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All things Pharma

(I can’t get no) satisfaction

 The age-old question of whether we work to live, or live to work, still rumbles on today. But with companies doing more than ever to improve working practices, why is it that work-life balance is still a major concern? Pf’s Iain Bate reports.

It would seem there’s never been a better time to be an employee. Of course there’s the worry of job security and the complaint about being underpaid, which, let’s face it, will always be a contentious issue, but companies are now doing more than ever to please their workforce and bring an equilibrium of work-life balance. Pf’s annual Company Perception, Motivation and Satisfaction Survey, which provides an accurate insight into the attitudes of sales personnel in the industry, showed that work-life balance was the third main motivational factor whilst at work. However, despite it being one of the main drivers, it was surprisingly voted one of the least satisfying aspects for respondents. Clearly employers still need to do more.

The survey says

More than a third of people in the survey said they were still unhappy at their level of work-life balance; despite advances in maternity and paternity leave, and the right to request flexible working hours for those with children under six, aimed at increasing morale and happiness within the workforce. Women were the least satisfied when juggling life at home and at work with 44% admitting their level of unhappiness. Unsurprisingly part-time staff said they were the most satisfied when questioned on their level of satisfaction with 60% saying they had no complaints between working only a few hours a day then enjoying favourite pastimes or family time. The younger generation – 25 years old to 34 years old – enjoyed the balance between work, rest and play the most with those aged between 45 and 54 complaining of an in-balance.

Professor Suzan Lewis, research leader of the Human Resource Management department at Middlesex University, says it’s not uncommon for the there to be a distinct difference between the levels of motivational and satisfaction where work-life balance is concerned. “It is often due to a gap between policy and practice,” she explains. “There is evidence that polices can be undermined even in supportive companies by non supportive managers or a culture in which it is not acceptable to ask for flexible working hours, especially for men.

“However, another factor is workload. As people have more and more intense workloads, policies such as flexible working arrangements are often used as tools to work harder, for example, taking work home or working at weekends. Or, if people who work reduced hours find there is no replacement for the work that they are no longer doing – as is often the case, either their colleagues have to pick up some of their work, causing relational problems, or they have to work harder to fit in a full workload in reduced time. I have seen plenty of evidence of all these things.”

Within the industry, (see Figure 1) NHS Liaison officers were the most satisfied with more than half giving the thumbs up to the balance in their ‘downtime’ and work life. However, only a few doors away, hospital specialists were the least satisfied with 41% hoping for some sort of change. Despite having the benefits of holiday or sick pay, full time staff employed in the industry (45%) were only slightly more satisfied than counterparts working for an agency (44%).


The working week

Alongside the ‘perks’ of a job, it’s the amount of time whilst at work which seems to be the main bugbear for employees. According to the Office of National Statistics, full-time workers in the UK average 37 hours per week, part-timers do on average 15.5 hours and just over a fifth of people in employment work more than 45 hours a week. While this may be more compared to EU standards, other developed countries such as Australia, Japan and the US have a higher proportion of ‘long hour workers’ than the UK.

The main regulations governing working time are the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR). The WTR implement the previsions of the original directive and include conditionals relating to weekly working time, rest entitlement and annual leave, plus special provisions for those working through the night.

The basic WTR rights and protections include:

· A limit of an average of 48 hours a week over a 17 week period

· A limit of an average of 8 hours work in a day which night workers can work

· A right to 11 hours rest a day

· A right to a day off each week

· A right to an in-work break if the working day is longer than six hours

· 28 days paid leave for full-time workers per year.

Under the WTR, employers are also legally obliged to provide special leave in certain circumstances, for example, court service or military training and service.

A review of the literature between long days at work and health for the Health and Safety Executive in 2003, said that “there is some evidence that working long hours can lead to stress or mental ill-health”. Stress-related absence levels have increased in the past year and are now the main cause of long-term absenteeism in the public sector. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), workers in the public sector took an average of 9.6 days off sick last year, three more than the private sector, as a result of stress.

Although stress is considered a personal problem, Professor Lewis believes companies can still do more to reduce the pressure placed on staff in the office. “Through management support and line manager training – to value people who want work-life balance – employees are less likely to get burnt out than those who work all the time,” she continued. “Also, companies can help by questioning deeply embedded assumptions that ideal workers should be available and visible all the time. Good employers value workers’ outputs, rather than the amount of time they spend at work.”

Pharma fights back

More and more companies now realise the importance of providing the right blend between time spent at work and at home. Pharma is no different and recently had several high profile companies included in the US Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies 2010. Abbott, AstraZeneca (AZ), Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Genentech, Merck (MSD in the UK), Novo Nordisk, Pfizer and sanofi-aventis were all included in the list for their various work-life balance friendly policies.

Nearly 90% of employees at Abbott enjoy flexible working schedules where an on-site childcare centre at its headquarters in north Chicago, Illinois, looks after children full-time and also offers therapy for disabled children. AstraZenca provides childcare programs and peer mentoring schemes. It also hosts the Working Parents Network which offers advice on family-friendly topics such as meal planning and managing home finances.

Boehringer Ingelheim entered the top 100 for the first time after providing an impressive range of benefits for both mothers and fathers. Bristol-Myers Squibb now allows expectant mothers 24 job-guaranteed weeks off after the birth of a baby and has recently opened its fifth childcare centre, with full-time, part-time and back-up care for over a hundred children. BMS also stages summer camps and free classes on healthy-baby care.

Eli Lilly’s provides access to the company’s 267-acre park near their headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, and free memberships to local gyms. It was also noted that in 2009, 90% of employees adjusted their working hours in their favour. The latest “coolest addition” for employees at Genentech is CareerLab, a facility at HQ in south San Francisco, which offers career counseling, skills workshops, mentoring sessions and networking events.

Merck continued the trend of trying to adjust work-life balance and morale when it launched its Exceptional Caregiving website in 2009. The site provides a variety of resources for those raising kids, teens and young adults with special needs. The company also doubled its adoption aid benefit to $10,000 and gave parents who adopt one fully paid week of leave. Novo Nordisk was one of the highest companies on the list. It launched the popular ‘Saving and Paying for College’ seminar for employees with children of all ages. Parents can also enjoy 80 hours of cheap in-home or centre-based back up care annually for use with dependents and ill family members.

Female Pfizer employees have the opportunity to use the company’s Reproductive and Neonatal Resource Service, which provides a personal nurse and helps them locate top infertility centres across the US. New mums are also allowed to spend the last three weeks of their pregnancy at home and are granted 32 weeks off after the birth. Sanofi-aventis was particularly noted for offering online tutoring and SAT test prep for kids ages four to 18 and financial, as well as medical aid, for children in need of developmental therapy, special types of dependent care or upgrades to make their homes more accessible.

The right mix

Despite pharma companies introducing more working practices in an attempt to keep employers in work, and happy while they’re there, the CIPD still believes that even in these difficult economic times, employers should protect their workforce from being overworked. Where employees are working consistently long hours, this has a negative impact on their employment performance or wellbeing.

“I do think it’s a company responsibility (to improve satisfaction levels of work-life balance),” added Professor Lewis, “not just ethically but also because there is lots of evidence that workers with good work-life balance are more effective. It’s also a governmental responsibly to ensure the wellbeing of individuals, families and companies. Anything companies can do to challenge assumptions that ideal workers do not need work-life balance is helpful – but it’s not easy as these assumptions are rarely challenged.”

It would seem the message is simple – although not always practical for employers: promote a restructuring of working time and the methods in which people work to correct the balance between work life and time spent at home; and finally get the best out of people whilst at work. After all, a happy worker is a productive one.

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