Study Finds That Work-Life Balance Gives Companies a Competitive Edge

December 12, 2017 by Josh Hrala

A new study has found that companies that implement and foster strong work-life balance policies have a competitive advantage of those that do not.

Over the past couple of years, the term work-life balance has popped up time and time again in the HR zeitgeist with managers and business leaders on both sides of the debate weighing in. Now, new research from Newcastle University may have settled the score once and for all.

work-life balance

“While flexitime allows workers to rejig the temporal pattern of hours worked, this merely addresses what for many workers is a symptom of work‐life conflict rather than its underlying causes: including, total hours worked and lengthy commutes,” said the study’s researcher, Dr. Al James, Reader in Economic Geography at Newcastle University in the UK.

“Offering a comprehensive suite of options including greater flexibility in where work is done, a reduction in total hours worked, and assistance with childcare alongside flexible hours generates mutual gains for employer and employee.”

James – who recently published a book, Work-Life Advantage, on the topic – came to this conclusion after studying more than 300 IT workers from over 150 tech companies over the course of 10 years.

Over the course of that time, James found that many companies across the UK and Ireland have yet to implement work-life balance programs, leaving staffers to struggle with long commutes, unpaid time off, and other aspects of life that take away from living one’s life.

This makes a lot of sense because managers typically never think about how much time a person is spending outside of work on work related things like driving long distances to the office, worrying about their children while they are away, stressing about paternity leave, and so many other aspects of adult life that it is impossible to list them all here.

If an organization doesn’t take these things into account, James found that productivity and innovation suffered. On the other hand, companies that implemented work-life balance arrangement saw gains.

“When able to make use of their preferred employer-provided work-life balance arrangements, 94 percent of the workers surveyed felt less stressed at work,” reports Newcastle University.

“In addition, 79 percent reported greater engagement with their work and 78 percent said they were able to think more creatively at work. And the figures are even higher for working parents with young families, with 82 percent reporting greater engagement and 84 percent able to think more creatively.”

work-life balance

In the end, this boost reportedly caused 61 percent of the managers surveyed to report a positive impact when implementing work-life balance programs. The managers also noted that they saw employee retention – especially with women – rise while also promoting a more diverse workforce, which improved company performance overall.

The funny thing is that – in the UK at least – work-life balance programs are hotly debated and are also some of the first programs cut when a firm or organization is strapped for cash, which, according to this research, is the exact opposite course of action these companies should be taking.

“The results highlight the irony of employers rolling back work-life provision in pursuit of short-term savings. There is an urgent need for more comprehensive employer‐provided work‐life balance packages that respond to the variations in employees’ requirements according to their role, household situation, caring responsibilities and personal life interests,” James said.

“These are not merely costs to the firm, but also offer major advantages for firms’ competitive performance – or in other words, it pays employers to care.”

Basically, these employers allowed their staff to work the hours that made sense to their lives while also letting them work from home or from other locations as long as they got their work done. In other words, if the employee is productive and meeting their goals, there’s no need for rules that make it hard for them to live.

It may sound self-serving – because it is – but you want your employees to not be worrying about how they are going to get their kids to soccer practice after an hour long commute and what they will have for dinner afterward. You want them thinking about work. But they can’t because the needs of life get in the way.

So, by providing ways for them to handle these situations while also getting their work done is a logical solution. Without all that extra panic and worry, employees are free to be more creative with their work, which James has found increases diversity, retention – specifically, it increases the amount of women who return to work after paternity leave – and supports new innovation.

work-life balance

You might be asking yourself “what type of work-life balance programs are there anyway?” Well, the companies that James surveyed for this study typically used flexibility as the main form of work-life balance.

“Providing greater flexibility in scheduling when work is done, such as flexitime, annualized hours or compressed work weeks, is the most common offer from employers. But this doesn’t decrease the total number of work hours and one size does not fit all,” Newcastle University states.

That last line is vital if you are considering increasing their employee’s work-life balance. For example, there could be a very good reason why people have to come into the office or there could be a very good reason why they don’t. It all goes back to your corporate culture.

The real takeaway here is that work-life balance shouldn’t be ignored by HR and other policy makers who want to retain their employees while also having them be as productive as possible.

Not only will you get more out of your staff but you will also let them live their lives. It’s a win-win. Hopefully, as the research continues, we will have more data to back up the importance of work-life balance. Until then, though, the debate will most likely continue.

You can read the full study here.

Thinking about creating your own work-life balance program or want to implement other corporate perks that retain and engage your talented staff? Check out our free Corporate Perks Guide for 2018 to get started.

Download our Corporate Perks Guide!

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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