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Your daily Spanish Law reporter. Have it with a cafe con leche.

A practical guide to having a job and a life
22 September 2008 @ 23:07

FromIESE website
A Practical Guide to Having a Job and a Life
Steven Poelmans, Paula Caligiuri
Cambridge University Press
Original document:
Harmonizing Work, Family and Personal Life
Year: 2008
Language: English

It's been a hard day. You started at 8 a.m., worked through lunch and hurdled one problem after another. Now it's 5 p.m. and you're rushing out to pick up your kids. "Working just a half day?" a colleague sneers at you. The question stings and adds to that gnawing fear that you are choosing between your family and the fast track.

Scenarios such as this are not uncommon in a corporate world still coming to grips with the growing push for a better balance between professional and personal lives.

Indeed, when computer giant IBM underwent a widespread process designed to improve this balance for its staff, it had to first change the mindset of its managers and employees. They needed convincing to accept a flexible work environment and the company's various supporting tools.

The IBM case study features in a new book on how to create a better balanced working environment. "Harmonizing Work, Family and Personal Life" examines the challenges of introducing work-life policies and practices.

Drawing on a broad range of international case studies where such policies have succeeded and failed, the book serves as a practical guide for policy design and implementation.

Both authors are well-placed to offer counsel: Steven Poelmans, professor of managing people in organizations at IESE Business School, is co-founder and academic director of the International Center of Work and Family. Paula Caligiuri, professor of human resource management in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, is also the director of the Center for Human Resource Strategy.

The book is enriched by a wide range of additional contributors from both industry and academia, representing three continents. It is organized into three parts: describing different work-life policies, policy development and pitfalls; policy design, implementation and deployment; and cultural change.

The Need to Woo Middle Managers
"The purpose of the book is to provide ideas and guidelines on how to create a working environment that encourages the harmonization of work, family and personal life, while respecting the bottom line," writes Poelmans in the introduction.

"Although many books on individual work-family conflict and dual-income families have been published, few of them pretend to offer a practical guide to managers who want to develop work-life policies and practices in the firm.

"We recognize the fundamental importance of the support and accountability of middle managers, an often strongly underestimated source of failure in implementing these policies."

The book goes on to say that the mere implementation of work-life programs does not necessarily guarantee a family-friendly working environment.

"Only if employees perceive their organizations as 'family-supportive' will work-family policies actually reduce work-family conflict.

"The attitude of the direct supervisor thereby plays an important role, because he/she decides if and how formal procedures are implemented on a daily basis. Small day-to-day decisions and subtle reactions to employees prioritizing work over family or vice versa shape the organizational culture."

British Petroleum (BP) is cited as an example of a creative approach on the issue. Its managers and employees are urged to sign contracts that outline work-life boundaries and ensure that both agree to respect each other's time.

In another company, an MBA graduate who regularly burned the midnight oil was held back from promotion until he set a better example by working fewer hours.

And the scenario painted at the start, of someone being made to feel guilty despite putting in a full day, was from Marriott International Vice President Bill Munck. The hotel chain introduced a program to counter such attitudes and told managers that when not needed, they "were expected to go home and have a life."

Fear of Career Suicide
In looking at the issue of backlash, the book cites research showing that both male and female accounting professionals who used flexible work arrangements were judged as less likely to advance to partner, more likely to leave the company, and less likely to be requested on a future assignment than were those not using them.

"Employees fear that taking advantage of work-life initiatives will damage their careers. Such fears are justified and must be addressed with clear communication, support and coaching," the book urges.

"All managers and all employees need to understand the purpose of work-life policies and how work-life benefits the business."

Bottom Line Benefits
Why should businesses suffer the cost and complexity of improving employees' work-life balance?

The book emphasizes that firms increasingly compete on the effectiveness and competence of their core human talent. It says "unhealthy" companies that tolerate high turnover among eager young employees will have to pay increasingly high salaries to at least keep that talent long enough not to erode their customer base.

Consumer goods producer Procter & Gamble has freely shared details of its flexible work arrangements. "The company does not fear giving away its competitive advantage. It knows it takes at least a decade to develop," the book notes.

"Companies that start today to apply and develop their cultural intelligence, to figure out ways to cater to this wide diversity in needs, will be able to attract and retain the most valuable employees tomorrow."

"Firms leading the way in becoming flexible, family responsive and culturally intelligent have greater chances to thrive and survive, socially and economically."

As the book poses, "Given a choice, wouldn't you prefer to work for such a firm?"


By Maria L. de Castro

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