Workplace Flexibility and Work-Life Balance

In the modern highly volatile business environment, organizations go through a tough time keeping up with the market forces due to the severity of the competition they face. This makes the customer search for the best quality and value for their money. Therefore organizations formulate strategies and these strategies are then transformed into quantitative objectives and are broken down to each employee in the organization in order that they can carry out their part in it. This creates pressure in the minds of the managers and their employees. The managers persuade the employees and get the tasks done one way or the other. This increasingly demanding workplace complexity is what causes work-life balance issues. In other words, employees find it rather difficult to balance the work with their own personal lives.

Is Workplace Flexibility the ‘Solution’ to Work-Life Balance Problems?

In the context of human resource management, workplace flexibility refers to the ability of an organization to adapt according to its various human resource needs. In the contemporary business organization, there are four main sources of workplace flexibility. Functional flexibility refers to employees being multi skilled and able to undertake a range of tasks, thereby making the organization immune to the absence of any key person in the workforce because his duties can be delegated to someone else. Numerical flexibility is more a short term approach that enables management to increase or decrease the workforce strength depending on the requirement. Temporal flexibility requires changing patterns of hours that are worked and wage flexibility refers to using a non-standardized pay structure, such as performance related pay. These long and short term approaches to workplace flexibility are a result of the different viewpoints of HRM. An organization practicing soft HRM would make use of functional and wage flexibility where as an organization practicing hard HRM would use more numeric and temporal methods of flexibility.

Workplace Flexibility and Work-Life Balance

Indeed flexible working does help employers and employees to mitigate work-life balance problems. For example a working mother can decide to work flexible hours when her children are at school or day-care. Flexible working hours also make it convenient for employees to balance work and family activities together. For example, when they are in control of which hours they work, they can arrange transport with their spouses and even combine work and domestic activities together such as grocery shopping on the way home. Similarly students can seek part time employment during their vacation periods or even on their days off.

A firm practicing functional flexibility would result in having two or more employees who are able to do the same job. Therefore in an instant where one is not present, operations can still carry on smoothly. However this would create internal competition between employees competing for the same position. From the firms perspective this would be beneficial because employees would be more efficient and hardworking. The employees however would have increased job insecurity, would be stressed and would feel compelled to work harder, thus causing work-life balance issues.

Wages are a very sensitive topic for both the employers and the employees. Wage flexibility would result in measures such as Performance Related Pay (PRP) being implemented which means that employees will be closely monitored by the employers in terms of output, efficiency and being late for work. This would be done by means of performance appraisals. This again would cause the employees to feel insecure and as Herzberg suggested, lack of job security and increased supervision would lead to job dissatisfaction.

It has also been proven over the years that workers who are employed on a part time basis are less likely to receive a formal training. This is because the employers fear that the employee will leave soon after the training is concluded. This works as a disincentive for employees to work part time and other flexible methods of work. Therefore employees are compelled to work full-time and are faced with problems balancing work and their own lives.

On the downside, firms may have to make big changes in order to accommodate the flexible working time arrangements such as new time keeping systems. Also expenditure on security systems and overheads would also increase. Similarly part time working requires maintaining a huge data base and rota’s which are quite complicated. Functional flexibility may involve huge costs on training employees, and some employees may leave after the training period. Therefore depending on the risk appetite of the firm, it may seem an unproductive investment to make.

What can be Done Further to Improve Work-Life Balance?

Employers can implement various other flexible work schemes that would improve employee work-life balance. Flexi-place and Tele-working are two such measures that would benefit both the employer and the employee. From the employer’s perspective, they would save office space, and reduce overheads, and from the employees perspective it would save the time commuting to work and would also make childcare arrangements easier. However employers would be reluctant to implement such a system because there is a lack of control over the working time and it makes supervision impossible. Therefore a high degree of trust and autonomy must be present within the organization in order for flexi-place and tele-working to be implemented.

Another method that employers can enable work-life balance through flexibility is by providing childcare facilities at work. This is suitable especially for large corporate organizations where female employees are a big part of their workforce. Providing childcare facilities would result in female and male employees being able to be at work without worrying about their children. From the employers point of view this would be beneficial to them because the employees would be more focused at work since they know their children are in good hands. This however could be quite costly especially at the initial stages where a safe area has to be built and specialized staff needs to be recruited.

Many other flexible working options could be made available such as flexible start and finish times and term time only working which would help employees increase work-life balance. Similarly the management can take the initiative to plan and discuss workloads, hire temporary assistants and provide additional resources. All of these options would involve costs to the firm; however the firm should equally take into consideration the benefits of a well motivated worker.

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