The importance of family-friendly work policies
True work-life balance may be a myth, but Wendy Casper believes most U.S. employers can bring it closer to reality.
The management associate professor became interested in work-life issues as a human resources manager for a rehabilitation company facing a widespread shortage of occupational and physical therapists.
“Recruiting was difficult, and most potential recruits were women with small children,” she says. “Common issues were what the hours were and how flexible schedules could be. I began to try to figure out whether policies that support work-life balance could be used to recruit and retain people in your firm.”
Since then, Dr. Casper has researched factors that contribute to job satisfaction and company loyalty.
“If employees feel their organization supports them, they become more committed to the organization. This enhances loyalty, in part because employees have more positive work-family experiences when they are supported. The fact that their spouses or partners will have more positive attitudes toward a supportive employer is also important.”
Of particular interest to Casper is the distinction between managerial and working class employees. She has found that people in low-income jobs have different issues managing work and personal life.
“There are a lot of things that make work-life issues more challenging for these workers. It’s not unusual for them to lack reliable transportation, and locating affordable child care, especially when they tend to work unusual hours, is a real hindrance. Because of this, sometimes these workers have to rely on support from their older children in order to settle work-family conflict.”
Casper is concerned that these employees may withdraw from the workforce altogether. U.S. organizations want a return on investment from policies that support work-life issues, but low-income workers get left out because they’re seen as cheap, replaceable labor.
She believes viewing them this way can be a costly mistake. Turnover is expensive for organizations, and many fail to realize that all employees—not just the highly skilled knowledge workers—feel the impact.
“There is a real opportunity for employers to distinguish themselves from the competition in the United States because the legal requirements for family support that a firm must provide are low. Thus, there is a lot of variability between organizations. Investing in supporting employee work-life balance is a good way to become an employer of choice.”