Series on Work-Life Balance – The IKEA way

IKEA is a Swedish home furnishing retailer that sells well-designed, functional furniture. IKEA has over 150 stores in more than 20 countries around the world. IKEA’s Swedish heritage is important in the company, as demonstrated by its training of staff on Swedish culture. The Swedish national values of commitment to, and time with, family and community, combined with concern for a healthy environment, are strongly reflected in IKEA’s organizational culture and management practices.

The above values can be seen in IKEA’s strategic approach that acknowledges work-life balance, to its recognition of the importance of coffee breaks in a pleasant environment for all staff for social interaction. Work-life balance extends naturally from the company’s Swedish cultural roots and its “priority of focusing on co-workers to develop the corporate culture,” according to Anders Dahlvig, IKEA president. Work-life balance is expressed, for instance, in paid days off for all staff for first day of school leave, marriage leave and “moving house leave”.

It is also expressed in the following areas of existing work-life balance offerings, including flex-time (variation in start and finish times); full-time and part-time work; special shift arrangements (for example, early shifts only); non-standard work weeks (for example, longer but fewer work days per week); emergency leave (for a domestic crisis like a flooding); public/community service leave (such as working on a public service board); leave for caring for dependents; parental leave; sick children leave; information about childcare; employee assistance programs; information and advice on work-life balance; and health promotion.

One example of combining national and organizational cultures is the health promotion program in IKEA’s Glasgow store. In addition to subsidized healthy meals from the large and popular public cafeteria, all employees can take advantage of free podiatry (medical foot care) and massage sessions during work time. Burgess believes it is important that “co-workers generally see IKEA as investing a lot in them—and the feedback we get suggests they do.” Offering podiatry and massages relates in particular to the physical nature of much of the work, with staff often working on their feet and wearing protective boots. Doing physical work is not the exclusive preserve of shop floor staff; departmental and senior managers all help when needed.

Business Controller David Montgomerie has taken advantage of the chiropody service. This was a new experience for him and although his initial motivation was the novelty value and curiosity, he now believes promotion of health awareness and general fitness is very important. One of Montgomerie’s team is Abigail Jones, an IT specialist. Jones has also used the chiropody service, a first for her. “It’s a good perk…IKEA is obviously interested in the well-being of staff and are very people– oriented.” Stephanie Miller, a young part-time employee who works on the shop floor, believes that “health promotion to encourage a healthy lifestyle is a good idea and fun as well.” She did not expect such services, but can see that they are valuable.

On an individual level, work-life balance programs help people balance work with other life factors. Burgess notes that “in some cases it can offer the opportunity to experience something new and benefit from it.” In organizational terms, work-life balance is a “win-win situation.” According to Burgess, it increases morale and commitment by improving psychological contracts and gives “something tangible to staff so they perceive IKEA as a caring company that they enjoy working for.”