The balance between employees' lives as workers and their lives as family or community members is a topic that has received so much attention in recent years, both locally and internationally. Striking the right balance between work and life has become increasingly important to the organisations especially in attracting and retaining talent.
This is particularly so given demographic and sociological trends such as greater numbers of women in paid work, an ageing workforce, skill shortages and an increasingly mobile workforce.
According to the latest results from the Australian Work and Life Index 2010, a quarter of women working full-time and one fifth of similar men were dissatisfied with their work-life balance.
In Nigeria, for instance, nearly six million young women and men enter the labour market each year but only 10 per cent are able to secure a job in the formal sector, and just one third of these are women.
According to the Gender in Nigeria Report for 2012 released by the British Council, women in formal employment are paid less than men. Regardless of their educational qualifications, women earn consistently less than their male counterparts. In some cases they earn less than men with lower qualifications.
Women occupy fewer than 30 percent of all posts in the public sector and only 17 percent of senior positions. Also every five businesses are run by a woman but they are constrained by lack of capital and have to rely on savings. This therefore partly explains why women are said to be facing the challenge of work-life balance than men.
Work-life balance is about "creating a productive work culture where the potential for tensions between work and other parts of people's lives are minimised". Most individuals who are faced with this challenge suffer from dissatisfaction, ill-health, depression and failed relationships.
The President of 5i Strategic Affairs, Mark Hollingworth, said most HR managers and executives have acknowledged that the number one issue in today's business environment is the achievement of work-life balance.
However, he said "Without any reliable technique or process to help them examine and perhaps resolve their work-life dilemma, managers and executives have been left to use a combination of wishful thinking and sheer determination to attempt to re-establish some type of equilibrium".
"Most have been unsuccessful. As a consequence, living a life heavily out-of-balance has become accepted and even lauded among certain types of business people - often with a heavy price being paid in their personal lives," he added
Given this scenario, it is important for employees to start looking inwards to determine their work life balance conflict and what they can do about it.
Here are some questions which can help an individual determine if he is faced with this challenge. Do the job and family responsibilities turn you on or turn you off? Are you working more and enjoying it less? Does life seem to be leading you rather than you leading life? Are you struggling to handle the demands of too much to do and too little time? Are you seeking to find meaning and purpose in your life? And the big question- Are you unhappy with your work life balance?
If the answer is yes, do not worry you are not the only facing this kind of challenge. They are many people today who are facing the dilemma of work life balance and are overwhelmed that a smooth life seems like a very distant and sometimes impossible future.
Solving Dilemma of Work-life balance
Balancing life between work and family is a complex and continuous struggle. There are many scholastic approaches for seeking balance, but experience and empirical evidence from other women tend to show that the scholastic approach do not adequately address African Women specific challenges rooted in juggling for a balance within a transitional setting of cultural and modern living in today's global world.
Mrs. Ngozi Njoku-Amadi, a human resource expert said every woman need to "realise that nature has programmed her to be reproduce, produce, nurture, care, be an entrepreneur and a manager". However, she was quick to submit that a woman should not programme herself to be a superwoman executor of the programmes of people in her life even though her environment may prompt her to believe so.
Speaking further, she said: "We women are at cross roads and are in a real dilemma! We need to find a way to design strategies that effectively address African women empowerment needs and demands at different stages of our life, bearing in mind that we now live in a hybrid modern and traditional cultural environment. It is this set of complex challenges that we at Gracefields are striving to address through our life cycles planning and management approach".
She listed some actions that can enhance work life balance to include grounded home training coupled with domestic management skills, branding oneself through development of natural skills and solid education made by sound technical skills. Others include management skills, financial stability, health, wellness/management activities and dependable support system.
Hollingworth, in his article titled 'Resolving the Dilemma of Work-Life Balance: Developing Life Maps" also offered strategies to adopt when dealing with the work-life balance challenge. According to him, the best strategic management tools to use are "Developed by Kaplan & Norton and popularized by numerous consultants around the globe, they are recognized as concepts that work and get results.
"Out of this work came the concept of preparing Life-Maps, tools which allow individuals to achieve their personal objectives and to balance the work-life equation while remaining true to the logic and well accepted process of preparing a Strategic Map.
"To design an organisation's Strategic Map and achieve its 3-5 years objectives (often known as its Strategic Intent), managers map out the objectives they need to achieve in terms of improved financial performance, customer satisfaction, internal processes and learning and innovation," he said. Below are the strategies explained by Hollingworth who is also a Programme Leader in the Executive Institute in the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University.
Defining Life-Satisfaction (Happiness) Objectives
The first thing to do is for managers to first define their personal 3-5 year "Life Satisfaction" objectives and then establish strategic objectives along different axes; however, in this case, he explained that the axes are adapted in order to represent the key dimensions of personal growth: strengthened relationships, optimum self-management, new learnings and financial management.
Building Win-win Relationships
The next step is to examine our relationships with others and see what changes need to be made and what relationship objectives need to be set in order to allow us to achieve the Life-Satisfaction Objectives we've just established. But in this context it forces us to identify all the roles and relationships we have, whether it is as a son, mother-in-law, friend, member of a sports team or religious community.
It asks us to rate the quality of each of those relationships now - and what we would desire them to be - again, on a scale of 1 (low) -10 (high) - in order to be happier, more successful or better satisfied. Having identified any gaps between the desired and actual states, we need to ask ourselves a few questions: What is the cause of the gap?
The equivalent of the internal processes dimension of our organisational scorecard, the self-management dimension challenges us to re-examine where we invest those most valuable and limited resources, our time and our energy. We need to examine our new life satisfaction objectives and really ask where we should be focusing our effort in order to attain them. What do we need to do differently? What activities do we have to cut back or eliminate entirely? What do we need to start doing or do more of?
"This layer of the Life-Map is perhaps the most important. Our behaviour in the past was not irrational; it was being rewarded in very real tangible ways with rewards that we valued highly. In adopting new behaviour, we will benefit even more because everything will be aligned with our Life Satisfaction objectives, something we have valued very highly in the past," he explained.
Learning & Growth
The learning aspect of our Life-Map sets objectives in terms of the learning that will be required to allow us to achieve all our personal objectives, professional or otherwise. It also includes activities that give us pleasure and facilitate relaxation.
Sometimes, objectives can include work-related learning that will allow people to pursue a work interest that they have always had, to advance their understanding of a subject that particularly interests them or, of course, something that in the future might help them to make a career switch or start a small side-line business or just to pursue a hobby. Alignment with our personal "Life Satisfaction" Objectives and achieving life balance are the guiding principles when preparing these objectives.
Achieving Financial Independence
Financial independence does not mean we can retire tomorrow. It does mean that we are no longer vulnerable to the day-to-day stress and anxiety caused by living beyond our means and being driven by the insatiable urge for "more." Hence, financial independence is achievable by one and all.
Having a better relationship with a sister, setting time aside for our parents, the scout troop or spending one day per year at the local drop-in-centre does not require more money. Neither does eating healthier or watching less television or spending less time on the internet.
However, to gain Financial independence we do need to face up to financial issues that we'd perhaps rather avoid addressing and answer questions that will require some real changes to be made in our spending habits.
The ideal process of re-evaluating and adjusting our financial habits is to identify how we should earn, invest and spend money based upon our "Life Satisfaction", Relationship, Self-Management and Learning objectives.