How to Help Employees Deal with Work-Life Issues

It’s 5:30 in the morning, and on a typical Monday morning in Garland, Texas, Rose gets up quickly, hits the shower, puts on new clothes, and goes directly to the kitchen to prepare lunches for her three kids who are going to school that day.  At around 6:30 am, she wakes all the three kids up, feeds them breakfast, and helps them prepare for school.  Her goal time to leave the house is between 7:30 am to 7:45 am.  That will give her enough time to drop off the three kids at two different schools, and drive herself up to the neighboring city of Irving to report to her job as Customer Service Representative at a medical supply company no later than 9:00 o’clock in the morning.  The drive usually takes 30 minutes on a light to medium traffic, but also takes her between 45 to 60 minutes on a heavier volume of traffic.

As Rose walks in the office, she passes by the front office desk occupied by Linda, a receptionist.  Towards lunchtime, Linda received a phone call from her 3-year old daughter’s day care provider, informing her that her little girl has a high fever, and she needs to come and get her.  Linda then asks permission from her supervisor to take the rest of the day off, and left the office to get her daughter.

These two different employees have different life issues that a supervisor or manager has to deal with every day.  Many companies that I know take the family issues of their employees seriously, and make every effort to support their needs by letting employees make up some lost time through flexible work schedules especially during extenuating circumstances.

It is important for companies to support the family needs of its employees.  It is undeniably true that employees all have different issues they deal with before leaving home that affect how they behave while at work – issues that they carry with them wherever they go.  There are those employees who may face sudden urgency to deal with issues while in the middle of a huge project.  This is true because we are not robots – we are relational human beings.  Looking at the other side, honest, hard-working employees who take their jobs seriously find ways in order to discharge their duties outside the confinements of their offices when faced with family issues that they have to deal with.  As what John A. Challenger (2002) has written, “There is a fusion going on between home and work.  We cannot get away from work when we are at home, and we cannot get away from home when we are at work.”

In the examples given above, there are those employees who have huge responsibilities to fulfill every single day before going to work, while there are those, although may be fewer in number, and may apply to everyone, who have sudden responsibilities to fulfill that may compromise their job performance in the meantime.

It has been a common practice that companies state beforehand (as early as job postings) the several benefits they provide their employees.  A good web site can list some of the work-life benefits it provides and those include, but not limited to, work practices, leave, every day issues, emotional well-being, financial, legal, and relocation issues, addiction and recovery, wellness, parenting, childcare, and child development, and care giving, elder care, and older adults. Because of this, prospective employees may already know the benefits and privileges that they may use in times of need. It is the responsibility of the supervisor or manager to ensure their subordinates know, understand and avail of those benefits.

Clearly defining some strategies in order to accommodate personal needs while at work is also a key in avoiding future conflicts and in promoting continuity in the overall functions of the entire organization.  These may include:

  1. Time Management.Certain guidelines shall be implemented, which may include calendaring future expected leave of absences, work sharing, overtime compensation, make up days, flextime and work at home.  According to a study of more than 1,000 U.S. companies, employees with flextime were “more satisfied with their jobs, more likely to want to remain on the job, and showed more initiative than workers with no access to these policies.” (Hill, et. al., 2001).
  2. Training and Development. Based on the company size, feasibility, and company affordability, it is also beneficial to provide continuing education on healthy parenting, balancing of work-life, financial stability, marriage, and all other essential knowledge that will help the employees develop, and succeed in their personal lives.  This will equip employees as they deal with any pressing issues they may encounter.
  3. Networking. If companies are unable to offer child care services onsite, they may  network with other companies within the proximity for mutual sharing of day care provider services, fitness club access, employee shuttle services from certain locations, and all other services that our employees may avail in order for them to free up more time, have less worries at a fraction of a cost when done solely.

These strategies, and all others not mentioned, are important so that employees like Rose will have less stress, and anxieties, and could come to the office on time, with ready mind, and body.  Linda could also benefit from this so that when immediate issues arise, employees like her are knowledgeable in dealing such issues.

Prevention is important.  Preventing future misunderstandings and dilemma will save both the employer and the employee the pains of conflict.  Taking good care of the employees contributes to the overall success of the organization.  At the same time, the company must also protect itself from the abuses of the few employees who might take advantage of the situations.  Certain safety nets should be in place in order to protect both the company and the employee.  For example, if Rose starts to clock in late for work, even though she makes it up during the day, a counseling may be held to evaluate the causes of the tardiness, and find ways to help her free up more time in order to be at work on time.  Her supervisor or manager could work with her to see if it will be possible for her to relocate to a decent apartment near the area or carpool with another employee.  If Linda has been leaving the office more often lately during work hours to attend to some personal issues, her supervisor or manager can work with her to see how they can better assist her, like networking with a day care provider to help her become closer to her daughter.  There are certain ways a good leader may creatively help employees address their work-life without the need to jump into a disciplinary procedure right away.

The bottom line is this:  helping employees succeed in their personal lives will motivate them to give their fullest dedication in their jobs.

Note: while actual face-to-face interviews were done, names and certain situations were changed to protect identities, but the essence of the stories were real.

Challenger, J. (2002). Blurring the line between home and work. The Futurist, p.10.

Hill, J., et. al. (2001). Finding an extra day a week:  The positive Influence of perceived job flexibility. Family Relations. p.51.


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