Building a positive work-life culture

Although work-life balance policies are meant to acknowledge the realities faced by dual earner families, existing workplace norms often stigmatize the use of such policies. While employers have started to offer several policies that facilitate better work-life balance, there is scant evidence that they are helping organisations foster a healthier work-life culture. There is also low utilization of such policies despite the widespread demand for such flexibility. The pressure to work long hours along with the career penalties associated with the use of work-life policies are creating workplace cultures where employees have limited choices in terms of managing their work and non-work demands.

Transforming the culture of an organisation to one that encourages a better work-life balance is often very challenging. Although it is debatable whether organisations have a responsibility for work-life balance, evidence suggests that providing support for work-life issues has significant payoffs for the employment relationship. Frequently organisations may offer a range of work-life policies but if not properly implemented these policies may fail to facilitate better work-life reconciliation.

Often effective policy implementation requires a transformation of the workplace culture and underlying assumptions about how work should be organised and how employee performance should be evaluated. Cultures that emphasize long working hours as a symbol of commitment frequently hinder employees from making use of work-life policies. In several organisations, managers focus on rewarding “face-time” rather than actual performance. When managers have subordinates who face work-life conflicts, the best approach is to direct their efforts toward evaluating actual performance rather than presenteeism or “face-time”. Effective role-modeling by leaders who are aware of the importance of work-life balance may also help in building a culture that champions reconciliation of work and nonwork lives while reducing feelings of inadequacies among workers who utilize work-life practices. Likewise, employees should also be encouraged to raise nonwork issues with their managers and should be assured that their employer does not expect them to subordinate their personal or family roles while prioritizing their work roles. Such a culture may allay worker fears about the negative career consequences of addressing work-life issues and also result in a favorable image of their employer as one that cares about their well-being.

About the Author

Shainaz FirfirayShainaz Firfiray is an assistant professor in the Organisation and Human Resource Management Group at Warwick Business School. She received her PhD in management at IE Business School, Spain. Her research interests include work-life balance, social identity, and workplace diversity.

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