Policies for Work-Family Balance: What Predicts Support?

Work-life balance policies are tricky.
Learn how to get your coworkers on board with balance at work!

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Post originally published October 21, 2019.

We have talked before about cutting edge work-family policies and practices. We’ve also highlighted countries that are taking steps to address work-life balance at a national level. But, what predicts whether or not people will support work-family policies? These policies are really important in predicting work-life satisfaction, even outside of other forms of support. It is crucial to understand how to influence your coworkers’ or leaders’ opinions about enhancing work-life balance. Read our tips for getting your colleagues on board with balance!

Make Your Coworkers Aware that “Choice” is a Falsehood

One of the main reasons that people don’t support work-family policies at work is because they see a lack of balance as a choice. Research shows that framing decisions to leave the workforce to take care of family as a choice makes employees less likely to support work-family policies. This is because they view it as the person who opted out’s “failure” as opposed to a structural issue. For example, moms who do choose to leave the workforce tend to have better well-being. But, they are also less likely to support equitable policies at work than those who have left, but didn’t perceive it as a choice.

Because we know that work-life policies make it easier for people to balance, it’s really important that people don’t write off structural causes for imbalance. If a parent leaves the workforce to take care of children, companies should ask what they might have done to retain them. The same goes for when someone decides not to have a social life, take care of themselves, or have a family because they are focused on work. If we don’t consider these behaviors “choices” and actually look at the structural factors that are driving those decisions, we can start to solve the problem. So, point out instances of choices that you or others are making that wouldn’t otherwise be made. Framing these behaviors as reactive instead of proactive can help highlight the problem better.

Work-life balance isn’t always a choice. What structural features need to change in your workplace to support balance?
Work-life balance isn’t always a choice. What structural features need to change in your workplace to support balance?

Ask About the Impact of Policies on Life, Not Just Performance

Research has promoted the idea that we need to mainstream conversations about work-life balance in order for things to improve. What does this mean? In the workplace, we constantly ask what the impact of policies and practices will be on the bottom line. Try asking a different question as well – how does this impact the lives of our employees and customers? If you can attempt to balance performance and happiness, you’ll likely have healthier AND more productive employees. This might be a called a “double bottom line”, where health and productivity aren’t placed at odds.

However, asking this question also requires that your colleagues are aware of their options. For example, if they have to troubleshoot ways around hairy situations where performance seems to be battling balance, it’s good to know what’s possible. So, making sure that people are aware of the types of policies they might implement helps. Also, making sure that they know what the policy’s impact has been in other organizations is useful. Knowing about available options can help your company to find a policy equation that works for them. In other words, well-intentioned people may make poor work-life policy choices if they don’t know what policies are available in other places. Awareness can help!

How can you help protect your colleagues from the work-life conflict storm? Walk with them, instead of fighting against them.
How can you help protect your colleagues from the work-life conflict storm? Walk with them, instead of fighting against them.

Push for Policies that Promote Gender Equity

Research shows that countries that have greater gender equity overall tend to find broader support for work-life balance policies. Companies may be the same! If you see a lot of gender inequity in your organization, there may also be an underlying anti-family or “ideal worker” norm. The ideal worker norm means that a workplace shows a preference toward employees who appear completely focused on work all the time. They are always dedicated and ready to respond, no matter what. Of course, this is unrealistic. But, that doesn’t mean that companies don’t expect it. It’s especially easy to expect ideal workers if there aren’t many leaders who are actively performing caregiving roles too.

So, if you see a lot of gender inequity at work, you may not get the balance you deserve. Advocating for gender equitable practices, inside of your organization, or in society, can help. What kinds of policies would you like to see your organization adopt? Do you need to achieve gender equity first? Or do you feel your organization is ready to move into phase two?

We would love to hear from you! Share your experiences with work-life policies below. And get to work convincing your colleagues in the meantime!

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