UPfront: Work + life + community

One trend which is emerging from global research and practice in work/life strategies is that employers are now starting to approach the issue in more holistic manner.

That’s according to work/life author and consultant Juliet Bourke who last month addressed an EEO briefing in Auckland on findings from major work/life conference in Florida.

From focusing mainly on gender equity or the competing demands of work and family, she says companies are increasingly taking into account the impact of wider community and environmental concerns on their workforce.

These might range from local child or elder care services, to transport or health services, and air or water quality. The message is: “If you really want to do better at giving people balanced life then you have to look at how your company interacts with the community,” says Bourke.

She also stresses the importance of consulting with employees as to their needs rather than offering blanket solutions that may not appeal to everyone.

For instance, recent IBM global study involving more than 25,000 people found men and women report very similar levels of work-to-family conflict but prefer different solutions. Fathers are much less likely than mothers to go for options that involve pay loss (parental leave or part-time work) but really go for flexibility in terms of work hours or location.

Another study found differences in the way men and women respond to managerial intervention. For instance, in case study where an employee has to choose between attending family event or working overtime to complete work project, the intervention of generally supportive manager, who says the work is critical, influences men more than women.

Bourke also outlined some innovative programmes – including one that takes into account the reality of aging populations. The average age of the US workforce has shifted from 30 in the 1960s to 41 by 2005 and that raises range of different issues for workplaces.

While people have an academic awareness of this trend, it’s already quite startlingly evident in places like Florida, says Bourke. Which means companies are starting to look at how to become an employer of choice for that age group.

One programme some are adopting is the “Five Wishes At Work” living will which is being promoted as an “aging with dignity” (www.agingwithdignity.org) project. An easy-to-use legal document that helps employees and families plan for serious illness, it’s hit chord with those having to broach such subjects either with aging parents or for themselves.

Bourke’s takeaways for work/life strategies are:
1) Think outside the box: use an integrated and interdisciplinary framework;
2) One size does not fit all: refine strategies to improve access to work and family programmes;
3) Work at changing the workplace culture through innovative programmes and hard-hitting solutions.

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