Does Australia have the work-life balance right?

in Lifestyle by Peter Wood
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Flexible work environment, Work life balance

A flexible working environment


We want more flexibility and balance given to our personal lives in the workplace. The job application figures speak for themselves. Often-referenced as a desirable workplace, Google Australia received more than 30,000 job applications last year, while even lesser-known Sydney internet marketing company E-Web Marketing was inundated with 1000 of their own.


Google’s offices in Sydney entice hopeful staff with breakout workspaces, games rooms and “20 per cent time'', where staff can use one fifth of their day working on their own projects and ideas. Across the harbour, E-Web’s North Shore employees enjoy coaches and mentors, flexible leave and work-from-home options, as well as table tennis, foosball, pool tables, mini trampolines, massage chairs, sleeping rooms and unicycles.


But with the 2012 national survey from the Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) to be released next month, the focus will again be on work-life balance outside these new-wave work hubs.


What to look for in a flexible workplace


The study has previously looked at work culture, office hours, requests for flexibility and how work-life pressures affect participation in education and training. The 2012 AWALI is the largest of the surveys so far and will cover a range of topics. These include flexibility under the Fair Work Australia Act, paid parental leave, work intensity, productivity, telecommuting, size of workplaces and workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.


The study previously found 60 per cent of women and nearly half of male workers consistently felt time-pressured. Among the worst off were women in full-time employment and working mothers.


"Poor work-life outcomes are associated with poorer health, more use of prescription medications, more stress and more dissatisfaction with relationships,” the report said.


Successful Australian workplace case study


One Australian company tackling these issues and often making those “great places to work” lists is Quiksilver.


While the company provides heavily subsidised gym memberships, on-site yoga and Pilates, discounted weekly massages and more, HR Director Mick Fuller says the effectiveness of such initiatives relies on people within any company to set that culture.


“You need to have people lead from the top,” says Fuller. “Generally the behaviour and the culture are set by senior management, and if they’re not seen to be taking annual leave then others follow suit. How many companies would implement something like eight weeks leave at half pay just to see those policies sit on the shelf?”


Quiksilver enjoys payback from these flexible and forward-thinking initiatives in the way of reduced sick leave and staff attrition rates staying well below industry standard. It’s also a way the company competes for staff against the salary packages offered in multinationals, mining companies and the banking sector.


With companies such as Quiksilver setting the standard, Fuller says more can be achieved for work-life balance in Australian workplaces.


“I think some companies, including ours, from time to time don’t get it right,” he says. “People here do work harder, but I think they are willing to do that because we’re probably closer than most to finding a balance.”


Whatever the outcome of the AWALI study next month, Australian workers and businesses will be watching closely to see how their own work-life balance ranks with the rest of the country.

This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.

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Peter Wood is a freelance journalist with over 8 years experience writing for areas such as banking, finance, real estate, advertising and marketing more. Peter has contributed to regular columns in newspapers, business magazines and online, advising on issues such as business growth, cash flow management, investments and loans, credit control and more.

Poll Results

How many hours do you work on your business each week?

  • 20-30
  • 30-40
  • 40-50
  • 50-60

Poll Results

How many hours do you work on your business each week?

20-30: 18%
30-40: 18%
40-50: 23%
50-60: 41%