Table of Contents
Contemporary employers tend to adapt and implement various strategies in order to retain healthy and highly productive talents at the workplace. Maintenance of the work-to-life balance (WLB) is one of such strategies. Although it is hard to define the concept of WLB unambiguously due to existing misconceptions concerning this notion, in general, this issue refers to an equilibrium state that can be established with respect to the worker’s individual priorities given to job as well as personal lifestyle (Koch & Binnewies, 2015). On a similar note, Munn, Rocco, Bowman and van Loo (2011) have emphasized not only family, individual and work elements in the scope of prioritization, but also community ones (as cited in Gilley, Waddell, Hall, Jackson & Gilley, 2015, p. 4). Additionally, Ross and Vasantha (2014) have defined this concept as a conflict-free situation in terms of non-work and work-related requirements (as cited in Gilley et al., 2015, p. 4). The complexity of the term is caused by the fact that it incorporates a range of important constituents that are relevant to the employees’ needs and determine the future positive outcomes of the performed working duties. WLB implications do not presume that there is equality between the components of this notion. The issue means that a person should feel content with both these life dimensions and not spend his or her time for the job overly limiting time for communication with family members and vice versa.
Whereas both personal and professional life satisfaction of an individual are thoroughly dependent on his or her health condition, wellness programs (WPs) launched within the working environment can be regarded valuable incentives in terms of the WLB maintenance. Drawing upon the rationale by Sjøgaard, Justesen, Murray, Dalager and Søgaard (2014), an adult individual who is awake spends most of his or her time at work, which has a direct impact on his or her “physical, mental, economic and social well-being” (p. 654). It follows that well-planned WPs can become a valuable uniting factor for both staff and family members since they are usually implemented as large-scale projects engaging a wide variety of stakeholders. Therefore, this paper is devoted to the analysis of the role of WPs as an opportunity to establish WLB at the workplace and is based on a literature review of the contemporary academic resources.
As evidenced in a number of current studies, the cause-effect correlation between work and personal life as variables is found to be undoubted. For example, Gilley et al. (2015) have asserted that, if an employee is positioned within a balanced working and personal life environment, he or she is likely to experience health benefits, high-level attendance behaviors, opportunities for reasoned retention, and overall job satisfaction (p. 5). Moreover, such findings are backed up with the results from the earlier studies, which points to the relevance of WLB positive outcomes in the long run and from multiple perspectives (Gilley et al., 2015; Koch & Binnewies, 2015; Darcy, McCarthy, Hill, & Grady, 2012).
Besides the theoretical argumentation on the issue in question, the problem of WLB in the work-centered discourse was thoroughly tested by the managerial practitioners. To illustrate, this circumstance has been researched by Wein (2015) and Anderko et al. (2012), who have proved that creating and managing a WLB and nurturing a healthy workforce is a cost-efficient and cost-saving option for employers. Specifically, in a reverse situation, employees’ diseases lead to approximately $1.1 trillion loses for businesses per year due to the decreased productivity rates (Wein, 2015, p. 35). In order to clarify the relevance and feasibility of this approach, the companies tended to implement wellness and other WLB initiatives at place, and the returns on investments that were made turned out to be sufficient. In other words, the evidence has proved that each dollar spent by the companies on employee wellness returned almost $3.50 in medical expenditures and about $3 with regard to absenteeism (Wein, 2015, p. 35).
Apart from health concerns, managing a diverse team is considered as an additional challenge to human resources (HR) management in terms of organization of a WL-balanced working environment. Indeed, the study by Gilley et al. (2015) has underlined that age differences are important components of contemporary workforce as a whole. Although the entire labor force is under constant pressure of common factors, such globalization, feminization, and advanced technology development (Gilley et al., 2015; Darcy et al., 2012; Ross & Vasantha, 2014), the motivation for work performance of each age category is distinct. On the one hand, the current working manpower involves three groups of employees, including Baby Boomers, characterized as optimistic leaders, Generation X, whose representatives overly focus on work commitment, and Millennials, who wish to have flexible work hours, to list but a few (Gilley et al., 2015). On the other hand, summarizing the findings of the predecessors in the field, Darcy et al. (2012) have underlined that individuals tend to follow various internal and external motivators and consider factors on different career stages with regard to their age.
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Finally, an individual background of a variety of employees of different ranks is another element to be taken into account when considering the issue of WLB from the workplace arrangement dimension. In particular, the scholars, such as Ross and Vasantha (2014), Anderko et al. (2012), and Gilley et al. (2015), unanimously agree that WLB initiatives that are implemented as equal to both supervisors and subordinates are more likely to be successful. While Darcy et al. (2012) have emphasized the significance of managerial support in the maintenance of WLB for the employees at large, the researchers have suggested that a healthy lifestyle, as a constituent of a WLB program, has to be based on the decisions made by the staff members. It is the only way to ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. What is more, Thompson et al. (1999), Brannen and Lewis (2000) have underlined the necessity of family-friendly policies’ implementation in this respect when WLB from the ordinary employees’ position is concerned (as cited in Darcy et al., 2012). On the contrary, Sjøgaard et al. (2014) have asserted that job-related specificities are the most important factors to be regarded in this case.
