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Work life balance a challenge for NZ businesses

Monday, Jan 15, 2018, by Sheryl Blythen

Kiwi workers who have enjoyed the traditional New Zealand summer break at the start of the year should be heading back to their jobs this month feeling rested, refreshed and ready to face the next 12 months.

But their challenge, research shows, will be hanging on to that feeling. Work-life balance was identified as an issue by 66 per cent of respondents in the New Zealand Diversity Survey, conducted in October last year. Stress was a challenge in 62 per cent of organisations surveyed, and 50 per cent of respondents noted concerns about the mental health of staff or colleagues.

Diversity Works New Zealand Chief Executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie says these are not new challenges – workplace wellbeing/wellness has been consistently identified as the single most important diversity issue for businesses since the survey was initiated in 2013.

Psychologist Sara Chatwin from MindWorks says if staff can't achieve work-life balance, employers will see reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and general dissatisfaction in the workplace.

But what is encouraging, say both women, is that organisations are taking steps to address the situation.

“One example of this is flexible work practices, which are becoming the norm, not the exception, in many of the organisations we work with,” says Cassidy-Mackenzie.

The survey revealed that 76 per cent of organisations offer flexible work times, 64 per cent have part-time roles or roles with reduced hours, 62 per cent allow team members to work remotely and 59 per cent offer staff family-friendly working arrangements.

Lion, winner of the Work Life Balance category at last year’s Diversity Awards NZ, is one of the companies reaping the benefits of a flexible culture, says Cassidy-Mackenzie. The company’s LionFlex initiative takes the stance that requests to work flexibly can be granted, unless there is a good business reason not to, banishing any stigma around utilising these options or perception that flexibility is just for parents.

GHD is another New Zealand business that has realised a “one-size fits all” approach will no longer work for its staff, and allows its people to complete their hours of work anytime between 6.30am and 7pm. Other benefits include the option to buy an extra two weeks’ leave a year, work remotely or work part-time, opting for fewer days or shorter hours.

Workplace wellness programmes are another way organisations are committing to help staff enjoy better work life balance and cope with life’s stresses, Cassidy-Mackenzie says. At Southern Cross, New Zealand’s largest private healthcare insurer, staff can select from a wellbeing smorgasbord, including activity tracking using wearable devices, a one-off consultation with a financial personal trainer, advice from a dietician, flu vaccinations, workshops to build resilience, and a Health Kiosk where they can get a snapshot of key health indicators such as blood pressure and Body Mass Index.

“Businesses are realising that a happier, healthier workforce means employees are more engaged, more productive, and better able to cope with the fast pace of change organisations require,” says Cassidy-Mackenzie. “Ultimately this has a positive effect on profitability.” The NZ Diversity Survey is carried out twice a year by Diversity Works New Zealand, in partnership with the New Zealand Chambers of Commerce and supported by Massey University.

Click here to read the full report of the October 2017 survey.

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