Austin, Texas -- The work/life movement started in the 1970’s in an attempt to make the workplace more family-friendly. It encompasses all policies and programs that employers may offer to their employees that help them better balance the demands of work and the needs of their personal lives. Wellness programs help with dependent care issues, and workplace flexibility are some of the key options within family-friendly programs.
Businesses that offer work/life programs are becoming aware of the predicted population demographics for the near future. It is estimated that by 2010 64 percent of the workforce will be at retirement age. “While all of them may not choose to retire, there clearly will be less people available to work,” claims Angelina Laycock, Work/Life specialist. “There simply will be fewer new (younger) workers available to fill the needs of business and industry.” Also, the new generation of workers is determined to have some balance in their lives and is more willing to move on if their employer will not support their needs. It is evident in much of the recent research that being a family-friendly employer means that the workers are more loyal, more productive and tend to stay with the organization. Retention of employees is important because turnover is very costly. Being able to recruit and retain workers is a key business advantage of being family-friendly.
“There are two options that employers can offer that are critical,” continues Laycock, President of Roma Communications based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “One is helping with the dependent needs of workers and the other is offering flexibility. Employees with children and increasingly more often, those with elderly dependents need help in meeting the needs of those dependent on them.” Offering workplace flexibility by allowing such options as modifying work schedules, telecommuting, working less than full time and job sharing are truly needed by people in the current workforce.
Every company, regardless of size, can be family-friendly. There are many options that do not cost much if anything. Laycock explains, “For example, to allow an employee some work scheduling flexibility doesn’t cost anything. It just rearranges the time when work gets done.” One small manufacturer who put his shop on a four-day (compressed) workweek, found that it saved on electricity, helped shorten commuting time for employees, allowed workers more time for family and allowed for emergency customer needs by leaving Fridays open for these occasional occurrences. “It cost him nothing to implement, made work more efficient, increased worker satisfaction and increased profits by meeting customer needs,” continues Laycock. Providing healthy food choices in company vending machines doesn’t cost the employer anything either. In fact, anything an employer does to encourage health can save on medical insurance costs.
Most human resource professionals know change is needed. They are confronted every day with the issues that employees face. They also are responsible for the hiring of staff and realize it is getting more difficult to fill positions. But HR people generally don’t make policy. “I see them as the messengers who remain passionate about the issues, gather the available evidence and continually make the business case for why change is an imperative for success,” explains author of “Strategies for Reshaping the Workplace”