From comparing a best practice company, namely Westpac in terms of their work life balance (WLB) practices, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) can improve their flexible work programs from them, which in turn improve WLB of its’ employees. Westpac is a best practice company because of its realisation of changes and employee non-work needs, such that they have flexible work programs in place which best-fit the various needs of its’ employees while meeting the demands and priorities of management as desired by all other organisations (Townsend, Bailey, Brown, Bradley, & Lingard, 2006). This essay will focus on the flexible work arrangements which Westpac have provided for its employees who are women, parents and are aging or close to retirement. The ADF may learn from Westpac to develop their own best-fit flexible work arrangements and policies in these areas, thus potentially allowing itself to become a WLB best practice company.
Women and WLB in Westpac and the ADF
Westpac assumed the position where the war for talent has become increasingly difficult to find potential employees in a slowing labour supply pool, so once the right person is found, Westpac would work hard to keep them (O’Loughlin, 2006). Westpac has designed various practices and programs to adapt to the change of increasing participation of women in the labour supply and has continually added or changed practices through surveying its employees. Westpac has defined flexibility as four factors being time, location, careers and contracts (Miles, 2005) being the core to keeping employees satisfied with their work. As such, Westpac focuses on job satisfaction of its employees which they believe leads to increased output. This has been beneficial for female employees at Westpac as the company has strived to retain female employees by providing various flexible work arrangements such as job-sharing, alternative work and work from home arrangements during or after pregnancy but still want to work. McMahon and Pocock (2011) call this practice as “tailored parental leave” this allows female employees to have the ability to continue advancing their career. This “tailored parental leave” program is only possible through Westpac’ focus in compliance training, work culture and job design with the goal of giving its’ employees “freedom to decide” and design a work habit which increases job satisfaction (Hoffman, 2016), thus leading to a flow on effect which increases output.
The different attitude of the ADF whose view on individual employees as an input, which is constantly needed to allow the organisation to function at its required capability (Atkins, 2009). This is presented from the research conducted by human rights defence review (2012b) where “many women in the ADF feel they face a stark and mutually exclusive choice in respect of career or family” due to the restricted nature of the defence industry and the lack of policies which try to reintegrate female employees back into the defence force after they have children. The main reason for the defence forces inability to provide a best fit practice tailored for female employees is the culture and industry being primarily male dominated. With women making up 13.8% of ADF personnel, according to Cathcart, McDonald and Grant-Smith (2014) the flexible work programs (job share, work at home, etc.) have been implemented but “were occasional, short-term, one-off or ad hoc” with “men were more likely to have their requests fully granted (78%) than women (73%)” (Cathcart, McDonald ; Grant-Smith, 2014). The nature of the defence industry may also put flexible work programs like those implemented by Westpac to be unfeasible, putting employees who are female or parents in a disadvantage regarding WLB. Atkins (2009) has identified three areas of challenge (Job design, career and culture) that must be fixed or broadened to achieve flexible work for all employees.
It can then be recommended that the ADF must further improve the current flexible work arrangements that are provided to solve non-work needs of female employees. The ADF learn from Westpac’ current program of trying to increase job satisfaction through freedom of choice in training, training should focus on all potential work available to female employees once they decide to have children. This in turn will broaden the job design for female employees and give then more opportunity and chance of success in applying for flexible work arrangements, which will allow for the issue of career advancement being stagnated to be reduced as “pro rata calculation” in service are used in the Army as a factor for promotion (“Chapter 6: Combining a Military Career with Family”, 2012a). The ADF should also take into consideration of increasing the education, information and training sessions, like that of Westpac which increases and strengthens the understanding of the non-work needs of female employees. It is important to emphasise the need on consistent education and exposure of female employee non-work responsibilities so that the work culture may change and able to accommodate flexible work arrangements to truly suite the increasing women participation in the labour force. It is important for the ADF to change its male dominated work culture and be able to adapt to the increasing work participation of women, so that the organisation can attract and retain female personnel for the organisation become a best practice organisation. To increase the recognition of female non-work responsibilities, the ADF should like Westpac strive to increase female employee presence through targeted intervention during recruitment and a promotion evaluation (Chapter 4: The ADF Workforce Pipeline: Women’s representation and critical issues, 2012b) that encourage the hiring and retaining of women in the workforce. Another recommendation to the ADF is compensating pregnant employees, similar to Westpac which “pays up to 39 weeks in employee superannuation contributions” (McMahon and Pocock, 2011) in recognition of women having far lower income during pregnancy, this may increase involvement satisfaction (Townsend, Bailey, Brown, Bradley, ;Lingard, 2006) and increase loyalty and retainment of skilled workers in the organisation.
