Recently, a human resource manager asked me if I thought organizations should be doing anything to alleviate the daily stress that workers are experiencing in our society. She was referring specifically to the traffic and crime situations and the general stresses of trying to balance work and non-work life.
I suggested that organizations do have a responsibility to contribute to improving the quality of the lives of their employees. We have gone far beyond the time when the rela-tionship between employee and employer was one of an exchange of labour for a wage. We now talk about “decent work” – work that is fulfilling, safe, healthy and meaningful. Organizations now routinely provide employees with medical and other benefits, em-ployee assistance and wellness programmes and a range of other quality of life pro-grammes. Is it time for them to step up to the next level and respond to the new realities in our environment?
A recent study commissioned by the Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Industry and Com-merce found that the traffic situation in the country is a major concern for business as it impacts workers’ ability to come to work on time, to perform at their optimum while at work and to effectively carry out their travelling duties. Most commuters spend, on the average, 3-5 hours getting to and from work everyday. In addition, the average person spends at least one hour getting ready for work. When this is added to the eight hour workday, the average worker spends up to 12-14 hours per day in work-related activity. When one considers that you should get an average of 7-8 hours sleep per night, you are left with a maximum of 5 hours and a minimum of 2 hours a day for recreation, relaxation and family time. This is not very much “quality” time at all.
Most would agree that the daily commute to and from work is a frustrating experience that can negatively impact productivity and performance on the job. By the time some workers arrive at work, they are tired, hungry, frustrated – not the best disposition to be-gin a productive day’s work.
And to make matters worse, the crime situation in the country today does not encourage workers to leave their homes before dark or get back home after dark – although this is, in fact a daily occurrence for many of them.
So should employers be concerned about their employees’ welfare outside of the workplace? Is that any of their business? Or should employees be left on their own to deal with their life situations?
My own view is that there are a lot of good reasons why employers should be concerned and should do something about the wellbeing and quality of life of their employees. I would argue that it makes good business sense to treat with the societal issues of workers’ daily commute and the need for greater safety, security and work/life balance, as these issues impact workers’ presence on the job, their productivity and their job performance, all of which impact business results. Tired, frustrated workers are not happy campers and will not give of their best in the workplace. And even if they do, it will take some time for them to recover from the daily stressors before they can become fully productive workers.
So what can organizations do? There are many options available to employers to reduce the daily stresses of their employees. Some more progressive and proactive employers have already initiated programmes geared to making their employees’ lives a little more “livable”.
One such initiative that has been around for some time is flexitime, where different em-ployees come to work and leave at different times of the day. This reduces the need for everyone to be on the roads coming to and leaving work at the same time. Of course there are challenges to flexitime, such as ensuring that there is adequate coverage of the business for customers. However, it gives employees some freedom to choose a more suitable time for their daily commute.
Other initiatives include telecommuting or working from home or a location other than your normal place of work. The advancements in broadband and wireless technology al-low us to work from anywhere and at anytime. Some employees may be able to tele-commute from time to time, depending on the nature of their jobs.
Some organizations in the energy sector practice what is called “9/80”, where employees work for 80 hours over nine working days and get the tenth day off, essentially giving employees a day off every other week.
Some organizations even provide breakfast for their employees so that they can have breakfast when they come to work if they have to leave home without eating.
Other possible initiatives include decentralizing your operations so that all employees don’t have to come to one central location to work; carpooling among employees; provid-ing a shuttle or taxi service for shift workers in general and female shift workers in par-ticular; providing school pick-ups and after school care, day care and elder care facilities.
Of course, all organizations will not be able to do all of these things. However, by look-ing at the demographics of your organization and/or asking employees, organizations can determine what the most critical needs of their employees are and can address them.
Do organizations have a responsibility to contribute to improving the quality of their em-ployees’ lives? I would say an unequivocal ‘Yes’. They have a social and a business re-sponsibility. These are just some of the ways in which they can do so.
By Dr. Kwame R. Charles
Director, Quality Consultants Limited