HR DEPARTMENTS must rise to the challenge of implementing more complicated work/life balance plans when their firms become multinational, according to a leading academic inthe area.
“When a business becomes global it means that the more complex set of business strategies requires new HR strategies to be implemented across a broad range of cultures,” said Anne Bardoel, associate professor at Monash University’s Department of Management.
Among the findings of a case study prepared by Monash University for the recent Australian Centre for Research in Employment and Work (ACREW) conference, were three consistent themes stopping employees reconciling their work and personal lives: a lack of flexible work policies and practices; the availability and affordability of dependant care; and the negative impact of work overload and long working hours.
Amid unprecedented levels of global mergers, acquisitions and international growth, HR professionals working in multinational enterprises must define a global work/life strategy that establishes shared guidelines while allowing for local differences.
“A focus on work/life issues can be used as an effective avenue for understanding and sensitively managing a globally diverse workforce and also assist HR professionals to develop cultural sensitivity in local contexts,” Bardoel said.
HR can also help establish the business case in terms of a double agenda, Bardoel added. “The focus needs to be on adopting work/life policies and programs that benefit both the company and the employees,” she said.
“One way of doing this is to implement a pilot program to demonstrate how better management of alternative work schedules can contribute to the bottom-line.”
Conducting a needs assessment of the workforce to determine what the work/life priorities are and measuring effectiveness of outcomes is another.
Australian law firms, which are increasingly expanding into Asian countries, must adopt appropriate flexible work practices, according to commentators. A CEO in a large city-based law firm said flexible work practices will help firms retain talent, but also help attract it. “Adopting sound equal opportunity and flexible work policies is more than just a wise move, it is critical, especially for large professional organisations who wish to attract and retain the best people,” he said.
Lawyers will spend a short time in a firm and then move on if they don’t feel they are being looked after, said solicitor and Women Lawyers Association of NSW vice president Shauna Jarrett. For example, if women who have young children or who are returning from maternity leave are able to work part time, then they are going to remain loyal to the firm.
Flexible work practices assist to create an environment where people feel comfortable to stay long term. While people leave jobs for a variety of reasons, “if the environment is not flexible you’re not going to think twice about leaving. Flexibility will show employees that the firm does care about them as individuals and that they value their time”, said Mahlab NSW managing director Lisa Gazis.
Firms should provide a positive and flexible environment for all staff that leads to improvements in the bottom line. “These organisations challenge the status quo and try new work practices. They understand that people have different needs at different times in their careers and that it’s necessary to be flexible around these changes,” said EOWA director Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) director Anna McPhee.
The benefits of introducing work/life measures are numerous, Monash University’s Bardoel said, including a competitive edge in recruiting and enhanced corporate image as well as better productivity and staff retention — especially skilled — and a better return on training investments.
“A challenge for multinationals is to achieve competitive edge but not at the expense of human health, well being and personal lives,” she said.
Melinda Finch is the Deputy Editor of Human Resourcesmagazine, Lawyers Weekly’s sister publication.
Additional reporting by Kate Gibbs.