The major changes taking place in the job market across the globe are pushing organizations and governments all over the U.S. and the U.K. to rethink their approaches to dealing with the workforce. Big and small organizations alike are compelled to apply policies that seek to create a good balance between work, family and social life. It is imperative that employers realize that their employees are people with a life away from work.
The European Union for example, is encouraging the implementation of guidelines that benefit the organization while at the same allowing employees to meet deal with out of work responsibilities. Advances in technology are also forcing organizations to undergo radical transformations in the way they transact business.
The recent global economic meltdown destabilized both employers and employees throwing all into panic and uncertainty of what the future holds. With reduced income and production going down, organizations were left with no option but to carry out massive lay offs. This frightening phenomenon led to the emergence of other challenges that are now pose new threats to the social settings within the community.
Job insecurity for example, would raise alarm at home as families begin to worrying about how to make ends meet. This has seen an increased number of women taking full time employment to supplement husbands’ efforts to provide for families. Negatively, this has increased the rate of divorce and an upward surge of the number of children growing without parental guidance.
In addressing this dilemma, most governments are struggling to create healthy work environments that are appealing to employees. Similarly, organizations are working hard to redesign human resource operations with clear intentions of retaining high caliber staff.
Flexibility is increasingly becoming a preference for both employers and employees as both parties see work and private life as being inseparable. Most employers are now more concerned about their employees out of work problems are willingly to listen and make it easy for staff to create a balance. According to the EFILWC (2006), these issues are very critical to both the employees and the employers.
This paper discusses stress and how it affects work and social life. It also examines how organizations can get flexible enough to create interesting work environments as they seek to maintain employees for longer periods.
Many definitions exist to explain what stress is but generally, stress is defined as a response to some form of pressure or interruption. In the book by Cartwright & Cooper (1997), stress may lead to worry, nervousness or anxiety.
Stress may be the end result of working for very long hours and in poor conditions, having unhealthy work relationships, ambiguity in work roles, and stagnated career development or even non-work related cause. Some of the problems associated with stress are; loss of man hours as absenteeism becomes the order of the day, workers committing suicide, and alcoholism which may lead to even more serious troubles.
A number of organizations in the U.S. and the U.K. have had to be subjected to massive losses that are directly linked to stress. Valuable employees have died from stress related causes.
Due to the rising costs of dealing with the consequences of stress, organizations are resolving to fight the root causes of stress at work. There is need to invest enough time and resources to reduce the effects of stress. A great number of companies in the U.S. are now paying close attention to the well being of employees so as to avoid incurring so much in healthcare.
Being overworked can also act as a source of stress. Poor time management and lack of skills necessary to do the job are some reasons why employees get overworked. Too much time is therefore spent to accomplish the given tasks. This leads to crises that only worsen the situation by draining the employee’s energy.
Usually, those overworked are managers or professionals in various fields who have to answer to the needs of others time and again. Sadly, these employees will be working while at home or even when on vacation. If left unchecked, this could have a serious negative impact on family relations.
Any understanding employer knows not to interfere with an employee’s family life. They will instead encourage employees to enjoy every moment they have with the family. Galinsky & Backon (2004) conclude that the employees should be advised to see to it that any vacation serves the intended purpose.
Stress and work pressures do not only affect an employee’s performance at work. More often than not, the effect trickles over to the home as it is very difficult to separate work from home life. For most people, managing organizational and family demands can get quite tricky leading to important family relations getting really messed up.
Damaged family relations in turn, negatively impact on the employee’s performance at work and the result is a vicious cycle that unless dealt with, will not end. Work disturbing home and home affecting work.
Though, home is generally regarded to be a haven of peace where employees can get support and encouragement, a crisis at work easily finds its way into the home and creates instability as it is almost natural and employee to carry work related fears to the home life. When this happens, it weighs down on the spouse who may then not be able to provide the much needed support to produce a relaxing environment at home.
