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Quality of Work Life has become an extremely important issue in organizations today. This is because it has been recognized that work-life balance has a direct bearing on the productivity of employees. While organizations could afford to disregard work-life issues in the past with little consequences, they cannot afford to do that today since the business environment is characterized by many competing demands between work and home.
These demands have been increased further by demographic changes in the workplace, an ageing population, and the presence of sophisticated communications technologies. As a result, there is a significant increase in the conflict between work and non-work responsibilities for the employee today. When these conflicts are not resolved, the productivity of the employee reduces significantly.
To counter these changes and the conflict they bring about, organizations have had to come up with strategies that are aimed at facilitating the employee’s effort to perform optimally at they job while at the same time fulfilling their personal responsibilities.
This paper will set out to discuss quality of work life programs provided by organizations. A brief history of work life and how work life affects the corporation’s performance will be given. The paper will also discuss ways through which work-life balance can be improved for the benefit of the employee and the entire organization.
Work Life: A Brief History
While work-life balance issues have become increasingly important for executive and human resource professionals today, these issues have been in existent for decades. Work-life began to be given relevance by organizations as far back as the 1960s. However, the focus in these early years was on working mothers who were struggling to balance their work demands with those of raising children (Bird 2).
By the 1980s, major organizations had begun to make changes to their internal workplace policies so as to address the family needs of women. These changes included maternity leaves, flexible work hours, home-based work programs, and child-care services. By the end of the decade, men also began to voice concerns over their work-life issues. This resulted in work-life balance became viewed as an issue that affected both genders and not only women.
Bird declares that in the 1990s, there was unanimous recognition that work-life balance was a vital issue for all employees regardless of their gender, marital status or parenthood (2). The growing awareness of the importance of the issue led to many attempts being made to come up with work-life solutions.
Numerous studies were carried out and it was discovered that prospective workers were making job decisions based on work-life issues (Perry-Smith and Blum 1113). Bird notes that despite the adoption of family-friendly policies by organizations, employees and managers were not implementing them and many people continued to report feeling overworked and out of touch with their non-work lives (2).
A general consensus on work-life balance strategies at the beginning of the twenty-first century was that work-life programs had not achieved their intended effects. Stress and overwork were becoming even more prevalent among workers with negative impact on productivity being experienced as a result of this (Bird 3).
Today’s organizations are characterized by increased pressure to achieve profitability which translates to greater demands being made of the workforce. These pressures, if not properly dealt with, can have a detrimental effect on the life of the individual. It is therefore imperative that the steps be undertaken to ensure that work-life balance is maintained.
How Work Life Affects Organizational performance
Conflicts between work and non-work responsibilities result in many negative outcomes for both the employee and the organization. Work-life conflicts have been associated with an increase in stress and burnout which results in cognitive difficulties such as staying awake, decreased concentration, and reduced alertness (Anderson et al. 791).
Stress and burnout result in decreased performance from the employee which will translate to less productivity for the organization. It is a well established fact that high levels of stress also result in lower job satisfaction by the employee and he/she is therefore less likely to work towards achieving organizational goals.
Organizations aim to achieve a cohesive culture which helps to focus the organization’s workforce on the goals and objectives that are important. This focus results in higher performance in the areas that interest the organization (Matthew 690). The number of conflicts is also reduced in a cohesive environment since the employees share objectives.
Work-life conflicts may result in weak organizational cultures which are characterized by a lack of a common culture throughout the organization. Matthew asserts that such a culture results in employee’s exhibiting reduced levels of commitment to the organization (679).
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Provision of work-life practices has the potential to generate positive attitudes towards the organization by the employee. Social exchange theory explains why the presence of work-life practices results in favorable organization outcomes.
When the employees are treated favorably by their organization, they feel obligated to respond in a similar manner by adopting a positive attitude and engaging in behavior that benefits the source of this good treatment (Allen 429). This improved attitudinal and behavioral outcome will result with greater willingness of the employee to achieve set organizational goals.
By offering work-life balance practices, the organization is able to attract new members while at the same time reducing the levels of work-life conflict among its current workforce. This results in an enhanced organizational effectiveness.
Organizations which offer career paths which include family supportive policies and allow the employee to balance career and family are perceived as significantly more attractive that those that only offer traditional career paths (Carless and Wintle 400). This is because people are today keen to integrate their work lives with their family lives (Secret 410).
