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Work-life balance a priority

Published on Friday, 12 Nov 2010
Illustration: Martin Megino

Job-seeker sentiment is usually an accurate indicator of general economic - and even society's - health, and the results of a recent survey show a marked change in attitudes in the past 12 months.

"Work-life balance has shot up the priority list," says Emma Charnock, regional director in Hong Kong and China at recruitment firm Hays, whose recent study collated feedback from 672 respondents.

"Now that we are seeing such strong job numbers, it has replaced job security. And, while salary and career progression are also important factors, it is the potential for work-life balance that can be the deal-breaker in an offer that otherwise ticks all the boxes."

She concludes that employers who haven't yet done so should be prepared to break away from the outdated nine-to-five plus overtime model and introduce instead more flexible options. These can include "compressed" working weeks, part-time roles, job sharing and the chance to work from home.

If well managed, she notes, such measures enhance productivity and improve staff retention - key considerations at a time of renewed growth when skills and experience are in greater demand. "Employers that offer flexible work schemes gain a good reputation in their industry," Charnock says.

"The key is to make available the options most sought after by [staff]."

Winnie Ng, diversity and inclusion manager at non-profit group Community Business, notes that companies should recognise the benefits that work-life balance can contribute to their business. In many instances, they have trouble attracting and retaining staff, but fail to analyse the underlying reasons.

All too often, these stem from workplace practices and management policies that are rigid, disciplinarian and make too little allowance for normal family commitments.

"We encourage employers to engage with staff to understand the challenges they face and the solutions they are looking for," Ng says.

"It is not possible to apply a 'one size fits all' approach. Each company has to develop its own work-life balance initiatives based on the nature of the business. That is why it is imperative to engage staff during the process to understand their needs and ensure success."

She says today's employees are looking for two main things: more personal time and more flexibility in the way they work. In theory at least, mobile technology means many people can now work remotely and at times that suits them best. In practice, though, that won't happen without a fundamental rethink of the basic "contract" that now governs most workplaces.

"We can always bring it back to the business case," Ng says.

"Overworked, stressed, tired employees tend to be unproductive and unhappy and are more likely to quit." Recognising that, Standard Chartered Bank has taken steps to address the issue, making better work-life balance a priority.

"New ideas originate from staff, colleagues in other countries, and learning what other leading companies do," says Edward Hayes, the bank's regional head of talent acquisition for northeast Asia.

"Each organisation has its own unique work culture, but employers should be flexible and ready to review their policies on a regular basis. The key to this is open, two-way communication which fosters mutual trust and respect."

Balanced approach  

  • Standard Chartered Bank allows staff to balance business and personal needs, with options to work part-time, on flexi-time or from home
  • Offers staff and their immediate family members advice or counselling on work and personal issues
  • Grants employees three days per year of volunteer leave to encourage participation in community activities
  • Provides staff with iPhones not only for flexible work, but also for social networking and entertainment


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