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Work-Life Initiatives Focus More on Employee Health and Well-Being

By Stephen Miller  5/12/2006
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As organizations strive to manage rising health care costs, work-life professionals are focusing more on programs to help keep employees in the pink, according to an annual survey by the nonprofit Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP).

Professionals involved with work-life programs (full and part-time) were asked to identify which areas of work-life effectiveness would receive the most attention from their organization this year. According to the State of the Work-Life Profession survey conducted in January 2006, the greatest emphasis this year will be on:

Health and well-being initiatives (34 percent), such as stress reduction, smoking cessation and onsite fitness programs.

Workplace flexibility (30 percent), including alternative work schedules and telework arrangements.

"This ranking is not accidental," says AWLP Director Kathie Lingle. "People in workplaces characterized by high levels of flexibility are both mentally and physically healthier than employees in more rigid environments."

Moreover, "Just as athletes pay close attention to health, nutrition and recovery techniques in order to perform at a consistently high level, so should high-performing executives," says Lingle. "Productivity requires discipline as well as careful stewardship of energy and attitude. Mental and physical wellness is required to create and maintain this positive energy."

After health/well-being and workplace flexibility, initiatives to make the organization's culture more accommodating to work-life solutions were the third priority, followed by dependent care.

More Full-Time Professionals

About 28 percent of respondents reported that at their organizations more than five employees serve full-time in the work-life area, up 7 percent since the 2005 survey. Still, approximately 36 percent indicated that their organization employs only one full-time employee or less for work-life responsibilities.

(Some context: 67 percent of respondents work in big organizations with more than 2,500 employees, and 40 percent of respondents work in the largest organizations with more than 20,000 employees. At the other end of the scale, 24 percent work in organizations with fewer than 500 employees, and 18 percent are at organizations with fewer than 100 employees.)

Among the respondents themselves, almost 8 in 10 practiced at least part-time in the work-life arena. More than half identified themselves as practicing work-life professionals, while another 26 percent said they possess at least some work-life responsibilities within a broader HR position.

Only about 11 percent identified themselves as consultants, vendors or academics, and their responses were not included in the analysis.

Increase in Dedicated Budgets

Like any programs operating within a budget, work-life effectiveness must be funded. Where does the money come from? The survey found that one in four participants have a specific work-life budget or line item within their organizational budgeta 4 percent increase since 2005.

This year, the largest percentage of respondents indicated their work-life budget is a combination of specific work-life line items and parts of other budgets. These numbers have changed slightly from 2005, when the majority of respondents did not have a specific work-life budget.

Other Findings

Among other survey results particularly worth noting:

• Employee support. About 11 percent of respondents indicated employees are the biggest proponents of work-life effectiveness, suggesting that employees are stepping up and better communicating their needs to their organization's leadership.

• HR responsibility. About 23 percent said that an HR generalist (as opposed to a work-life specialist) was either given responsibility for implementing work-life programs during the past year or already had the responsibility, a decrease of 7 percent since the 2005 survey.

Stephen Miller is the editor/manager of SHRM Online's Benefits Discipline.

Related Reading

Work/Life Programs Tackle Unscheduled Absenteeism; Improve the Bottom Line, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2005  

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