Work-life practices give an organization a competitive advantage in an environment where such practices are limited. Yeandle et al associate the presence of voluntary reduced hours to an increase in recruitment and retention by an organization (34). For example, the presence of onsite childcare centers is associated with lower turnover rates among employees.
A qualitative study by McDonald et al on employed women with dependent children found out that many of the participants would not continue working it they did not have access to flexible working hours and family-responsive policies (480).
How to Improve Work Life Balance
Bearing in mind that a quality work-life balance results in increased organizational effectiveness, it makes sense for an organization to seek ways to improve work-life balance among its employees. Work-life balance practices are presumed to assist the employee to balance their work and family demands which in turn brings about enhanced employee productivity and hence higher business performance.
There are a number of strategies which can be implemented to ensure that a work-family balance is achieved in his life. One approach is the boundary-spanning strategy which involves an individual taking action to reduce the forces that interfere with their plans at home or at work (Vydanoff 135).
This approach requires the worker to reduce the stressors in their life so as to enhance productivity as well as social capabilities. The employee is required to set guard limits (boundaries) to ensure that his schedule is protected against any interfering forces. Undoubtedly, this strategy can only work with the support of the organization since if the organization does not respect the employee’s boundaries; it is unlikely that the employee can effectively carry out this strategy.
Another strategy that can be adopted is fostering an open environment where the employees are allowed to discuss their non-work lives with their colleagues. A survey by Poelmans revealed that employees who discussed their family situations with their co-workers were more satisfied and exhibited superior performance compared to those who kept their home issues compartmentalized (67). Talking about home life is beneficial to work-life balance since the employee can be assisted to fulfill his work goals by the other employees if they understand his/her home responsibilities.
The work demands and the resources available in an organization affect the ability of an individual to maintain a healthy work-family balance. Crane explains what then the work demands are great and the resources available are limited, the employee is forced to put in extra effort so as to meet the set organizational goals (159). Such conditions directly influence the work-life balance by escalating conflicts through an over commitment to work at the expense of the family.
Research indicates that the use of flexible working hours is associated with lower levels of work-to-life conflicts (Hill et al. 54). The reason for this is that flexible working hours give the employee a sense of control. This perceived control serves as a mediating mechanism for family supportive policies (Rogier and Padgett 94) When the worker is satisfied with work schedule flexibility, there will be a positive job attitude which will bring about increased organizational commitment.
A major concern for employees with families is the welfare of their children. The organization can assist to reduce this concern by offering facilities such as childcare centers, referral services and other family-supportive practices that will reduce the inconvenience that the parents might face while at the same time reducing their financial burden (Lewis 19). A study by Grover and Crooker demonstrated that these supportive practices had the advantage of increasing the levels of commitment to the organization by the employee (280).
Work life can be improved by adopting an organizational culture that is accommodating and which does not victimize the employee for wanting to spend time with his/her family. Kodz et al. reveal that many workers are de-motivated by the perception that using work-life balance practices will impact negatively on their career prospects (34).
This perception is valid in organizations which have cultures that are unsupportive of work-life balance such as deeply entrenched long-hours culture and an unaccommodating attitude among managers and co-workers. Managers should know that time spent at the workplace is not necessarily an indicator of an employee’s contribution and commitment to the organization.
There is no universal approach to achieving a work-life balance and no one solution can work for every employee. Work-life balance programs should therefore be viewed as on-going process which requires the commitment of the individual and the organization. Workers have different preferences and as such, certain work-life balance strategies may reduce conflict for some while increasing it in others.
For example, arrangements to work from home through telework may benefit some workers while others may resent it since it may appear to blur the boundary between work and home. Bird denotes work-life balance as an “individual issue that affects the organization than it is an organizational issue that affects the individual” (3). The individual should therefore be involved when coming up with a work-life program for him/her.
Organizations should ensure that work-life practices are not only present but are also used. Research indicates that while organizational acknowledge the importance of work-life balance and the impact it has on productivity, most of them do not come up with measures to help employees cope with work-life conflicts (Halpern and Murphy 33). In other cases, employees remain unaware of their work-life entitlements. This situation results in work-life practices failing to achieve their intended aims in the organization.
This paper set out to discuss quality of work life programs in organizations and show how work life programs affect organizational performance. From the discussions contained herein, it is evident that the quality of work life is today more important than it was in the past.
It has been demonstrated that work-life conflicts have negative repercussions for employee performance which translates to decreased organizational productivity. Organizations should therefore ensure that they have effective work-life programs in place and that these programs are utilized. By doing this, the organization will nurture satisfied employees who will bring about increased productivity.
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