In a case where job loss is eminent for example, a non-working spouse may have to look for employment to enable her assist her worried husband. In the end women are faced with an even bigger task as they have to work while at the same time they are expected by their husbands to manage the home environment.
For better results, both the employer and the employee should be involved in the fight against stress. A number of strategies can be adopted by organizations to deal with stress and one such solution is to ensure that all employees have their jobs clearly defined to avoid any doubts and conflicts.
This makes it easy for everyone to know what is expected of them and in a way, help to build employee confidence. Social events organized by the organization can also play a big role in relaxing and re-energizing employees. On their part, employees can aid the war against stress through proper time management, building self confidence through whichever means are available, and engaging in healthy practices among others.
To remain relevant and competitive, it is mandatory that companies devise attractive working arrangements. With more and more employees now willing to place carriers in the back burner as they pursue the benefits of healthy family relations, employers have to do quite a lot to attract and keep the best employees.
A big number of employees would love to have a job that is challenging, can present opportunities for growth and more importantly, able to offer more time off.
A strategy being used by most organizations is to formulate mechanisms that give workers an opportunity to achieve a good work-life balance.
Simply put, companies are leaning more towards providing a flexible work environment for their workforce. Top on the list of flexibility is having an environment where employees can work but also have room to attend to non-work related matters without fear of punishment. A great number of employees are now using this as a measure when assessing the prospects of a new job.
Most employees, especially male are getting tired of missing out on private life and as a remedy, will sneak out of work during the day without the bosses knowing to participate in family. The reason this is happening is because most companies are still managed in a way that separates work and family life.
Oblivious of the fact that employees can actually be at work but completely disengaged, some organizations are still under the false impression that employees will consider work to be a priority over family, or other private engagements. Companies quite unrealistically expect workers to always be available to deal with work matters anytime when called upon.
Flexibility has gained popularity over time as an important component of success at the workplace and is seen as a means to give an answer to the changes the discussed above.
For success to be realized, flexibility must be seen to benefit both the employer and employees. Employees subjected to flexible working environments are more likely to propel the growth of the organization. Usually, they are satisfied with their jobs, exhibit better mental health and are more willing to stay with their employer much longer.
According to Peeters and colleagues (2005), numerous changes affecting families and the subsequent increment of women working full time, have made it difficult to draw a line between work and home life. This is further aggravated by technological advancements that have led to possibilities of performing work related tasks from anywhere.
A job is generally considered more attractive if it can assist the employees to meet family obligations. Workers making use of the available work-life balance options provided by employers are able to stay longer with the employer than those who do not. The strong relationship between flexibility and commitment is a major reason why flexibility should be a clear choice for both the employee and the employer. Flexible work practices also help to reduce stress, which is a major contributor to absenteeism at work.
Employees with high quality jobs and more supportive work environments have been found to be much more relaxed and less stressed. They return home in better moods and ready to give to the important people in their lives. Work can therefore help to enhance life off the job but this is if and only if work and family life are well balanced. The way people manage work and personal life is closely linked to how people assess and decide on priorities.
Most flexible organizations recognize the value of employees and consequently put the needs of employees ahead of any other. Employee with pressing family issues to deal with must be given time off and any action to the contrary is unacceptable for a flexible working culture. This springs from the fact that when employees are happy customers too will be happy making the organization profitable in the end.
Flexibility is strongly supported by the use of existing technologies such as mobile phones, computers and the Internet. Employees can be allowed to work wherever they are using laptops and incase communication with the office is needed, teleconferencing can be used. Working from home, they may be able to take care of parental duties, or even look after a sick relative.
To further reinforce the achievement of a flexible environment, part time schedules can also be agreed upon. Although there are times when flexible arrangements have failed to work, proper use of a flexible work environment will benefit both the employer and the employee.
To advance the use of flexibility, organizations have followed different approaches. Some have allowed employees to work from home one day a week arguing that it is possible for one to concentrate more when phones are not ringing. Others will guarantee workers time of after they have worked for a certain period of time.
