Cultural Change Is the Work/life Solution

Article excerpt

Even the most progressive approach to work/life balance will fail without strong commitment from management and a

culture that supports it.

Work/life strategies have not only hit the corporate mainstream-they've become drivers toward competitive advantage.

The ever-changing values of tomorrow's workforce have created unprecedented demands for flexible, diverse benefits and policies. To be leaders and employers of choice, organizations are increasingly focusing on managing human capital.

A study conducted in April 1997 by Hewitt Associates in Lincolnshire, Illinois, indicates that over the past five years, there have been increases in every category of work/life initiatives. Of the 1,050 employers polled in 1996, 68 percent offered flexible scheduling, 86 percent offered child care, 30 percent provided elder care, 23 percent had adoption benefits and 85 percent made employment assistance programs available.

The 1996 "Mercer Work/Life & Diversity Initiatives Benchmarking Survey" conducted by New York City-based William M. Mercer revealed the same trends. Of 800 employers questioned, an astounding 94 percent instituted flexiblescheduling policies. Particularly, 79 percent had written policies allowing part-time employment and another 2 percent were considering them. Thirty-eight percent offered flex-time and another 11 percent were considering or developing programs; 34 percent had compressed work weeks, while another 8 percent were considering or developing policies; and 26 percent allowed job sharing, with another 10 percent considering or developing programs.

Given this trend, the critical question that emerges is this: Is the rise in work/life programs seen in theory and in practice? According to Business Week's 1996 research of balancing of work and family, the answer was "no." While 48 percent of the 8,000 employee respondents to Business Weeks "Balancing Work and Family" survey said they could "have a good family life and still get ahead" in their companies, 60 percent reported that management did not, or only somewhat did, take people into account when making decisions. Although many companies offer benefits, this disregard from management is felt because the underlying cultural issues still aren't well addressed.

Business Week's 1997 survey on the same topic indicated that things began to change-at least at the top. At companies that ranked highest overall, it was reported that family-friendliness is ingrained in both culture and business strategy.

However, beyond the top tier, employees indicated that work and family strategies aren't working well. Lacking true business grounding and often at odds with corporate culture, family-friendly programs are viewed by employees as add-ons and concessions primarily targeted at women with kids-even though that group accounted for less than a quarter of survey respondents.

To truly impact the work and personal lives of employees, organizations must stop viewing work/life benefits as an accommodation. Rather, they should look at the benefits as strategic business initiatives that drive culture change throughout the organization. A work/life strategy will be successful only when it's embedded in the culture of the company-it must be integrated into work practices and must be supported by a commitment from top management and training for managers.

Creating a work/life strategy is a journey.

Designing and implementing an effective work/life strategy can't happen overnight. The change must be approached as a journey that evolves over time, instead of a one-time occurrence. Adopting this vision will enable employers to learn how best to respond to the dilemmas raised by an increasingly diverse workforce. Before embarking on the journey, keep in mind a few key points about strategy development:

It must be achieved in stages

It involves long-range planning

It requires a change in attitudes and management style

It must relate to corporate goals

It must be fully integrated with the other aspects of the organization's human resources programs. …