New book offers tools for better policy towards work-life balance

A good work-life balance looks different for everyone. Employees have to make choices about their work, leisure and caretaking obligations. But employers and organisations also have an important role to play in creating a healthy work culture. Radboud researchers from five different faculties have come up with concrete tools in their book, Maintaining a Sustainable Work-Life Balance.

Some people are informal carers or do voluntary work, while others have to breastfeed or take on other parenting duties. Yet others may need extra time off in order to function properly during working hours. Organisations that give employees space for their lives outside work benefit from having more resilient employees. That is reason enough to encourage a good work-life balance . But how do you achieve it? Researchers have provided tools for this in the new book, Maintaining a Sustainable Work-Life Balance , which will be presented during the WORKLIFE symposium on 20 June.

"This book shows how organisations can work on policies towards a work-life balance", says policy sociologist Stefanie André, one of the book’s authors and a staff member at the RU’s Public Administration department. "Because that balance could be improved in many areas." The book covers aspects including informal care, leisure, volunteering, entrepreneurship and fatherhood. "People are often very guided by expectations from their environment", André continues. "These expectations are thankfully changing. It is becoming increasingly accepted to do something other than working full-time, but space has to be created for this."

Caretaking obligations for men and women

According to André, it is important that organisations provide facilities to combine care obligations with work. As an example, she refers to Roseriet Beijers’ chapter on breastfeeding. "New mothers often experience stress because they want to prove themselves at work but have to combine that with caring for a baby. If you experience stress, the quality of your breast milk can deteriorate, which in turn causes more stress. So, there should be time and space for pumping or breastfeeding. Not only on paper, but also in practice, through acceptance by colleagues and supervisors."

Many other caretaking obligations also still lie with women, as researchers Ellen Verbakel and Cécile Boot show in the book. André: "It is often the daughters or daughters-in-law who are called when their grandpa or grandma needs to be washed." Establishing different types of care leave would help to distribute such duties more fairly. "If both men and women would take more parental or informal care leave, combining work and care would become more natural for everyone."

Another aspect that would contribute to greater equality is active fatherhood, which André herself researched. "At the moment, men are sometimes penalised if their paternal duties interfere with their work, for example if they take more leave. They then conform less to the image of the ideal employee. In the current work culture, fathers are seen as more reliable employees than non-fathers, but they are also expected to work full-time."

Role model

To change this, it is important to have male role models in the workplace, André argues. "If fathers would talk more about their fatherhood and take parental leave, they would show that they want to be a good father in addition to being a good employee. Fathers in leadership positions can especially set the right example for this."

Anyway, employers and supervisors have an important role to play in this. "If they would show that they do not work more than the hours they are supposed to, employees would feel that they have more space to maintain a healthy work-life balance themselves as well."

According to André, the book’s main message is that employees, employers and organisations all’have a role to play in the transition to a healthy work-life balance. Well-being researcher Marjolein van de Pol (from Radboudumc) writes about what you can do to achieve this yourself, such as training positive emotions, prioritising tasks and accepting that you cannot do everything.

The book covers both public and private organisations. It includes chapters on self-employment, migrants and civil servants. "We studied many different groups, but mainly office workers", André says. "For civil servants, it is often easier to fit their working hours into the rest of their lives." Together with her colleagues, André is already considering follow-up research on occupational groups for whom working from home is not possible, such as crane operators or conductors.

Literature reference

Maintaining a Sustainable Work-Life Balance - An Interdisciplinary Path to a Better Future