Given that work-life balance is the need of the hour, organizations are now required to work out systems that enable workers to effectively deal with work-private life pressures. Currently, adopting a flexible working culture is seen as the only way out as organizations strive to retain dependable employees and remain competitive.
In the study done by Miller (2006), however, most managers are afraid that a flexible worker may not be trusted. This type of management would prefer to see employees seated and doing work from workstations provided for them at the workplace.
In as much as most employees favor a job that allows them to strike a good balance between work and private life, all these will not bear much fruit without good management policies that guarantee a strong foundation for success. It is therefore important that an organization develops helpful work-life balance programs.
Besides, the organization’s culture must be one that strongly supports these initiatives and uses them to the advantage of the organization as well as the employees. If this is not recognized as a way of working in the organization, even the best designed work-life programs are bound to fail.
There is also a need to put in place laws that compel both employers and employees to abide by the use of such available flexible programs. There are instances where some employees have not taken advantage of the flexible options offered by their employers simply because the organizational culture does not allow for this to happen. Others, however, have failed to use work-life balance plans out of fear that their jobs could be affected in one way or another.
In the U.S. for example, the Family Leave and Medical Act allows fathers to take twelve weeks of paternity leave. Sadly, only a small percentage of eligible men request for this. Similar arrangements in the U.K. have not resulted into any tangible benefits.
While most employers offer the work-life balance programs as a way of recruiting and retaining staff, some offer the initiatives to improve production and employee commitment levels. More importantly, some employers use these programs to support employees and their families.
It is worthwhile noting that even if a company does not support work-life balance, it is possible for workers to go around the system and to attend to pressing family demands. This rat race can be avoided if companies can appreciate the fact that work and private life are indivisible and greatly complement each other for the success of the employees.
People who consider work and personal life to be equally important have been found to be more fulfilled, successful and less stressed. By setting tight boundaries between work and family life, they are able to concentrate on what matters most at any given time. One strategy employed to achieve this is to leave work at work.
It does not help to transform home into an office. It is important to make sure that when one is at home, he is really at home an emotionally engaged. Another helpful tactic is to take time for rest and recovery. Also, one can ensure that their priorities are clear set.
What is important should be treated as such and must not in any way, be undervalued. It is about being intentional as far as how one wants to live is concerned. Employees operating on extremes emphasizing work more than personal life or vice versa often feel dissatisfied with work and life.
Cartwright, S. & Cooper, C.L., 1997. Managing Workplace Stress. California: Sage Publications. Available from: Google Books < http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=Sz8dNR9NmkkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Causes+of+Work+Stress+(Cary+Cooper+)&source=bl&ots=PYvF24mYcH&sig=I2qwcBUVs88vdIDuepkh0wrFg2M&hl=en&ei=vOkBTefmAsjtOej_3aYB&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false> [Accessed 10 December 2010].
European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (EFILWC)., 2006. Reconciliation of work and family life and collective bargaining in the European Union. Loughlinstown: eurofound.europa.eu. Available from: http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/other_reports/work_family_life.pdf [Accessed 10 December 2010].
Galinsky, E. & Backon, L., 2007. When Work Works. New York: Family and Work Institute. Available from: www.familiesandwork.org/site/research/reports/3wbooklet.pdf [Accessed 10 December 2010].
Miller, H., 2006. When Work and Life Balance, Everyone Wins. Michigan: Herman Miller Inc. Available from: http://www.hermanmiller.com/MarketFacingTech/hmc/research_summaries/pdfs/wp_Work_Life_Balance.pdf [Accessed 10 December 2010].
Peeters, M.C.W., Montgomery, A.J., Bakker, A.B. & Schaufeli, W.B., 2005. Balancing Work and Home: How Job and Home Demands Are Related to Burnout. International Journal of Stress Management, 12 (1), pp. 43–61. Available from: http://www.familiesandwork.org/site/research/reports/3wbooklet.pdf [Accessed 10 December 2010].