A Work-Life Balance Standard: Helping Employers Distinguish Themselves

Human resources specialists (and corporate social human resources specialists, as Elaine Cohen prefers), take note!  Earlier this month, the government of Québec introduced a new program – apparently the first of its kind in the world – to certify employers that implement work-life balance initiatives.

The foundation of the program is a new reference guide, developed by the provincial standard-setting Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ), in consultation with employers, employee representatives, academics, and government representatives, that specifies mandatory requirements and best practice elements of an employer’s work-life balance initiative. The work-life balance standard, or “la norme Conciliation travail-famille” (BNQ 9700-820), can be applied to any organization in the public or private sector, regardless of size or type of business.

Employers can apply to be audited against the standard and will be assessed for their compliance with seven specified 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. (In this regard, the BNQ standard is similar in form or approach to sustainable building rating systems, like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)®.)

By enabling employers with leading workplace practices to distinguish themselves, the standard is expected to help certified employers attract and retain the best talent in an increasingly competitive labour market.  The new program complements Québec’s existing subsidy program that helps employers establish work-life balance initiatives.

I haven’t seen any other standard for evaluating work-life balance programs, although a number of jurisdictions have incentive and award programs in place (see this review of international work-life balance programs prepared by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada back in 2004).  Are you aware of any?

It will be interesting to watch the rate of take-up of the certification program by Québec employers, and even more interesting to see whether it results in any measurable advantage for certified employers over those who are not.

Even for those corporate responsibility and HR (or CSHR) practitioners outside of Québec, this new work-life balance standard will serve as a useful tool when establishing new or improving existing workplace programs.

You can download, without charge, the full 42-page standard here (in french) or here (in english), after providing the required contact information.  This english-language article from the Globe and Mail provides a few highlights from Québec’s release.

  1. A lot of employees will be very happy when this catches on; perhaps even starting a movement to encourage their own employers to get certified. What a great way to tell you employees they matter!

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