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Work-life balance incentives

teeterMany employees are struggling to balance workplace demands with the need to care for their young children or ailing parents. It’s “work-life balance” in its new form, and it is a challenge for employers as well. If employees are having difficulty balancing their home and work lives, then it’s inevitable that those difficulties will start to spill over into the workplace.

In Canada, no jurisdiction imposes an obligation on an employer either to consider or to accommodate an employee’s request to modify hours of work or schedule for any reason, including caring for family members. However, human rights legislation prohibits discriminating against employees on the basis of family status, and courts and tribunals have interpreted this prohibition as imposing an obligation on employers to accommodate employees’ caring responsibilities by modifying their work schedules or hours of work.

This month, the government of Quebec introduced a new program to certify employers that implement work-life balance initiatives (page in French)—the first of its kind in the world. The work-life balance standard “la norme Conciliation travail-famille” (BNQ 9700-820) applies to public and private sector employers of any size or any type of business, and seeks to integrate work-life balance within human resource management.

The work-family balance certification will enable companies to promote themselves as family-friendly workplaces if they meet certain standards of excellence.

Employers will be audited and assessed against the standard for their compliance with seven obligatory elements and for the scope of voluntary programs in the areas of administration, organizational flexibility, flexible scheduling, leave, work location flexibility and services offered in the workplace. There are four possible levels of certification, based on the number of points awarded for each of the 29 voluntary criteria. Among the measures identified are: providing daycare in the workplace, leave for family reasons, a compressed workweek and flexible hours. Businesses will be encouraged to put forward some practical work-life initiative that meets the needs of their employees.

The standard is expected to help certified employers attract and retain the best talent in an increasingly competitive labour market.

According to an article in the Globe and Mail:

Steve Couture said he didn’t need any outside incentives to get him started on a work-life balance program at the company he heads: video game developer Frima Studio in Quebec City.

“We’ve been doing it on our own for two years,” added Mr. Couture, chief executive officer of the 270-employee business. “We view it as an investment.”

The workplace measures at Frima include flexible work time, free bus passes, in-office massage therapy and a performance rewards system that allows staff to trade points for such services as child care and house cleaning.

Mr. Couture said the family-friendly policy implemented at Frima resulted in clearly measurable results, such as a higher rate of employee commitment and a reduced rate of voluntary departures.

“At how many companies can an employee say, ‘My boss paid to have my living room repainted?’”

He insisted the new government program has nothing to do with adopting a soft and fuzzy approach to human resources. It’s all about cold, hard calculations.

Let’s hope it catches on in other provinces and territories. However, employers should be proactive and need to be prepared for the possibilities, because helping your employees will help your bottom line in the long run.

Yosie Saint-Cyr
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 15 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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