What is work-life balance? Two organisations getting it right
There’s a buzz around the importance of work-life balance, but what does it look like in practice?

Making sure employees have a good balance between their work and personal lives is not only crucial to their wellbeing, but to the health and strength of individual organisations. But how can businesses and government agencies attract leading talent and retain top employees by focusing on this important area?

Understanding work-life balance

While work-life balance can mean different things to different people, most professionals understand it to refer to flexibility in hours/location, work that doesn’t interrupt their home life, no overtime or the ability to time bank extra hours worked.

Organisations with deliberate work-life balance policies may help improve recruitment. SEEK research has found that when considering a new position, work-life balance was more important than job security and salary for more than a third of Australian workers.

Revolutionising work-life balance at Charter Hall

Charter Hall is one of Australia’s leading property investment and funds management groups, and has embarked on an organisational change to capitalise on the benefits of great work-life balance for employees and the organisation. “We prefer to call it work-life integration as people’s lives include different roles, such as being a worker, a parent, a carer, a spouse or volunteer,” says Natalie Devlin, Group Executive of People, Brand and Community with Charter Hall. “We want to create conditions for our people to flourish in all their roles, not just work.”

When Devlin started at Charter Hall, the engagement level was low. “Over the past three years our engagement level has increased by 30% and our turnover has dramatically decreased,” she says.

Devlin attributes this to a cultural change journey that intimately examined how best to incorporate people’s lives with their work. This led to a more flexible work culture and within the group’s head and state offices, activity-based working was introduced to meet different styles of working. “If you are working as an individual on a particular day then you may like to go into the quiet area where there are no phone calls, or if you are doing project work with a team then you can go to one of the creative spaces that provides for collaborative outcomes,” says Devlin. “This brings a consciousness to the type of work you’re doing, with whom and what technology you require.”

Charter Hall has implemented a range of policies including:

Getting to and from the office: central location of offices, biking facilities, lockers, showers, after hours’ taxis, secure environments

Flexible working: utilising mobile technology, collaboration tools such as Yammer, co-share spaces, work from home opportunities

Physical health – sit to stand desks, internal stairs, access to local fitness facilities, sponsored participation in fun runs, internal yoga classes

Mental health – meditation spaces, reading/reflective spaces, company sponsored counselling, career break

Nutrition –healthy snacks, beverages and food options, after hours’ meals

Community – personal and corporate donations, two annual volunteer days, domestic violence policy

Family support –paid parental leave, purchased leave scheme, school holiday programs, return to work support, reduced work week opportunities, birthday day off.

“Our people are proud of our work-life policies and want to contribute to them,” says Devlin. “We realise that work is an integral part of people’s lives and we want to create a working environment that supports business and personal growth outcomes.”

All Roles Flex” at Telstra

It wasn’t until March 2013 that Telstra really embraced technology’s greatest gift: flexibility. “It’s been a bit of a revelation for a company that sells products that enable mobility and flexibility,” says Telstra’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Troy Roderick.

All Roles Flex at Telstra means that some form of flexibility can be discussed for every role. “Flexibility is the starting point for how we work,” says Roderick. “We are very clear in our recruitment advertising about offering flexible working – every job is flagged as a flexible job.”

Flexibility at Telstra focuses predominantly on time and location. Roderick says he is constantly surprised at the variety of ways people make the policy work for them. “One of our employees couldn’t cope with crowded environments, so she shifted the start and end of her day so she doesn’t have to travel on busy public transport,” he says. “That’s been amazing for her.” According to Roderick, as employees’ access to flexibility increases, their reported experience of stress or pressure reduces.

There’s lots of creativity in the way people chose to work at Telstra, and at the end of the day Roderick says it comes down to productivity.  “I often log on to a phone call and there’s a Brady Bunch screen of faces looking at me,” Roderick says. “I’m not worried about where people are, but whether or not the work can get done.”

“The thing we have learned is that you need to be consistent in your mission to enable flexibility,” says Roderick. “It’s not a ‘set and forget’ - you continually need to keep flexibility front of mind and make sure leaders model balance.”