Employees are the backbone of organizational success. However, finding great talent is difficult, and even more challenging to retain the professionals. Therefore, organizations need to invest in talent management and development to ensure employee attraction and retention. HR departments frequently ignore employee development planning because they tend to focus on essential day-to-day operations and pay less attention to long-term activities. In the present competitive environment, organizations can reap great benefits if they offer jobs that promote a better scope for employee development. One of the strategies employed by businesses is creating a balance between professional work and personal life. This practice is known as work-life balance. Employers use the work-life balance technique to develop employees, yielding organizational benefits including increasing productivity and competitiveness and high employee retention, hence, less cost on employee training. This paper shines light on the concept of work-life balance in the public sector with a special focus on Quebec, Canada.
What is Work Life Balance?
Various scholars have delivered different definitions of work-life balance (WLB). For instance, Kahn et al., while studying work family conflict, defined work-life balance as the “simultaneous occurrence of two (or more) sets of pressure such that compliance with one would make more difficult compliance with the other” (n.p). Clarke et al. define work-life balance as an “equilibrium or maintaining overall sense of harmony in life (128). Additionally, Greenhaus et al. describe work-life balance as work-family balance while Clark refers to the term as “satisfaction and good functioning at work and at home, with a minimum of role conflict” (520; 750). Work-life balance generally entails creating equilibrium between one’s social life and professional life to ensure no domain negatively affects the other.
Workplace policies like organizational support, work-schedule flexibility, and supervisory support and their influence on the business environment have been studied for decades. There have also been campaign efforts by working women, feminists, and employers to demand for policies that help working women to manage their professional work and family life (Barnett & Hyde, 783). Feminist scholars have argued that female workers are more prone to disruptions due to their dual responsibility as professionals and primary nurturers. Such campaigns and the perceived benefit of work-life balance have seen employers in the public sector focus on methods that optimize the worker’s performance with minimal interruptions from social life.
Work-life Balance Theories
There are various theoretical approaches to work-life balance.
The Compensation Theory. The Compensation theory by Lambert establishes that when workers lack satisfaction in one domain, they tend to seek satisfaction in the other domain (251). Piotrkowski and Crits-Christoph also point out that men perceive their families as sources of satisfaction, which is absent in the occupational setting (129). As a result, an individual may decrease involvement in the dissatisfying domain and pay more attention to the satisfying domain or concentrating more on the dissatisfying domain to pursue rewards.
The Spillover Theory. The spillover theory posits that workers transfer their attitudes, emotions, behaviors, and skills from work to their family life and vice versa (Alhazemi and Ali 77). Spillover can have a positive or negative effect. A positive spillover can involve an individual who, after having a long, frustrating day at work, goes home with the dull mood. A positive spillover may include an individual who positively reacts interacts with his family after achieving professional goals, or vice versa.
The Work/Family Border Theory. This theory was presented by Clark (760). The concept states that individuals work in separate distinct domains that are separated by physical, temporal, or psychological borders. The flexibility and permeability of these boundaries between family and professional life determine one’s ability to integrate the two domains. Bellavia and Frone establish that when domains are segmented, transition is difficult but work-family conflict is less likely and when these domains are integrated, there is easier transition although work-family conflict is likely (120).
Human Capital Theory. This theory was developed by Becker (42). The theorist argues that people prioritize activities that they are willing to spend on then make decisions on resource allocation to each specific domain. For employees, the major resources are time and energy (Rincy and Panchanathan 12). When these two valuable resources are allocated on one domain, the other domain will be deprived, hence, creating work-life imbalance.
Other theories that have been put forward to explain the concept of work-life balance include the segmentation theory, enrichment/enhancement theory, facilitation theory, social identity theory, conflict theory, congruence theory, resource drain theory, and instrumental theory.
The study of work-life balance has recently intensified in the field of management, with a narrow focus on the sources and consequences of work-life imbalance (Singh 84). These studies have demonstrated a link between work-life balance and factors like career growth, motivation, job satisfaction, turnover and absenteeism, and work stress.
Work-life Balance and Career Growth. According to Tymon et al., employees can achieve career success by balancing short and long-term goals and openly communicating with managers (296). The team indicated that collective decision making delivers performance effectiveness, contrary to when decisions are made individually, causing an imbalance between an employee’s work and life.
Work-life Balance and Motivation. Motivated employees tend to pursue success and avoid failure (Singh 85). Individuals create special time for families because they perceive it as a sense of entitlement, therefore achieving a work-life balance. Spending time with family can be a source of motivation for employees.
Work-life balance and job satisfaction. When an employee balances the family and work demands, they are likely to develop a positive attitude and satisfaction towards their work, hence, becoming more productive (Singh 86). Employers can increase job satisfaction by establishing family friendly policies to enable the workers to fulfill their social needs too.
Work-life balance and absenteeism. A management which fails to establish family friendly policies attracts a high employee turnover (Tymon et al. 295). Workplace flexibility empowers employees to create work-life balance, reducing absenteeism and turnover. Employee retention will, in turn, save the costs of employee training.
By facilitating work-life balance, the public sector can also benefit from increased competition, work appreciation, and reduced stress among employees.
Case Study: Quebec
Quebec’s policies on parental leave, child care and other family related policies have greatly influenced the public workplace in Canada (Tremblay n.p). Quebec prioritizes work-family balance policy that features a combination of family and work responsibilities. In 2006, its government implemented a new parental leave insurance plan (QPIP). The QPIP policy created flexibility in parental leave, which is now defined by higher earnings replacement rate for shorter a leave or lower earning replacement rate for a longer leave (Tremblay n.p). Furthermore, fathers were also allocated three to five weeks of parental leave. In 2001, parental leave was extended to one year across Canada, a policy that could further promote mothering roles without negatively affecting labor force equality. As a result, the province has experienced a growth in births and fertility rates (Tremblay n.p). An increase in fertility for an aging population translates to lesser healthcare costs and more human power.
Quebec’s family-friendly policies have helped to create a work-life balance in the public sector. Father’s involvement in child care ensures shared family responsibilities, which creates a balance for both genders’ involvement with professional work. Additionally, the Quebec safe maternity program mandates a pregnant mother to stop working if her working station poses health risks to the fetus (Tremblay n.p.). The employee receives her full salary during the first week of compensation and later, other benefits that are approximately 90% of the employee’s net income (Tremblay 406). Since 1990s, Quebec has focused on creating a network of child-care centers to offer educational care services for children under the age of four. Currently, parents pay $7 a day per child. These policies deliver a work-life balance, which benefit Quebec’s workforce.
Options for the Public Sector
As illustrated above, work-life policies and initiatives strengthen the public sector. To gain from this practice, the public sector can:
- Establish strategies to change perceptions about work-life balance
- Incorporate part time flexibility in career schedules (OECD)
- Promote part time schedules as temporary plans not permanent and develop policies the enhance transition from part time models to full-time.
- Facilitate support for family to ensure full participation of men and women in the workforce. This option is the best because family responsibilities are the major reasons of work-life imbalance. This option will not only increase women’s participation in the workforce but also empower men to participate in child care.
Work-life balance is essential in employee performance in the public sector. The concept is associated with career success, job satisfaction, employee retention, reduced work stress, increased competition, and motivation. The public sector can focus on creating a work-life balance through various means including change of work-life balance perceptions and embracing part-time schedules too enjoy the benefits of work-life balance. Additionally, the sector can encourage employees to shift to full time employment and implement policies that ensure family support.
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