The Benefits of a Healthy Work-Life Environment
Drawing upon the evidence collected throughout a number of sources in the scope of this review, a healthy WLB environment offers a range of benefits to employers and employees simultaneously. First and foremost, the findings obtained from the academic resources on the chosen topic have proved cost-saving opportunities for both stakeholders. To illustrate, Wein (2015) has asserted that, in case the employer is capable of implementing a thoughtful WB program, especially with regard to chronic disease and injuries prevention, one can prevent substantial expenditures as well. Indeed, such an investment results in saved costs in terms of potential short- or long-term disabilities of the staff members and incurs compensations to the employees, their absenteeism at work or, conversely, presence, but low-level productivity (Wein, 2015, p. 35). Similar claims have been made by Anderko et al. (2012) and Mattke et al. (2013). Whereas a working environment is supposed to bring profitability to a business, this factor implies feasibility and a win-win outcome of WPs in terms of WLB.
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Second, improved internal relationships and interpersonal communication between different-ranked employees are another benefit of a well-maintained WP as a part of WLB. This issue has been explicitly identified by Mattke et al. (2013), Ross and Vasantha (2014), Sjøgaard et al. (2014), and Gilley et al. (2015), even with respect to different types of WPs implemented, ranging from health education and health screening to employee coaching concerning healthy diets. What is more, Koch and Binnewies (2015), along with Sharma, Chauhan, and Khanna (2012), have emphasized a great role of well-organized and practiced WPs in terms of supervisor-to-subordinate improved communication. By contrast, Darcy et al. (2012) have considered this issue as a motivational manifestation of top-management support.
Third, according to Ross and Vasantha (2014), stress is one of the key factors to be overcome within the workplace in order to maintain WLB for employees. In this respect, Sharma, Chauhan, and Khanna (2012) have stated that a stress-free working environment can be ensured by such WLB initiative as yoga practicing by the entire staff. Fourth, the two above-indicated factors, among other WP benefits, enhance retention of employees in general. This finding has been evidenced in a study by Gilley et al. (2015), with an emphasis put on making WLB an integral element of the overall organizational culture. By the same token, Darcy et al. (2012) have linked this issue with a high motivation to career growth opportunities. Fifth, WPs may also offer an advantage of the increased productivity of working performance due to the relevance of the ability of WPs to meet employees’ needs (Darcy et al., 2012; Mattke et al., 2013; Anderko et al., 2012), enhanced physical activities (Sjøgaard et al., 2014), and a thorough involvement of all staff members into the programs’ implementation (Sharma, Chauhan, & Khanna, 2012; Koch & Binnewies, 2015; Darcy et al., 2012), to list a few. Sixth, based on the data collected throughout US firms that implemented WPs to establish WLB for their employees, the growth of competitiveness of the business as compared to its rivalry firms has been explicitly identified by Mattke et al. (2013). This factor is directly connected to the company’s compliance with the healthcare-related legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act and its requirements (Mattke et al., 2013; Anderko et al., 2012). As a result, one more competitive advantage for the businesses creating WLB through WPs is ensured. Therefore, the studies have proved that properly implemented WPs facilitate the operations of a company in multiple ways by enhancing the working environment conditions for the employees.
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Practices for Creating and Managing Healthy and Work-Life-Balanced Workforce
Even though none of the nine sources reviewed has paid attention to WPs as direct contributors to WLB, the conclusion about suitability of WPs with respect to arrangement of WLB at the workplace can be drawn implicitly. For instance, Darcy et al. (2012) has emphasized that, for the last two decades, working environment has imposed serious challenges on the workforce. These issues involve “globalization of competition, changes in the patterns and demands of work, and the fast pace of technological innovations,” which, in turn, “placed extra demands upon employees” (Darcy et al., 2012, pp. 111-112). While employees have the above mentioned challenges at the workplace, they also face internal pressure from their family members (Koch & Binnewies, 2015; Anderko et al., 2012; Ross & Vasantha, 2014). Thus, staff members work under constant pressure from an array of factors and experience work-to-life conflict situations, which directly impacts the company’s operations at both individual and personnel-wide levels. As a result, the initial stages of such detrimental effect involve stress (Sharma, Chauhan, & Khanna, 2012; Ross & Vasantha, 2014), anxiety and depression (Sharma, Chauhan, & Khanna, 2012; Darcy et al., 2012; Gilley et al., 2015), and may further result in chronic diseases if not addressed in a timely and consistent manner (Mattke et al., 2013; Anderko et al., 2012). Moreover, the scope of this chain expands to family members (Anderko et al., 2012). It follows that an imbalanced WL environment is harmful for a variety of stakeholders, especially with regard to a health domain. Thus, the situation has to be prevented.