WLB regarding family and Work life
Another aspect of Westpac in which makes it a best practice company is the flexible work arrangements provided specifically to employees who are parents with a dependent child. The company has many services and support policies in conjunction with its programs that allow for parents to integrate their family tasks along with work while working. The “Better Life and Work information service” was created to assist parents in home health and health services along with close childcare facilities which are either Westpac owned or partnered. From adopting policies and services that assist their employees work and family responsibilities, Westpac is benefiting from improved retention, morale, productivity and staff loyalty (Business Council of Australia, 2003), furthering the attractiveness for potential employees. As mentioned previously, the “tailored parental leave” (McMahon, and Pocock, 2011), Westpac also offers two support programs for new mothers and fathers, the group intranet and non-primary caregiver leave. The group intranet service in particular allows employees who are parents to communicate, support and report they may have, allowing for advice and involvement to happen between the employees while Westpac is able to gather data to further evolve their support programs.
The ADF on the other hand, the rigidity of the workplace has severely restricted flexible work programs and policies available to parents working in the ADF. While the ADF have but in policies and practices where “Personnel, who avail of family friendly work arrangements, will not be discriminated against and will be treated equally with other serving personnel” (Human Resource Management Section, 2007) is promoted the work culture has created an attitude that is negative towards employees who have parental responsibilities. Wensing and Crompvoets (2015) have stated the attitude personnel have to parents who take the flexible work arrangement of changing working hours are usually complained to be as “slackers”. Thus, while it the workforce in the ADF have knowledge and access to a flexible work arrangement, results given from Atkins (2009) that while many individuals have considered the flexible work arrangements they “undertake a decision making and risk-assessment process prior to taking any action” and usually become “discontented non-requesters” with surveys showing dissatisfied or very dissatisfied respondents at 14.6%. This is also due to the rigidity of the structure which place priority in productivity, even though the “DEFENCE FORCES EQUALITY, DIVERSITY AND EQUAL STATUS POLICIES” state that Family-friendly working conditions and operational effectiveness are not contradictory (Human Resource Management Section, 2007), there is a clear issue in the structuring and work culture that needs to be addressed.
From comparing the ways in which Westpac handles WLB for employees who are parents to the ADF, the ADF should change the way work is perceived through compliance training on a regular basis, with emphasis on diversity workplace practice to educate managers and employees on the various responsibility and belief employees have that require time-off to satisfy. In doing so a culture of flexible work arrangements can become more easily accessible to apply for as employees’ attitude will become increasingly positive as they are able to more likely to empathise and support fellow employees’ whole are parents with a dependent child. While the ADF has some support programs that help parents with childcare and medical help, there is still need to further develop these support programs such as the group intranet and childcare facilities for employees who are parents. In supplying these support programs, like Westpac has, will most likely produce a similar result of increase retention and loyalty towards the organisation, as employees will have assistance and security in balancing family and work life. Since these programs will not directly affect the ADF’ view of needing employees working to maintain productivity, rather it will more likely increase productivity due to spill over effect of having a balance family and work life will increase motivation of employees. As such, it is recommended for the ADF to improve its support programs and structuring to increase the eligibility of employees to access flexible work programs in order to become a WLB best practice organisation.
Aging workers transition to retirement
Finally, Westpac focus on providing various programs and policies for aging workers has been thought of as a reason to why Westpac is a WLB best practice company. Westpac has implemented various options for aging workers to gain assisted in planning and transitioning to retirement. The “transition to retirement support” has allowed for aging employees at Westpac to slowly reduce their workload and working hours so that they can get adjusted to retire while Westpac themselves don’t fully lose talented workers (Hoffman, 2016).
The ADF on the other hand, has not implemented any programs or policies aside from the national employment standards, which does not really assist the aging workers transition into retirement. This fault is once again the attitude that workers feel that flexible work arrangements is incompatible or creates tension with the need to provide adequate capability in defence.
A relatively simple recommendation to improve WLB of aging workers in the ADF is the organisation itself should promote ageing workers to apply for the already available variable working hours arrangement. The ADF should just slowly change the number of work hours ageing employees close to retirement are recommended to work to give them time to sort, plan and adjust for retirement, must like Westpac’ “transition to retirement support”.
The comparison between Westpac a private company to the ADF a public organisation, has shown the differences in organisational goals but also in their practices. The ADF is losing a significant proportion of its workforce because it is failing to provide sufficient workplace and career flexibility, which Westpac excels at, making it a best practice company. As such as per the recommendations made, the ADF is in need of restructure in recruitment, job design and practices in order to create a more adaptive environment which responds to the increasing participation rates of women. The rigidity caused by the work culture in the ADF has clearly seen an effect on the sustainability and competitiveness of the ADF workforce. As such the ADF needs to adopt a broader understanding of what flexibility is and can be, in a way that best fits with the demands of the employees so that satisfaction increases output like Westpac. As such ADF should create WLB practices that fit their industry and motivate their employees in order to become a best practice organisation.
Atkins, S. (2009, September 31). A PICTURE OF AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE FAMILIES 2009. Retrieved from http://www.defence.gov.au/dco/_Master/documents/Publications/ADF_Families_Survey_2009_General_Report.pdf
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