Next week, I’ll be flying to the Netherlands to present at the European Association of Work and Organisational Psychology (EAWOP) Conference 2011. I’ve attended and presented at the last four of these bi-annual conferences and based on my previous experience, I’m very much looking forward to the few days ahead in Maastricht.
My presentation is based on selected extracts from my doctoral dissertation and is entitled “Try to see it my way: Perspectives on Work-life Balance”. The main focus will be the outputs from my qualitative study in which I examined organisations’ approached to developing and deploying work-life balance policy.
In summary, the results from this project were depressing. It seems that organisations are still limiting themselves to offering flexible working arrangements within the constraints of the existing legislation. As such, the employee groups targeted by flexible working arrangements are parents (especially mothers) – leaving non-parents playing catch-up. It was also clear that the importance of work-life balance has dropped significantly due to the recession.
None of the organisations who participated in my research carry out any form of evaluation of the work-life balance policies they have in place and no return on investment (ROI) analyses are performed on the potential benefits. As a result, they don’t have the kind of data that makes for a compelling business case at senior levels. Without data, work-life balance is destined to remain a ‘soft’ topic in these organisations.
My interviewees also relied on an unofficial shorthand when referring to their employees, grouping them into ‘managerial’ and ‘operational’ categories and illustrating how the former have access to much more flexibility in terms of how and where they carry out their work. In contrast, the employees who participated in my quantitative research projects differed markedly in terms of their satisfaction with the work-life balance culture not in terms of managerial status but according to gender, relationship status, sexual orientation and parental status.
These results highlighted for me the differing perspectives senior stakeholders and their employees have on the work-life balance question. Simplistic categorisation of employees is not the way forward. Adopting a diversity-sensitive approach to the provision of flexible-working policies is a step in the right direction.
As work-life balance is such a relative concept – what works for me may not work for you – employers need to ensure they at least attempt to meet the diverse needs of their employees. Asking them what they need might be a step in the right direction.