Connor Bartholomew is a researcher at FMG, where she works primarily with federal clients to support human capital efforts through competency modeling, data analysis, and climate surveys. While completing her graduate studies, she helped pilot an initiative to support diversity and inclusion in the field of industrial-organizational psychology through re-thinking and re-designing graduate program selection practices. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania in anthropology, and an MPS in industrial-organizational psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park.
As organizations continue to recognize the importance of work–life balance for employees’ well-being and productivity, they have sought to develop a variety of work–life policies and programs. However, there is no one-size-fits-all method for creating and implementing work–life policies, especially given the diverse needs—and diverse natures—of different workforces. The needs of employees may vary based on any number of characteristics, including gender, age, family structure, and disability status, among others. With this in mind, there are several steps that you can take to support the successful implementation of work–life policies for employees across your organization:
Assess what your employees really need.
First, are the policies that you have the ones that your employees actually need? Are policies being used, or are they underutilized? As previously mentioned, work–life policies are not one-size-fits-all. What are the current needs of employees from all backgrounds (e.g., varied domestic situations, caregiving roles, etc.)? These needs are likely to be as diverse as your workers, and that should be recognized. In addition, needs can change as your workforce changes, so employees’ needs should be reassessed periodically.
Evaluate accessibility to policies.
Another key question to consider is how accessible work–life policies are to employees across your organization. Do certain groups in your organization have differential access to work–life policies? For example, are telework arrangements or flexible work practices reserved for employees at a certain level? Employee perceptions of the distribution of benefits can be associated with key attitudes like organizational commitment. It is important to consider how current approaches to implementing your work–life policies may enhance or detract from employees’ perceptions of inclusion.
Involve your leadership.
Another central component of a successful work–life program is leadership involvement. Without an organization’s leadership getting (and staying) involved, a work–life policy won’t function very well—or live very long. Availability of policies may signify an organization’s concern and care for employees who have families and other responsibilities outside of work, but it does not guarantee their use. If leaders are actively engaged in the implementation of work–life policies and implement them in their own lives, employees will feel more encouraged and empowered to adopt them as well.
Focus on the culture.
A successful work–life program requires a supportive organizational culture. Support needs to start with leadership, but it cannot end there. Work–life policies can be positively influenced by organizational buy-in, from the newest intern to upper-level management. If the company culture communicates a flexibility stigma (i.e., a stigma associated with use of flexible policies that is commonly associated with women and, in particular, new mothers or child caregivers), even the best designed program will likely falter. Cultivating norms that encourage employees to make use of flexible policies will help work–life initiatives to flourish.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Our fifth and final recommendation ties back to your current policies and practices. How are policies communicated—or are they communicated at all? Do employees have the opportunity to communicate feedback to their supervisors, senior leadership, or human resources about the work–life policies and whether they feel their needs are being met—or being ignored? We know from Step 4 that organizational support is essential. How is that support being shared? Do leaders communicate with supervisors and the organization as a whole about these policies? Create a space where work–life policies can thrive by cultivating open and clear channels of communication. Provide forums for people to give feedback on policies or to request new ones.
By assessing the unique needs of your employees, ensuring equitable access to policies, fostering strong channels of communication, and providing organizational and leadership support, work–life policies can contribute to developing organizations into inclusive communities that promote work–life integration for all employees.