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Work-life balance

What Every Trainer Needs to Know about Work-Life Balance
Margaret Adams
[email protected]

Whether you have already recognised it or not the work-life balance agenda is starting to have an impact on your work as a trainer. If you work in an organisation then work-life balance issues will be affecting how you plan and deliver training. If you are a freelance trainer you may have already found that the work-life balance agenda is having an impact on your livelihood. Now is a good time to think about this important agenda, to consider how it affects you and your work and decide what you need to know about work-life balance to remain effective in your role.

As a trainer you will be aware of numerous subtle shifts in the demands of the users of training and you will no doubt have already responded to some of these. You may not have considered how closely these changes are linked to the growing importance of the work-life balance agenda. Therefore you might have been working reactively, responding to change, rather than working proactively thus using the changes which are already happening to enable you to offer an even better service.

Developing a familiarity with the work-life balance agenda will help you to:

  • understand how this agenda affects the work of trainers
  • deliver your training in ways which are relevant to the needs of the modern workforce
  • be better prepared for when you are asked to deliver a session on this subject.

1. Understanding how the work-life balance agenda affects your work
The work-life balance agenda has an impact on what people want their training to cover when they are specifying training and when they are attending programmes. As a trainer you must make sure you are aware of these changes if you are to meet your customers’ expectations. Trainers working in all fields need to plan their training with the work-life balance agenda in mind. The examples below illustrate why.

Management Development:
Managers today are more likely to be managing a workforce which they cannot supervise directly. As a consequence of the growth of 24/7 operation and 365 days a year working managers themselves may not be present throughout designated working hours to supervise people’s activities. Additionally in many cases the people managers supervise work remotely for some or all of their working week or visit their employers’ premises infrequently. With the advent of flexible working and changing employment patterns managers are also likely to be responsible for more part-time and contract staff, whose needs for managerial support are often quite different from those of their other staff.

All these developments significantly increase the challenges for line managers. They need to learn how to communicate effectively with the new workforce. This is an increasingly difficult task as key messages may not reach staff working away from the organisation on a regular basis as easily as in the past. Managers need guidance on new ways of communicating with their staff and on new ways of motivating people since they could today be responsible for the work of people they rarely see. Managers are also more likely ask for help in developing strategies for managing the outcomes of people’s work rather than the daily processes which lead towards outcomes. They need to learn to reward achievement not attendance at work. All of these changes in managers’ roles and responsibilities have implications for trainers and the programmes they offer.

Actions for Trainers:
Look at your training materials. Do you assume the managers you train are managing people with whom they interact on a daily basis and who they can call to team meetings, train on-the-job and supervise their staff closely?

Check out your management development activities and case studies. Do they reflect the changes in the composition of the workforce, changing employment patterns and the new ways of working that have become common over recent years?

Personal Effectiveness:
Many personal effectiveness training programmes focus on what happens in the workplace dealing with such issues as how to manage time at work, how to be assertive at work, how to manage colleagues and interact with superiors and customers. The growing interest in the work-life balance agenda helps people to put work and life outside work on a more equal footing. Thus trainers have the opportunity to allocate more time to helping people to manage both their working lives and their lives outside work effectively and to pay more attention to helping them to manage the interface between these two components of their lives.
This is an important development. In reality the issues which create problems for people at work often also emerge in their lives outside work. People who procrastinate or who find it difficult to turn down requests for help or who can never fit the important tasks into their schedules often have the same problems at work and outside work so dealing with both components of people’s lives makes a lot more sense to programme participants.

Many people also need help to manage the relationship between their working lives and their lives outside work, a development which offers training professionals scope for introducing new dimensions in their personal effectiveness training. People need to learn how to ensure one component of their lives does not swamp the other. Helping people to manage this interface and to develop the right work-life balance for them will help people to be more personally effective overall.

Actions for Trainers:
Look at the emphasis of your personal effectiveness training programmes. Are you helping people to deal with more than just work issues? Are you helping people to look for solutions in both parts of their lives? Are you helping people to manage the interface between work and life outside work in ways which will improve their overall personal effectiveness? Have you incorporated key work-life balance issues, for example, coping with flexible working, or how to tackle the long hours culture into your personal effectiveness programmes?

2. Delivering Training
All trainers are aware that approaches to delivering development programmes are changing. The one day training programme still has its place but there is increasing use of a whole range of different approaches to training and development. E-learning, CD-based training, blended learning, master classes, “bite sized” or modular training, teleconferenced training, work-based learning activities, telephone coaching and many more approaches are now well-established.

The modern workforce needs access to all of these approaches to development. If people cannot attend training because they do not congregate at a particular location, if they work shifts which mean that they are not available at times when groups are normally trained, if they have several part-time jobs and cannot attend training with one employer because they are working for another, or if they need highly personalised support because of the specialist nature of their jobs or employment patterns they need trainers to find innovative ways of helping them to address their development needs.

Actions for Trainers:
Look at your training delivery methods. When you are planning a programme do you make a variety of approaches to support participant learning available? Can you accommodate the needs of all would-be programme participants? Do you customise materials for individuals? Do you take steps to ensure that every one who needs to learn what your programme offers, one way or another, has access to your training?

3. Delivering the work-life balance agenda
With the growth of interest in the work-life balance agenda there is a good chance that sooner rather than later you will be asked to deliver training on this subject. Your senior managers or your customers may ask you to give a briefing on work-life balance.

Senior managers expressing an interest in work-life balance issues usually want to know:

  • How do we keep the right side of the law?
  • What’s in it for us?
  • What exactly do we need to do about work-life balance?
  • How do we make work-life balance work for us?

Actions for Trainers:
Make sure that you can deal with the above issues. Any awareness raising session you deliver on the work-life balance agenda can be built around these themes. Useful sources of information to help you prepare your session are:

Changing Times: a TUC guide to work-life balance.
This guide will give you an overview on work-life balance issues.

The Teleworking Handbook (fourth edition)
This offers a useful digest of flexible working practices and is a useful reference tool.

The DTI website has a work-life balance section with useful case studies and lots of information about work-life balance generally.

The ACAS website is a good place to learn more about some of the current issues surrounding flexible working and changing employment patterns.

As a trainer you can’t afford to ignore the work-life balance agenda. Understanding how work-life balance is affecting your workplace – the training world – will help you to ensure that your training continues to meet your customers’ needs, so decide now what you need to know about work-life balance and take steps to address your own development needs.

Margaret Adams is the author of The Work-Life Balance Trainer’s Manual (Gower Publishing Ltd) 2003

First published at http://www.ukhrd.com September 2003


© Work-Life balance part of The Work Foundation 2005