The use of diversity programs has become the rising standard among professional businesses. Through the use of these programs, employers not only abide by legal requirements of local, state, and federal laws, but also help to increase their consumer base, workforce efficiency and effectiveness, and reduce employee turnover. One of the major components of successfully leveraging diversity is through the right work-life balance. This requires the ability of employers to provide measures for both male and female employees to conceive and raise a child without losing their jobs, aid in the future retirement plans of older employees and returning retirees, and provide programs to other employees who do not fit into these groups but also have family obligations.
The right work-life balance can determine the success of diversity programs and the business itself, and thus employers need to constantly assess the needs and wants of their employees in order to have a better functioning business. The term work-life balance is a term that almost explicitly explains itself but requires a little more information to understand its full extent.
The word balance itself does not simply imply equal amount of time spent working and equal amount of time spent performing other non-work related activities. The term “work-life balance is defined here as an individual’s ability to meet both their work and family commitments, as well as other non-work responsibilities and activities” (Louise P. Parkes and H. Langford Peter). A person’s work responsibilities should not impede that person from getting regular sleep or having at least some time to spend with their family. On the other hand, it does not mean that a person should spend too much time relaxing at home and failing to complete work assignments. The actual balance can fluctuate depending on what tasks are due or what family or life obligations have suddenly materialized (Charlotte Burton).
This kind of balance was made possible largely because of legislation banning decades and centuries old practices such as unspecified and long work hour weeks, child labor practices, and no leave of any kind. Employee rights and employee benefits have come a long way but only recently has there been any significant government intervention in this regard in the United States. The term work-life balance itself has only been readily publicized “during the past two decades as the number of women with children and the number of people caring for aging relatives have both increased in the workforce” (Jing Wang and Anil Verma). It is especially important for employers to enact such programs because of the increasingly competitive business world, not just for mothers and caretakers, but for all employees. Recent surveys suggest that more and more businesses are expecting longer hours from their employees in order to remain competitive and reduce the impact from economic uncertainty (Joanna Hughes and Nikos Bozionelos).
While some have “assumed that advances in technology and flexible work schedules lead to a reduction in hours worked” the reality of the current workforce is that “working time varies by gender, race, [and] occupation… In North America, particularly amongst highly educated individuals and professionals, there has been a rise in hours worked (and overtime) due to increased responsibilities and heavier workloads” (Shahnaz Aziz and Jamie Cunningham). In this regard, work-life balance programs can help employees deal with these responsibilities. The link between work-life balance and business performance is not direct, instead there is a more indirect benefit to an organizational performance associated with work-life balance “through those well-being factors found to be consistently and strongly associated with it” by reducing stress and burnout, and greater life satisfaction (Louise P. Parkes and H. Langford Peter).
In terms of diversity, work-life programs are important because a diverse workforce needs a diverse set of solutions for the different needs that they have. These groups require specific programs especially suited to these needs in order to balance their work and life obligations; Women need maternity leave during pregnancy, while on the other hand men might also need it to raise their kids. Older workers might need a different schedule and work environment in order to facilitate retirement or to facilitate going back to work after retirement. There are also those employees that do not necessarily fit into these groups but also require a good work-life balance to maintain a reasonable working environment, and to not feel left out of the benefits that other workers receive. In general however, female employees experienced more stress than men while older workers were also more likely to experience higher levels of stress than younger workers (Jorge Uriarte-Landa and Benoît-Paul Hébert). In this instance it is important to target these groups specifically in order to keep as stress-free of an organization as possible.
These programs are also “important for engaging and retaining employees” and for keeping the work environment safe and productive (Louise P. Parkes and H. Langford Peter). The act of retaining employees is especially difficult when dealing with older employees who have more reasons to retire and leave their job than perhaps anyone else. This, coupled with the increasing number of workers aged 55 and older, make it increasingly important to focus on this group of people. These are the workers from the Baby Boomer generation who are either deciding to simply continue working because they can or have found it harder to retire because of the Great Recession. Because this generation of workers consists of such a large number of people, they will essentially be in the workforce for at least another decade by the time the youngest of the group are too old to work. Since 2010, they have outnumbered teenagers in the workforce and are set to also outnumber workers in the 25-34 age group sometime in 2013 (David Schepp; Michael McDonough and Andy Cinko).
