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Can Work and Life Be Allies, Not Enemies?
Work-life balance evolved in the 1970’s and 1980’s as stressed-out baby boomers wanted more to life than just work—hence the term “balance.” Since that time, work and life have seemed like an either-or proposition—where one has to be traded for the other.
Now, with COVID and working remotely, work and life have blended like never before, and employers are now being called upon to be more “human-centric,” e.g. care more for a worker’s full life experience. And if a business does so, Gartner declares that it can increase employee performance by as much as 54%. Sounds like a win-win. Employees are supported to live happier and healthier lives, and businesses grow. Who wouldn’t want that?
Unfortunately, it’s probably not so easy. Why?
First, a leader’s mindset needs to shift. For many leaders, they expect personal aspects or issues to be left at work’s door. The employee is here to do a job, and they are not therapists. You could argue that COVID and remote work has changed the mindsets of many, but what about when things go back to relatively normal, e.g., working in the office again at some capacity? Will these same leaders continue to demonstrate empathy?
Second, workers demand flexibility. ManpowerGroup recently conducted a study that found nearly 40 percent of job candidates across the world ranked schedule flexibility in their top three factors in making career decisions. Given remote and hybrid work models, you may think that flexibility is only about work location, but it is so much more than that. Flexibility is fundamentally about how, when and where work gets completed, which includes work assignments, work teams, input on deadlines, etc.
And third, team members need to believe they can be authentic. They need to know that their opinion matters, even if it is different than the rest of the team. They need to feel included in the conversation, even if they aren’t the first to speak up. They need to experience acknowledgment of their individuality, even if they are from a different culture than others.
We are on the precipice of a work transformation. Rather than “balance,” maybe the word should be “blend,” “integration,” or “harmony.” Whichever word you prefer, work is now a subset of life, not separate from it.