Is the concept of work-life balance a reality or just hype? HR professionals aired their views at a round-table discussion. Jane Lewis reports
Finding the right balance between work and home life is often dismissed as an HR obsession that generates hours of discussion and miles of newsprint, but achieves very little actual impact.
Yet, as revealed in this round-table discussion, organised by Roffey Park in association with Personnel Today, the issue encapsulates many of the wider social and economic trends - particularly the blurring of boundaries between the home and work environments - that are now shaping modern management thinking.
Several panellists regard the adoption of more freedom of choice for employees as a kind of watershed between old-style authoritarianism, and a new style of 'adult' management, based on trust and personal responsibility. They were also able to demonstrate sound business cases for what greater flexibility had achieved in their organisations.
But the issue still has the power to provoke division - some members of the panel were more confident than others about the ability of employees to adapt to such a system. There were also differing opinions about the role legislation should play in encouraging greater uptake.
But underlying the whole discussion was the troubling, wider question, of whether an organisation's work-life policy - however deeply engrained in company culture - would be the first thing sacrificed when the chill winds of economic downturn begin to blow.
What is work-life balance?
The panel agreed the most important point is that you cannot impose a single definition of the right work-life balance on any organisation. The whole raison d'etre of the concept, is that people perform best when allowed to strike their own balance, fine-tuning their work commitments with those of their wider lives.
Thus, although the work-life debate should certainly be welcomed as an antidote to the long-hours culture - in which, as John Sparkes, HR director at the Generics Group points out, "the only way to be successful is to work 50, 60 or 70 hours a week" - there is a danger that in seeking to liberate, we only enchain ourselves in a different way.
But not all the panellists agreed with Tony Smith of Scottish & Newcastle's analysis, that "people become less effective" when they