The current trend towards a more mature workforce will continue for some time, thus it is important for businesses to accommodate them. There are many benefits to doing this, especially because older workers have more experience in general than younger ones. They can also provide businesses with leadership qualities that can be crucial for the success of a company. Because older workers comprise a larger percentage of the workforce, it is essential that work-life programs are suited for them now more than ever before. For these older workers, work-life balance may decide whether or not to retire, or choose to abandon their current employer for another one.
Some of these workers may decide to stay longer if they can arrange some type of working arrangement whereby they are able to work fewer hours in order to avoid any work-family responsibilities. A recent study has found that 45% of older workers who were dissatisfied with their work- life balance reported spending too much time on the job” while 27% said that they did not have enough time for the family (Jorge Uriarte-Landa and Benoît-Paul Hébert). This group of workers is also more likely to have either grandkids to take care of or other older people whom they provide care for and thus require more programs in order to have a productive working career, especially if they are in the process of retiring (Jorge Uriarte-Landa and Benoît-Paul Hébert).
On the other hand, younger workers who may have more family obligations than their older counterparts experience a different dilemma when it comes to work. Unlike the 27% of older workers whose main dissatisfaction was not having enough time to spend with their families, almost half of the respondents (46%) in the 25-34 age category said that they did not have enough time to spend with their family (Jorge Uriarte-Landa and Benoît-Paul Hébert). This becomes especially troubling for employers considering the fact that replacing employees can be rather expensive. In a recent study done by Joanna Hughes and Nikos Bozionelos, one company from the United Kingdom was operating under a 30% turnover rate for the transportation division of the company where most of the workers were men and no work-life balance programs had been introduced.
In an interview done with these workers, one of the bus drivers said this of his work schedule: “I never get to see my little girl, she is asleep when I leave in the morning and she is in bed when I get home … it also causes arguments with my Mrs.” And another said this of his social life: “If you work a 11.30 am-10.30 pm shift, you have no social life at all … you are too tired to go out.” In fact, most workers who were asked about any issues they had, complained about issues regarding work-life balance more than any other aspect of the job or company policy (Joanna Hughes and Nikos Bozionelos). In companies where female employees are much more prevalent, work-life balance programs, especially maternity leave, should always be available to them. This is particularly imperative in the United States where maternity leave programs are significantly less than that of other industrialized nations.
The federal government did not grant nationwide maternity leave protection until 1993 with the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) however, the law did not apply to everyone, but when it did, it was in the form of unpaid leave (Lawrence M. Berger and Jane Waldfogel). The limited reach of the law only applied to 60% of employees because of the requirement that they must work for a company with more than 50 employees but even then only 45% could qualify for it because of the 1250 previous hours it required for every employee to have accumulated in the previous year (Lawrence M. Berger and Jane Waldfogel). This is a stark comparison to other OECD countries where all “working women are entitled to maternity leave… [and all] employees also have the statutory right to request part-time work when they have young children.”
Even the length of time is much shorter in the United States where the act allows for only 3 months maternity leave whereas the average maternity leave in the European Union is 10 months (Frieda Murphy and Liz Doherty). The difference between paid and unpaid leave, as well as the length of time allowed for such maternity leave can have dire consequences for employers who want to avoid employee turnover. One study conducted by Lawrence M. Berger and Jane Waldfogel suggests that “women were more likely to return to those employers who offered longer periods of maternity leave…[while] women with paid maternity leave benefits were more likely to take leave, but that they also returned to work more quickly.” There are advantages to having a diverse set of people that should make any employer see the benefits of work-life balance programs.
As stated previously, these programs can help reduce employee turnover if there are programs specific for a particular group of employees. Because these employees can help bring different ideas to the business, their overall work-life balance should be satisfactory in order to keep them productive and energetic. Employees are the backbone of every company in the world, and without their full cooperation and commitment to the team, employers are left to pay for their inefficiency and unproductiveness. These programs are in their early stages, at least in the United States, but it is in the organization’s best interest to enact such programs themselves without government intervention in order to better manage their employees. The current workforce, whether at a national level like in the United States or at the global level, is getting more and more diverse.
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