Companies can't ignore work-life balance issues

Amanda Yik says companies will lose out if they ignore work-life balance

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 3:18am

The move to consider legislating standard working hours in Hong Kong has once again sparked discussions about how to keep our economy healthy and competitive.

Research from around the world shows that work-life balance is critical to long-term business success. In one survey conducted by Community Business last year, some 72 per cent of employees cited work-life balance as a critical factor affecting productivity, level of engagement, and the attraction and retention of talent.

However, in the same survey, more than 30 per cent of employees said work-life balance was not talked about in their company. Another 18 per cent felt they could not raise concerns about work-life balance if they wanted to get ahead in their company. This was despite the fact that the discussion around standard working hours had been taking place during the survey period.

So why isn't work-life balance of more concern? There are three key reasons.

First, we do not really understand what it is. There is no hard and fast definition of what work-life balance means for each person. Yet it is not rocket science either.

When we ask people what could help them get a better balance, we get answers like "being able to have dinner with family more often on weekdays" or "no need to check Blackberry when I go on holiday" or "leave office at 5pm every Tuesday and Thursday so I can attend classes". Ultimately, people want to have some flexibility and control over when, where and how they work so that they can work effectively and attend to personal needs as well.

Second, we become defensive when the issue of work-life balance is raised. Often, bosses and managers become wary because they believe that the term means less work or lower productivity.

High-fliers who are capable and ambitious claim they don't worry about work-life balance because they can handle everything just fine. Some people think that work-life balance is idealistic and "to have it all" is simply impossible.

All this ignores the fact that we are constantly making choices between work and personal life. A LinkedIn survey released last month shows that nearly two-thirds of women globally see success as finding the right work-life balance. To dismiss work-life balance as elusive is to deny a fundamental human need.

Third, we think we can get away with not addressing the issue. Achieving a balance is always a work in progress. There are no "one-size-fits-all" or "once-and-for-all" solutions. Because there are no apparent quick fixes, it easily gets dismissed as a low-priority item in the corporate agenda. With an uncertain economic outlook, lay-offs and headcount freezes, companies may have become complacent about their ability to attract talent.

What companies need to remember is this: whether you like it or not, employees are the most powerful and trusted spokespeople of a company. Employees rank higher in public trust than a firm's public relations department, chief executive or founder, according to Edelman's 2013 "trust barometer".

Companies that want to build a productive, engaged and satisfied workforce need to take a serious look at how they support their employees to achieve what they want both in and outside of work.

The war for talent in Asia is not cooling down. Taking a proactive approach will help nip any work-life challenges in the bud and get companies ahead of the curve when economies across the world start to recover.

Amanda Yik is senior programme manager at Community Business