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Fiona Hitchiner, Diversity and Work-Life Specialist at SeventeenHundred

Getting it right: A healthy work-life balance starts with culture

If you’re a business owner who was driven to the start-up scene by the prospect of independence and a better work-life balance, then the question you have to ask yourself is this: would you wish for your own employees – the life-blood of your business – to view entrepreneurialism as the ultimate ‘escape hatch’ from the doldrums of [your] employment? With the leash of technology making some employees available 24/7, while others fear the thought of being seen leaving the office at 5pm, organisations are very much responsible for the work-life balance of their employees – and it goes right to the heart of the culture.

Fiona Hitchiner, Diversity and Work-Life Specialist at SeventeenHundred, told Dynamic Business “no matter what initiatives you put in place, if the underlying culture does not support work-life integration, for example, the leadership team continue to work very long hours themselves, have expectations that their teams are always on call, increase workloads without additional resources and do not demonstrate flexible work, then employees will continue to believe that in order to succeed they need to be like their leaders and forgo the ‘life’ part.

“Leading by example and clearly communicating the benefits of work-life integration are critical.”

According to Fiona, as staff retention becomes increasingly recognised as a critical factor in the overall health of a business, more organisations are beginning to understand how important it is to get the work-life balance right.

“Making people work longer and in more stressful jobs does not encourage and produce better work results,” said Fiona.

An increasing awareness for the importance of a healthy work-life balance is undoubtedly positive news, however awareness alone doesn’t necessarily translate into positive results when an organisation attempts to revamp its culture. Fiona says a failure to lead by example, a lack of clarity on the company vision and meaning of work-life balance are some of the most common mistakes made by organisations when attempting to manage their culture.

“Too many organisations and managers do not truly understand what work-life integration or balance means, and then fail to enable each individual to achieve it. It can mean very different things to different people. It could mean leaving early once a week or it could mean having more time at lunch to go the gym,” said Fiona.

SeventeenHundred, has shared five strategies that its own clients have found to be most successful when seeking to create a better work-life culture for employees:

A focus on flexibility: Organisations that provided flexible work were most successful in helping employees juggle between their work and life commitments.

A review of the culture within the business: Businesses that took the time to review how people worked, whether they spent long hours in the office just to be seen, whether they were encouraged to be flexible with their work when they needed to, and how employees were being managed by senior executives, were the ones that had a firmer understanding on the kind of working culture within the organisation.

Ensuring teams are properly resourced: Poorly resourced teams will exhibit a series of indicators – long hours, poor retention, absenteeism, negative commentary in engagement surveys and exit interview data. One of the best things that businesses can do to improve work/ life integration is ease the stress burdens placed on each individual person by resourcing their work properly.

Making managers more accountable with facilitating work-life integration: The businesses meeting their work-life balance goals best are those that are encouraging the managers to be keeping an eye on hours worked, and encouraging staff not to work long hours simply to create the perception of working long hours.

Increase awareness of employee entitlements; communication with employees around the flexible work entitlements, carer’s leave and other such support programs: Employers that are providing their staff with quality content and communication on strategies to facilitate a stronger work-life integration are the ones that find employees more invested in the programs.

So if you are that employee turned entrepreneur for the reasons above, remember that experience is the best teacher. As the successful strategies outlined above might suggest, by affording your employees the autonomy and flexibilities you sought from entrepreneurship, you might be going some way towards protecting your business from retention and productivity issues.

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Daniel Jacobs

Daniel Jacobs

Daniel Jacobs was editor of Dynamic Business.

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