Work-life balance: Work is something you do, not somewhere you go

Evidence shows that promoting a healthy work-life balance in your workplace will help you to attract and retain skilled staff and boost productivity. Offering flexible work arrangements is one way to help you achieve this goal.

In a world where no one seems to have enough time, the ability to arrange it as you choose has become increasingly valuable. That’s the clear message from a new global survey: 43% of respondents would choose flexibility over a pay raise.

‘In addition to nearly half of all employees preferring flex work over a pay raise, nearly one-third said they would change employers if offered flexible work elsewhere’

While employees’ desire for increased flexibility is nothing new, the fact that so many employees appear to value it more highly than increased compensation is something that organisations need to take notice of.

Working flexibly doesn’t necessarily mean working part time. Many full-time employees want the benefit of working more flexibly. In this digital age, advances in technology have enabled employees to share files, communicate with colleagues and collaborate on projects, without the added burden of commuting. I have a lot of parents who walk out the door at 4pm to pick up children from childcare and then log back online later in the evening to catch up.


Building trust is key

Although many companies have a flexible working policy it is still sometimes difficult for staff to adopt and for managers to support. Globally GSK has 100,000 employees, so GSK NZ has put some common sense ‘verbal boundaries’ around our global flexible working policy that has helped us be consistent and build trust. Things like;

  • If you are working at home you must be available via e-mail, phone and Skype;
  • If you have a child off sick you can’t work at home, you must take carer’s leave. We believe that this is better for the child, the employee and the company;
  • It there is a public holiday on a Tuesday or Thursday you can’t work at home in between; you would be expected to take annual leave.

We haven’t put these ‘boundaries’ into the policy. It’s about building trust and using good judgement. From time to time you will always have someone who takes advantage of this trust. This needs to be managed like any other performance management challenge.


So what can leaders do to drive this change?

A leader’s most important role is to set the tone for the organisation’s culture by demonstrating their commitment to flexible working. Perhaps the most meaningful way to do that is by walking the talk…

I live rurally and have a 50km commute. I work from home most mornings to clear my e-mails and deal with anything urgent before driving into the city about 9.30am. This way I miss peak hour traffic congestion and make better use of my time. I also have late tele-conferences most evenings during the week, so I have no issue with taking a few hours off in the afternoon to get my hair cut, to balance my time.

If staff see the ‘boss’ doing this, it empowers them to embrace flexible working policies.