If work/life is a priority, it needs to be so not because it is about corporate responsibility, but because it has a strategic payoff. And the launching pad is a commitment to linking diversity and organizational culture. Employees who believe there is a supportive workplace culture will more likely feel that the quality of their work lives is high. These authors offer some best-practice examples and advice from Canada’s largest financial services organization.
The ongoing success of any enterprise ultimately rests with the diversity of its human capital – each person’s capability, engagement, performance, creativity, integrity and commitment to quality and customer care. Research and results show that investing in work/life leadership – an investment in human capital – has less to do with corporate responsibility and more to do with bottom-line business performance. Work/life is about creating and embedding a culture in the organization (through practices and resources), that helps men and women better meet the competing demands of work and interests outside of work. And the launching pad is a commitment to linking diversity and organizational culture.
RBC Financial Group recognizes that leveraging diversity helps achieve overall corporate vision and strategic priorities. Diversity is more than respecting differences between ethnic groups or genders; it is about acknowledging a variety of dimensions and life situations. It helps create more productive workplaces, build an environment of inclusion, attract, retain and engage talented people, gain a competitive advantage and provide superior service to clients. The RBC value, “diversity for growth and innovation” makes good business sense and is the right thing to do for employees, customers, communities and shareholders alike.
Work/life leadership also revolves around talent management – the approaches adopted to attract, develop and retain people with the aptitude and abilities to meet organizational needs. Talent management is about behaviour – the thoughts and actions that, consistently, over time, become organizational culture.1
Globally, organizations recognize that flexibility in managing the ever changing workplace is imperative. As Katie Lahey, Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia says: “There’s no denying that businesses are operating in an increasingly complex and competitive environment. Against this backdrop, it’s unlikely that a homogenous workforce will provide the breadth and depth of skills and experiences to enable a business to deal effectively with rapidly changing problems and challenges. One reason for business to be thinking about work/life strategies relates to the benefits of workforce diversity.”2 Just re-visit Senator Donald H. Oliver’s article, “Achieving results through diversity: A strategy for success”, in the Ivey Business Journal to hear this message loud and clear (March/April 2005).
With these first principles in mind, this article will outline the business case for work/life.
It’s not a mathematical equation
A concept that should be addressed upfront relates to basic terminology and definition: The achievement of work/life balance is commonly cited as the ultimate objective of initiatives – a concept which is often rigidly interpreted, rather than fluid and flexible in nature. Organizations are not responsible for “creating balance” in people’s lives; they are responsible for providing resources, tools and opportunities to help employees better manage, integrate or blend work/life priorities, while acknowledging that solutions vary with each individual. A “one size fits all” approach no longer works for a diverse workforce.
David Cohen of Toronto-based Strategic Action Group says, “Like an elusive vision of an oasis in the desert, it (balance) radiates with simplicity and philosophical appeal. But what does work-life balance really mean? Like customer service, no two companies would describe it in the same way. The idea of balance is a piece that doesn’t fit (because) there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There will be times when one comes before the other. Balance does not mean mathematical equality.”
As articulated on our intranet: “RBC will continue to seek ways to help employees manage work/life. We want to foster a diverse workplace that builds employee capability and engagement to help achieve business goals, enables people to manage multiple responsibilities at work, at home and in the community, and communicates effectively to create thriving work environments.” This is talent management at work.
Driving the business case for work/life
RBC is committed to a culture that responds to the ever-changing nature of the workforce/workplace, changing family patterns and customer needs. Work/life is integrated into a “total rewards” framework – from identifying employee performance needs, attracting and retaining talent, increasing individual and organizational effectiveness, to reducing stress and short-term absenteeism and supporting an organization culture of wellness. This all adds up to gaining an “employer of choice” advantage. If work/life is a priority, it needs to be so not because it is about corporate responsibility, but because it has a strategic payoff.
As indicated below, key research findings over the years continue to help build a solid business case for work/life; and like most organizations, RBC is impacted, one way or another, by all of them:
Employee Commitment: The factor that has the strongest association with employee commitment is managers’ recognition of employees’ needs for work/life. Work/life, in its turn, has been shown to be a key to employee wellbeing.3
Stress and Absenteeism: Over the last decade, on the whole, jobs have become more stressful and less satisfying, and employees are less committed to their employer.4 It has been estimated that stress-related disorders resulting from overwork either at home or on the job cost employers $12 billion dollars each year.5 The direct costs of absenteeism due to high work-life conflict are approximately $3 to $5 billion per year.6 When coupled with indirect costs, the numbers continue to soar.
