What is the first thought or feeling that comes to mind when you hear the term “work-life balance”? Is it a sense of balance and control over your own life? Or does the thought leave you feeling like one aspect of your life is dominating everything else? Is your work causing you to miss out on special moments with loved ones and family? Or are your family responsibilities so overwhelming that you find you can no longer be as effective as you want to be at work? Are you experiencing balance or are things a bit imbalanced at the moment?
There are many who still think of work-life balance as an issue that matters only to individuals with families. They think of work-life balance as a special (and sometimes unfair) concession that companies make to mommies and daddies so they can take their kids to the doctor, or attend a special school event or stay home and take care of them when they’re sick. But those who take this view might not be looking at the full picture.
In the traditional workplace the expectation is a commitment of 8 – 9 hours each weekday at your place of employment. In many situations this is typically non-negotiable. Most traditional workers will make their daily commutes to work, put in their hours and then close shop at the end of their shift to do it over again the next day. For many, this is the only way to do work. But let’s think about it. How much work do people really get done in their offices? Let’s face it. In an average day, employees including managers will have up to 2 meetings. That’s 2 hours. Then lunch accounts for another hour. If the employee smokes, they might take anywhere from 3 – 5 fifteen minute smoke breaks. That’s another hour and 15 minutes. In a single trip to the copier a person could discover that it needs CPR before it can spit out their print job. This could account for another 30 minutes of their time. Then there’s the unplanned project update with the person they just ran into on the way to the elevator – another 10 minutes. Folks, so far we’ve chopped 4 hours and 50 minutes off the 8 – 9 hour workday, and we haven’t even accounted for the 5 minutes spent socializing at a best buddy’s cube, or the phone calls from spouses, or children’s schools, neither have we looked at the needed bio breaks nor just taking a moment to stretch and take a deep breath! So suddenly, the 8 – 9 hours spent in the workplace have been cut back to at most 4 hours where actual work can get done…. Hm! This is just food for thought.
There are new work-life balance trends being set in 21st century workplace. Currently, the millennial generation, accounts for 22 percent of the US workforce, and over the next 4 years they will make up almost 47 percent! Millennials grew up with technology as a natural extension to themselves. They are connected to the world (and to their work) literally 24 hours a day. This generation also has strong views and expectations where work-life balance is concerned. They are OK with not being chained to a cubicle from 9 -5 everyday. They are very capable and willing to get things done wherever they are at whatever time of the day. As a matter of fact, internationally recognized workplace learning consultant, Jeanne Meister who authored the book The 2020 Workplace states that Millennials have an expectation for work-life flexibility which will soon replace what we now know as work-life balance. The Millennials are choosing where they will work based on many factors which include a company’s use of technology and the company’s attitude to work-life flexibility. Millennials do not believe in living to work. They believe in working to live. That is, who they are is not defined by their jobs. Where traditional workers were loyal to companies, spending 30 – 40 years of their lives at a single place of employment, Millennials are changing the landscape and will drop one situation for a more favorable one without batting an eyelash. And considering that by the end of the decade this generation will make up about 50% of the workforce, it behooves forward-thinking companies to be creative, beginning to implement innovative policies that allow for and frankly take advantage of this type of flexibility.
Work-life balance is so much more than the ability to spend more time doing personal things and less time on work. The truth is, as humans we all have the need for balance in our lives. We are multi-dimensional beings balancing a variety of responsibilities between our careers and personal lives and luckily innovation in technology can make it a lot easier for us to balance what we need to get done.
When I worked in the corporate environment, I was lucky to be in a workplace that embraces the idea of flexibility. But if I wasn’t careful, I could easily find myself spending up to 12 hours at work! For me, that would be a sure indication of imbalance between life and work. On a typical day, I would be up by 5:30 in the morning, getting my kids ready for school and then dedicating some time to me. This was a critical piece to my day. In order to take care of needs of others, I needed to take care of some of my own. Ideally, I would begin my office time at 10 in the morning, unless I needed to get in earlier for a meeting! See, starting my day at 10 ensured that I had more productive time in the office because my psyche is such that I am generally unproductive before 10 in the morning. I’m not a morning person. My brain cells don’t really activate until mid morning. Being forced to sit in my cube from 8 or 9 in the morning would benefit no one. I would miss out on important ‘me time’ and my employer would miss out on 2 hours of meaningful, productive work. My employer was OK with being this flexible, and in turn I was OK with being at the office until 6, sometimes 7 in the evening.
Consider the following facts:
- Balance does not look the same for everyone
- Balance does not look the same everyday
Employers that understand balance and recognize its importance are among the best places to work today. Allowing people the flexibility to address life priorities is a sure way to cultivate a happy workplace. And when your employees are happy they are more productive. The concern for managers and organizations should be how much work is getting done not where employees are situated each hour of the workday. Technology today allows individuals to be connected 24 hours a day. This means the 21st century workplace is poised to be super productive having the ability to get work done around the clock. When people’s lives are in balance, there is less stress and they are more willing to put in the extra time even at times when traditionally people did not do ‘employer work’.
Take Best Buy for example. Best Buy piloted a new concept in HR management called ROWE – Results Oriented Work Environment. The concept of ROWE basically dictates that “each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done.” Employees manage and control their own time and only come into the office if there is need for them to be there. So if they can get their work done elsewhere, they have the freedom to decide where they will set up shop. What Best Buy found through this pilot was that employees were 35% more productive when they were allowed the flexibility to determine when, where and how they work. The key here is a focus on results. Is the work getting done? If it is, then it should not matter where that employee is situated or even how many hours they spend on task. If deadlines are being met and productivity is evidenced by results, I say it’s off to the races.
In the 21st century work environment people will be apt to give more when they know that their entire well-being is important to their employer. Today’s employees are very aware that their employers do not own them. Neither do employers own a portion of their employees’ time each day. It really is very simple. Employees owe results. Employers owe a paycheck. So in the case of the person who prefers to be in the office by 6 in the morning and can churn out a half a day’s amount of work before anyone else gets there. That’s OK. If the next individual prefers to see their kids off to school in the morning and then stop off at Starbucks to plug-in for a few ‘quiet’ moments while they have a latte, that should be OK too. And there are those who prefer to work from their home office so that they can be fully engaged and concentrate on their projects with minimal interruptions. This too, should be OK. If in all these situations, and others like them we have more productivity and people have some balance in their lives, who cares what their time cards looks like?