Sunday, September 12, 2010

Keeping staff is in the balance

I didn't write this article, but i thought you might be interested as i was quoted in it.

With many firms clamping down on costs as they navigate the gradual recovery from the recession, some bosses may decide to put ideas of helping staff maintain a good work-life balance on the back burner. But, says one researcher, this would be a bad move.
Dr Linda Twiname, a senior lecturer at Waikato Management School, University of Waikato, says work-life balance initiatives are even more important during hard economic times.
"Wise employers will treat their staff well," she says. "That is probably a part of who they are anyway, and we know that not all work-life balance initiatives cost money.
"Business owners need to make the most of every business opportunity when business is tight. And so having high commitment from staff will shine through at this time.
"The other side of the coin is that a lot of firms don't do work-life initiatives for the soft reason, they do it for the financial reason - and I totally understand that. When you are running a business you have got to pay the bills."
Twiname's belief is that during tough times employers need to keep their best staff onside, to retain them and prevent them from leaving to work for a competitor.
Brien Keegan, regional manager of recruitment firm Randstad, agrees, saying firms helping staff achieve a good balance will pay dividends for them in the war for talent. A war that is still active in many sectors of the recruitment game despite the recession.
"We live in times of a rapidly ageing workforce and as the baby boomer generation starts to retire that means offering them a good work-life balance so they are encouraged to continue with their career," says Keegan.
"By allowing older staff an almost semi-retirement situation, that will help firms retain institutional knowledge and capability for the organisation."
Keegan says the number one thing employees are looking for are flexible working options.
"So a firm that lets staff nip off to collect their children from school at 3pm will have a competitive advantage over firms that don't," he says.
Janice Davies, personal counsellor and organiser of the annual self-esteem event Self Day, says the whole work-life balance issue is a hot topic right now.
"It's been slotted down the list by some employers," she says. "But the fact is a good work-life balance is needed now more than ever as people are losing their self-esteem and becoming depressed.
"Those still in jobs, and who have seen colleagues made redundant, have the added stress of coping with more work to pick up the slack and perhaps have less of a budget to work with - they have to do more with less.
"Some people have not been affected, though, are carrying on okay, and moving into holistic life-work strategies."
Keegan says: "What we saw during the global financial crisis was that as people left firms, for whatever reason, those left behind would have to do more. Particularly in industries that are sales-dominated.
"And with current technology such as iPhone, Blackberries, advanced mobile phones and laptops, the line has blurred between life and work. It means employees need to work for a firm they are engaged with.
"I know of stories where people have been sitting at home at 9 or 10 o'clock at night still interacting with work via their Blackberries. Then their partner has said, 'It's time to turn it off - you're not at work now.'
"The great thing about technology is that it makes it easier to communicate and work wherever you may be, but it also binds us into our work life even more."
Keegan says the upside is that while people get more freedom to work where and when they want, in some circumstances it pushes the decision of work-life balance on to the employee.
"I think us Kiwis have got the balance about right when we compare ourselves to our cousins in Australia," he says. "It is normal for us to go to work, work hard and then leave on time and go home to continue the rest of our life."
However, he says people in professional services - such as lawyers, accountants and those leading project-driven roles - typically have more difficulty striking the right balance all the time.
"Because these are your work hard, play hard people," says Keegan. "The thing about work-life balance is that it is an absolutely individual preference or state of mind.
"Work-life balance means something different to pretty much everybody that you speak to. It could be drinks on a Friday or being able to get home to see the children before they go to bed.
"Job hunters should ask themselves if that new organisation will allow them to achieve the balance they seek in their lives."
Like Keegan, Davies says people should be employed in a job they like, then the balance will come naturally.
"These people are already happy and more positive about coping with the stress of work-life balance," she says.
"If they are not in a job they like, then balancing their life and work will not make them any happier. They are already thinking and feeling negative and are more susceptible to stress - coping will be more challenging because of their negative state of mind."
However, Twiname wonders if the term work-life balance should be replaced with the phrase life-life balance.
"Work is part of our life, we spend the bulk of our time at work," she says.
It is a view employment commentator James Adonis shares.
"I don't believe there is such a thing as work-life balance," he says. "The term is an oxymoron. It implies that work and life are opposites; that they're territorial enemies terrorising each other for space in an employee's life.
"That's an unhealthy attitude to embrace. Work and life don't need to compete with each other. They can co-exist.
"As a society we really need to stop looking at work as such a big bad beast."
Keegan says once the economy picks up and staff have more choice then firms that have turned their back on staff will see a mass exodus.
"As soon as there are more jobs around it will have a snowball effect."
By Steve Hart

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