. 2014).
Mapping Future Projections and Lessons
In mapping future projections and reflecting on lessons, competing realities that may persist in this twenty-first century workforce are paradoxical cultures within work place practices and policies. This competing reality shows a bitter-sweet existence for employees who continue to grapple with these competing challenges. On the one hand, there is an increasing awareness and desire to redefine work and how people can maintain balance to their family lives and personal lives. Yet, at the same time, there are mounting pressures within the work place driven by external forces such as globalization, technology, competitiveness, and other influences to push employees into more intensive work demands, having less time for family and personal life activities and commitments. Moreover, many of the responses for change in developed countries such as the USA are more at the micro levels, where individual responses have been noted by organizations, NGOS, and researchers, and options are also being articulated as micro issues. Conversely, these issues should be macro concerns, societal problems, and organizational cultural challenges.
As the twenty-first century forges ahead here are some likely projections that may be forecasted for employees’ work profiles as follows. The landscapes of work where individuals are employed are filled with over worked persons. Their work cultures are filled with contradictions of intensely timeworn and stressed employees as well as those who are managing to create high quality of life experiences and greater work-life balances. There are inequities between employees who are highly skilled and work full time and may enjoy work-life programs and those who have low skills who may work full and or part time and may not enjoy the full benefits of work-life programs. There are inequities between rich countries who can afford to support work-life balance policies and programs versus poor countries where employees are being pushed beyond the hilt of their capacities to cope with work pressures and diminishing family and personal life activities. Those who are struggling are the ones who possess fewer resources – personal, family and organizational. They are struggling to cope with competing realities of increasing blurriness between work-life programs and policies and boundary management strategies in their desires for work-life balance and high quality of life experiences.
Another cultural paradox is that while there is this increasing awareness and acceptance at many levels for greater work-life programs, policies, and practices, the realities in the world of work are demands such as this subtle ideal that “jobs take priority” in light of recessions and cut back management initiatives, and access to work-life programs should be used for “productivity gains” or “practical purposes” versus for individuals’ needs and supports or “altruistic reasons” (Giancola 2013). Those who are perceived as using these benefits for their needs are perceived as “not very committed” and as such may not be inclined to access them for fear of job security, downsizing, and less advancement in their careers. Hence, they are still being stigmatized and systematically marginalized even when such programs exist and can be accessed. This illustrates that societies and organizations are in crises as these problems need to be comprehensively addressed and confronted.
Therefore, twenty-first century employees are not ideal by any means. Some are confused of the expectations of their roles as employees and the extent to which they should exercise good boundary management between work and their personal lives. Others are pressured and afraid to access the work-life benefits that are afforded to them in their organizations. Yet, there are those who are enjoying what these programs can offer to employees in combining two demanding and important parts of their lives.
There is also perennial debate to conceptually reframe the jargon used to describe this phenomenon as issues broaden and emerge in the twenty-first century. Some scholars in Europe have described it as earlier as “reconciling employment with family life” but the latter connotes persons with families. This revisits old issues of excluding persons who have no children, spouses, or serve as care givers. Perhaps, some possible suggestions in mapping the future to enhance clarity and inclusiveness of terminologies coined are to consider capturing the real issues behind these programs for the workforce. For instance, possible terms may read as employees’ harmonizing programs, employees’ synchronizing programs, employees’ holistic programs, or programs for harmonizing employees’ wellbeing. Another option is to expand the old term of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) as it is known today, to a broader classification to conceptually frame such programs. By so doing, it will replace work-life balance as a term and cause EAP to be redefined to include more inclusive programs, strategies, and initiatives to reflect these issues and themes within contemporary workplace settings. These themes or terms suggested put emphasis on the strategies to harmonize, synchronize, or to make employees holistic individuals. There is no need to mention work and life since it is implied as they are employees, and the focus is making them sound and more humane as all these programs should strive for inclusiveness and to restore their total wellbeing as employees who are first human beings.
Therefore, this topic requires a reality check for all stakeholders at the macro and micro levels. Big questions need to be brought to the global, national, and local settings for debate, consultations, bench marking best practices, and for policy making. There are still areas societies need to reflect and introspect in forging ahead with proactive rather than reactive responses.
Work-life programs are not quick fixes. They present complexities of our workforce that require a multiplicity of perspectives, innovative strategies at multiple levels, perennial stakeholders’ discussions, global and national forums, and reforms and societal initiatives that shape positive work-life practices, programs, and quality of life experiences for all. These changes observed should reflect and keep abreast with the work-life programs created, adopted, and implemented. The reality check lessons for this contemporary era are strive for harmonization and integration of employees as holistic persons who work and have personal lives that matter.
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