Before examining how work-life balance programs contribute to increased retention of employees, its better to examine some of the key reasons for employee turnover. It is widely acknowledged that conditions at the workplace affect job turnover. There are many reasons why employees quit because of conditions at the workplace such as long hours, conflict with colleagues and superiors, lack of appreciation shown by employers and unclear job descriptions.
For example, long hours at work and increased work intensity both contribute to adverse physical and psychological conditions and lead to negative family functioning. Workplace stress can be caused by long working hours, excessive workloads, weekend duties, inadequate physical activity and an unhealthy lifestyle. All these lead to a reduction in the quality of health. When employees are severely overworked and excessively strained, they experience symptoms of fatigue, depression, musculo-skeletal pains, sleeping disorders and an increase in chronic diseases. When the situation becomes too stressful, employees leave their jobs, even opting for those that pay far less but involve less stress.
If workplace stress is prolonged, it leads to burnout. The psychological dimensions of job burnout consisted of three components namely emotional exhaustion, de-personalization and diminished personal accomplishment. Burnout is potentially fatal as it increases the risk of coronary diseases, stroke and suicidal tendencies. Employees who lack time to spend with their family or maintain a social life are more likely to be emotionally exhausted, which impact negatively on their job satisfaction and eventually cause them to leave their organizations.
Also, employees quit their jobs because of dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction may stem from having inadequate job descriptions and unreasonable demands made by employers. Some may be insufficiently trained to perform their jobs or lack sufficient re-training when their job description changes. To compound the matter, there is no assistance for employees when they encounter technical problems when their jobs change and management is indifferent to their plight. All these contribute to stress and increased dissatisfaction with work. Obviously, remuneration is another factor that leads to job dissatisfaction. Employees become unhappy with their jobs when they feel they are inadequately compensated for their efforts based on comparisons of the remuneration of their peers within the organization or within the industry. In the absence of other benefits that work-life balance programs offer, there is little incentive for employees to remain within a company if they can earn more elsewhere.
Female employees are faced with additional problems that their male counterparts do not experience. Despite advances in promoting equal rights for women at the workplace and the gradual acceptance that the traditional roles of both men and women have and need to evolve to reflect the changing times, female employees still feel they have to shoulder the traditional burden of being the perfect housewife and mother, in addition to proving that they are as capable as men at the workplace. Therefore, women are more vulnerable than men to suffer from stress caused by the conflict of managing the roles of employee, wife and mother. Often, it is because the workplace is inattentive or even hostile to the problems faced by female employees that compel them to leave the workplace when they start a family or when the demands of their family changes.
These are some of the primary causes of employee turnover. High turnover is unacceptable, particularly amongst skilled or knowledge-based workers. Particularly in western countries which have declining birth rates and a tendency for job-hopping, the need to retain key staff is essential. Retaining existing internal resources such as good staff, is crucial to maintain an organization’s success. High employee turnover breaks the continuity of operations and this will adversely affect efficiency. For instance, when an employee leaves, there is bound to be a break in service until a qualified replacement is found and trained. High staff turnover can foster a culture low in morale and loyalty. From a financial viewpoint, there are two major costs associated with turnover which are replacement costs and preventative costs. Replacement costs are the costs of recruiting, selecting and training replacements; loss of output or efficiency during this process; possible wastage; spoilage and efficiency due to inexperienced staff. On the other hand, preventative costs are the costs of retaining staff through pay, benefits and work-life balance programs. Hence, there is greater pressure for employers to strike a balance between eliminating unproductive employees and formulating new and innovative ways to attract and retain talent.
There is some reasons to support the postulation that work-life programs can increase retention, provided that the main cause of workplace stress is juggling work-life balance. One, work-life balance programs like wellness and physical fitness programs help reduce the symptoms of stress and promote greater physical health. On the other hand, counseling and support groups help employees to manage their stress. While it is impossible and perhaps not desirable to eliminate all forms of stress at the workplace, such programs can contribute a great deal in managing negative stress. When employees are better able to cope with the demands of the workplace, they are less likely to suffer from burnout and less likely to leave.
Secondly, work-life balance programs like flex-time are much welcome by working mothers and employees who may want to further their studies and work at the same time. Additional flexibility in terms of working hours will ensure that employees are not compelled to leave because they cannot work the traditional office hours. This will lead to greater retention.
Thirdly, in a bid to retain the best and brightest, companies have to resort to novel ways such as work-life balance programs. Assuming that remuneration is similar between two companies, additional perks will go a long way to making a company the desired place to work. Even if a company offers slightly less salary than its competitors, some employees will be enticed to remain there because of the programs and fringe benefits others do not offer.
Finally, companies need to show that they value their employees who often have to sacrifice so much for work. While the traditional viewpoint is to provide financial incentives, very often it is the non-financial gestures that make employees feel valued. For example, having office parties or company vacations may be more personal and sincere gestures to show appreciation when the company performs exceptionally well rather than just provide generous bonuses. In that sense, work-life balance programs can be viewed as the minor intangibles that collectively show whether the employee is valued or not.
On the other hand, having work-life balance programs does not alleviate an employee’s woes if they are caused by other stress factors. For instance, if unhappiness at work is because of lack of sufficient training, then overcoming it would be to provide the necessary training. Training quality is positively related to training satisfaction, job satisfaction and the intention to stay in the company. Thus, this type of training is important as a means of retaining employees.
In conclusion, introducing flexible working hours and arrangements, providing better training, breaks from work and better work support all enhance employee retention by resolving some of the work-life conflicts faced by employees. Nevertheless, these programs can only be regarded as good investments if they are proven to improve retention of quality staff in the long term and contribute to the overall profitability of the firm.