Attraction/Retention: “In a 2003 survey of over 4,000 job seekers by the U.K. Department of Trade and Industry, nearly half said flexible working hours was the benefit they would most look for in their next job.” The 2005 study by Catalyst Canada, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Building the Business Case for Flexibility (a survey of more than 1400 lawyers) “demonstrates that losing legal talent because work life issues aren’t being addressed can cost millions of dollars a year.”
Individual & Organizational Effectiveness: The Watson Wyatt Human Capital Index, which identifies linkages related to a company’s human resources and creation of superior shareholder return, indicated a collegial, flexible workplace is associated with a 7.8% increase in market value, with flexible work arrangements linked to a 1.7% increase.7
Productivity increases by about 20% after companies implement work/life programs. Staff turnover falls by up to 50% when employees are offered benefits such as child-care subsidies, eldercare programs and flexible hours.8
A 2001 study by Ekos Research of 5,000 Canadian workers found that 50% said they were interested in working from home, and 27% viewed it as “extremely appealing.” And in a 2002 RBC study of 742 telecommuters, 77% said this arrangement increased their job satisfaction.
The outcome: Providing work/life supports helps create a healthy organizational culture. Research has indicated that employees who felt that there was a supportive workplace culture were more likely to report that the quality of their work lives was high. There was a strong relationship between scores on the Work/Family Culture Index and Quality of Work/Life Index.9 This had a positive impact on commitment and engagement.
The total framework – an evolution over time
Work/life has come a long way since the original Work and Family program was launched in 1990. RBC has gone from being reactive and active, to proactive and interactive. Pictured below is an overview of work/life at RBC: 1990 – 2004.
Today, work/life is a comprehensive series of policies, programs, resources and benefits for employees, designed to help people manage work, family and personal responsibilities over a lifetime, while meeting and supporting business objectives and strategies. Establishing work priorities within a broader life framework is a partnership between RBC and employees. Through experience, we have learned that the success of work/life depends on how well it is developed, communicated, managed and measured. Below, we describe two initiatives: flexible work arrangements and dependent care.
Flexible work arrangements
RBC experiments with various work arrangements where it is in the interest of employees, the organization and our clients, while providing ongoing professional development and career opportunities to those employees who choose to pursue flexible work options. Some options include reduced hours, job sharing, flex-time, modified work week, flexiplace (working off-site, from home or a satellite office) and phased retirement.
In Canada, we’ve enjoyed significant success with more than 1000 job-shares situated across the country. Formal evaluations have indicated these teams have been very productive and enormously appreciated by clients who have stated they receive better service, given two people are familiar with their account/business.
“Working from home allows me the freedom to manage my hours according to workload and life requirements. I wouldn’t be able to manage flex-hours without the support of executives who gave me the opportunity to prove what I could contribute remotely.” (Darlene Klassen, coordinator, RBC Public Affairs, Calgary)
RBC’s Dependent Care Services supports are provided by professional consultants who deliver confidential, personalized telephone counseling and online information, individualized referrals and educational materials to employees searching for quality child care and elder-care resources in local communities, or other parts of the country. Through our EmployeeCare program, LifeWorks OneSource, employees can access resources such as: parenting and child care, resources for seniors – elder-care, disability and accessibility. In light of the increasingly growing senior population, the number of employees with elder-care responsibilities will only continue to escalate – and the “sandwiched generation” will likely be affected most.
In addition, an Emergency Back-up Child Care program for staff in the downtown Toronto area was piloted in 2004. Designed to respond to the needs of employees whose regular child care provider is ill/not available, usual child care site is closed, or child’s school is closed due to bad weather, we sponsored free coverage (for a designated number of days) of a licensed child care provider close to the office. Over 450 employees accessed the service, with 38% of this group purchasing additional coverage directly from the service provider. Based on the positive response from employees, the service is now available to all employees in the Greater Toronto Area. Since 2000, emergency back-up child care is also offered at RBC Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis, U.S.A.
