Work-Place Health: Why Work-Life Balance Makes Good Sense
Musculoskeletal Consumer Review caught up with Ms Cheryl Liew-Chng, CEO of LifeWorkz, a management consultancy specializing in Work-Life, Gender and Generations in the Workplace, to discuss about workplace health and the common – and often elusive - challenge of achieving work-life balance, from both the individual and organizational viewpoint.
MCR: What are some of the common challenges that you see with regards to work-life balance?
Ms Liew-Chng: The most common challenge we see is that of PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) finding themselves swamped and pressured at work, and the stress spilling over into their personal lives, causing relational strain, health issues and emotional issues such as guilt, anxiety and even depression.
MCR: What are some of the things that you can do to help someone with issues of work-life imbalance?
Ms Liew-Chng: The first step would be to understand the trigger that is causing the stress. Often it could be an overbearing boss, factors in the work environment, or worries about getting retrenched. Often it gives you a clue as to the origin of stress, which is not the trigger itself, but an internal conflict. For example, a person may have an unreasonable boss, but what may be really causing him stress is the fact that he does not say ‘no’ to any request the boss makes!
Through our workshops as well as individual coaching sessions, we help individuals to identify their core values, and see what mis-alignment is being caused by the choice they are making in response to the situation. Often, people perceive that they have ‘no choice’ and hence they feel powerless and depleted.
At LifeWorkz, we help individuals understand that they can create their own pathways to success and re-design their life and career to reflect their internal values. Then they are in the position to either negotiate or opt for something that reflects their internal values.
MCR: And how are the results of this process?
Ms Liew-Chng: We see individuals becoming happier and more effective in their multiple life roles – as a worker, a spouse, a parent – which really makes a difference to their loved ones. Often, there is a visible, tangible effect on their marriage and on the their children. They feel fulfilled and liberated, and no longer feel trapped by the inability to balance their lives. When this happens, it is a win-win situation; their employer wins too. When there is alignment between individuals and the organizations for which they work, the individual becomes a happier and more productive employee. That’s the belief that LifeWorkz is founded upon. Besides helping individuals, we see it as our mission to make organizations a better place to work in!
We have seen employers reap the benefits of such alignment – lower attrition rate, better staff engagement and commitment, and ultimately, it shows on the company’s balance sheet and bottomline. In one organization, we saw the attrition rate tumble drastically from 19% to 9%, and this was in the healthcare sector where 24/7 service is the norm and there is zero-tolerance for errors and any slip in standards. The organization won the Employer of the Year award, which was really, in the scheme of things, just the icing on the cake – and a fitting acknowledgement of the work we accomplished by helping them improve their workplace health and work-life balance.
MCR: That’s great. But it seems many other organizations fail to see similar results from their workplace health and work-life efforts. In your opinion, what might be the reason for this?
Ms Liew-Chng: Very often, organizations adopt a programmatic approach to workplace health and work-life balance (‘let’s just implement this scheme’) without actually working within the fabric of the organization to change individuals’ mindsets and the corporate culture.
This can really short-circuit all the good intentions of the management, because without a culture change, people would be afraid to apply for any work-life scheme (thinking that it would back-fire on their career prospects and progression), and managers would very likely penalize these individuals because they are still operating on the old paradigm of ‘face-time’. They appraise workers based on the amount of time they clock in at the office, instead of the results they deliver. Such a culture would defeat any well-intentioned workplace health and wellness efforts, because the odds are stacked against the individual that wants to break free from the stress of work-life imbalance.
MCR: Can you describe what you do to help organisations’ workplace health and work-life efforts succeed?
Ms Liew-Chng: At LifeWorkz, we provide consultation, training as well as implementation expertise in helping organizations transit into a genuine ‘work-life balanced’ organization. The devil is really in the details, so clients tell us that our actual, hands-on implementation know-how is what they appreciate the most, along with our training that ensures a paradigm shift and culture change in their managers and all down the line.
Borrowing medical analogy, I would describe it as such: We do a holistic diagnosis of their corporate workplace health and work-life balance. Once the diagnosis is ascertained, we proceed to customize the prescription and treatment regime, based on the organization’s goal and comfort level – where they want to go, and the measures that they are prepared to take to get there. So there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but we work within the organization’s context – understanding the demands of the industry, and customizing workplace health and work-life approaches to their business model and operations.