The scholarly articles considered in the context of the researched topic have proposed a number of solutions in terms of maintenance of the WLB, and the role of WPs in this case should not be underestimated. What is more, the approaches argued by the investigators vary. For instance, Ross and Vasantha (2014) have underlined a necessity to clarify employees’ individual needs and trace stress patterns within the work environment. In contrast, Sharma, Chauhan, and Khanna (2012) have broadened the context of WL imbalance due to stressfulness and offered yoga practicing as an adequate resolution to this type of WLB conflict. In this case, all staff members involved in yoga-centered WP are capable of obtaining improved overall health and stress-free mind, which will eventually result in a smoother working environment, WLB for the employees and enhanced interpersonal relationships.
On the contrary, Sjøgaard et al. (2014) have justified a generalized approach towards WPs as a way to maintain WLB from a different paradigm. To be more precise, a group of researchers has studied the relevance of physical exercises in achieving the desired win-win outcomes for both employees and employers. Undoubtedly, enhanced physical activity can be considered a good solution to low mobility rates among the staff members, which is especially relevant in the technology-driven working environment. However, a set of exercises to be performed for this purpose on a daily basis should be job-specific to be effective, and the scholars have provided an ample rationale for this assumption.
On a similar note, Mattke et al. (2013) have reported a prevalence of more disease-focused WPs among US companies in line with partnership with healthcare agencies. To illustrate, this study revealed that nutrition/ weight, smoking and fitness WPs are the most frequently implemented initiatives by the US employers. These frameworks are favorable for addressing specific needs of staff members and decreasing the level of these health-related concerns on a national scale. Hence, this approach is suitable for the aforementioned expanded definition of WLB by Munn et al. (2011), who linked personal, job-based, family and community demands into this concept (as cited in Gilley et al., 2015). Similar assumptions have been made by Anderko et al. (2012) who have emphasized successful healthy WPs as “comprehensive, tailored to the population, creatively marketed, and embraced by top management” (p. 2).
At the same time, Gilley et al. (2015) have considered managerial support as a vital factor in the scope of the analyzed issue. In particular, the researchers have underlined interpersonal communication and supervisor-subordinate relationship domains as favorable enhancement incentives and a good approach towards conceptualization and organization of WLB and employees’ wellness and well-being respectively. The scholars have regarded coaching, providing and supporting the opportunities for the employees’ personal and professional growth, and an all-embracing evolution of the overall organizational culture as the winning strategies in this respect. Similar observations have been made by Darcy et al. (2012), though they have also underlined a necessity of individualization of WPs in terms of employee-centric WLB. For instance, the researchers have argued that even flexibility of working schedule assumes individual-specific arrangements in this regard. While some workers may find flexi-time, tele- or e-working favorable for their WLB, the others can prefer time management trainings (Darcy et al., 2012, p. 112). Again, individualism in this case is to be the primary aspect to be taken into consideration prior to the WP’s planning.
Apart from that, differentiation of WPs between age groups is found to be a positive determinant in nurturing WLB within the working condition if interpreted in the WP strategy properly (Dracy et al., 2012). Nevertheless, Gilley et al. (2015) have emphasized that this factor should not be applied for distinguishing the individuals in accordance with their age and appropriate work roles. On the contrary, HR managers have to study their employees’ needs per their age differences and make sure that these differences are used as age-specific motivating factors in order to achieve not-age-related goals that will be common and mutually beneficial for all staff members, with no exceptions, especially concerning age differences.
What is more, efficiency and success of WPs depend on the level of managers’ engagement in the process. Indeed, a number of researchers, including Koch and Binnewies (2015), Anderko et al. (2012), Sharma, Chauhan, and Khanna (2012), have proved higher effectiveness of management-involved wellness and overall WLB incentives as compared to simple promotion of such activities. To illustrate, this is due to the fact that a supervisor is an integral constituent of the general working environment of the organization, and employees of lower ranks consider them as role models to follow (Koch & Binnewies, 2015). Nonetheless, such patterns as “Look how I can” with respect to the issue in question do not work out. On the contrary, they broaden the borders between supervisors and ordinary employees referring to the superiority of the former. In contrast, WPs where managers and other staff members work hand in hand in the scope of these endeavors evidence high positive outcomes for both workforce categories. Apart from the above-indicated researchers, this suggestion has been justified by the findings of Mattke et al. (2013), Darcy et al. (2012), and Anderko et al. (2012). Moreover, Gilley et al. (2015) have proposed that such approach to coaching through the collaborative leadership allows maintaining fairness, equality and trustworthiness between a variety of different-rank employees.
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