The day Kate Stothers’ nanny got sick, just hours before a make-or-break meeting about a multimillion-dollar deal, she was able to drop off her kids at a centre in Toronto on her way to the meeting. “Having a family makes balancing a career more difficult, but having an employer that understands makes it so much easier…it’s comforting to know you don’t have to worry if your normal plan falls through.” (Kate Stothers, vicepresident, RBC Capital Markets, Toronto)
“Employers of choice”
There are many challenges and risks for organizations creating work/life models to embed cultural change. For those who really consider themselves to be “employers of choice” and who recognize that people are first, the challenge and the risk is often more of an opportunity. Four (4) key challenges, or opportunities, are briefly outlined:
- Embracing leadership in action. Securing sustained buy-in and support from executives isn’t a given. Senior management may not be fully aware of the level of work/life issues in the organization nor of its impact on productivity and workplace health. In our organization, there is a commitment to continuous learning and improvement. Visible senior leadership and supportive managers are essential, as well as employee ownership of the tools at their disposal. Creating solutions where everyone wins – the employee, employer, customer, shareholder and the community – is the total leadership reward.
- Changing internal processes. Culture change requires an ongoing evaluation of the organization in order to identify and eliminate hurdles. For example, it is important to review and align performance assessment tools, work space design and talent management approaches with work/life goals.
- Promoting communication and education. Communication about work/life resources is critical. Although an organization may offer a “rich menu of work/life options”, the desired effect could be underwhelming if employees do not know about, understand or access the resources. Education is vital and constant reinforcement is a must.
- Managing workload. Workload is an ongoing issue for organizations – how much is enough, what is a full workload, what makes sense for the business, employees and clients? Workload issues are complex and cannot be addressed with one magic solution at a “macro” level. Discipline and focus at a micro level, within teams, departments or units is more effective. Managing workload takes teamwork, innovation, an in-depth look at processes and interdependencies, as well as a commitment to prioritize and meetcollective needs.
How does an organization manage crunch times and cyclical projects that need increased people power and hours? RBC’s finance team devised the Work/Life Employee Partnership Planner to help assess priorities. This one-page document facilitates managers’ and employees’ discussions during challenging periods and ensures people and business needs are considered. The Planner was initially created for a critical enterprise-wide project. The finance team of approximately 200 individuals was required to work extended hours for a two-year time frame. Prior to the start of the project, managers sat down with employees to address work/life issues. Employees were asked to reflect (on paper) on their personal commitments and how deadlines and time commitments could be successfully met. The Planner is now a tool that is available to all managers and helps to foster effective teamwork. The project team that introduced the Planner earned the ProjectWorld Project of the Year Award.
“The Planner provides a framework for us to understand each other’s priorities and work around them. The executive team’s support is very important since it brings a human perspective to the resource planning process. The use of this tool had a very positive impact on both the productivity and morale of my team.” (Astrid Avrikian, senior manager, RBC Finance, Toronto)
What’s the bottom-line? It is time to make diversity the centerpiece of a work/life model. It is time to move beyond policies and procedures to create and sustain a work/life model that is embedded in an organization’s culture. And it is time to emphatically state that work/life leadership is simply good business!
- Morton, Lynne, Talent Management: A Critical Way to Integrate and Embed Diversity, Integrated and Integrative Talent Management, The Conference Board 2004
- Lahey, Katie, Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia, Work-Life Association Conference, Melbourne, August 6, 2003
- Duxbury, Linda, Higgins, Chris, Johnson, Karen: Report Three: Exploring the Link Between Work-Life Conflict and Demands on Canada’s Health Care System , 2004
- Duxbury, Linda, Higgins, Chris: Work-Life Conflict in Canada in the New Millennium: A Status Report, October 2003, Health Canada
- Centre for Families, Work, and Well-being, University of Guelph, Facts About Work and Family Life, 2005
- Duxbury, Linda, Higgins, Chris: Work-Life Conflict in Canada in the New Millennium: A Status Report, October 2003, Health Canada
- Wyatt, Watson: The Human Capital Index, 2000
- Izzo, John, Withers, Pam: Values Shift: The New Work Ethic and What It Means for Business, 2000
- Boston College Centre for Work and Family; The Business Week Work/Life Study, 1999