Is Your WorkLife Balance out of Whack?
Work/life balance has been touted as essential for attracting and retaining employees. Who doesn’t want to kick off early on Fridays, be free to take their kid to a dentist appointment in the middle of the day, or have four weeks’ vacation?
Well, sure, people want that. No dispute. But the old model of work/life balance is an unrealistic and unsophisticated approach to how people – especially Millenials – are actually living.
“Work/life balance” implies that work and life are at opposite ends of a spectrum, that work is necessary but life is preferable. That work starts at 9am, and life starts at 5pm. That allowing a little life to interfere with your work is a big privilege.
But with Millenials flooding the workplace – a generation that is almost always plugged in, that is more likely to work remotely, that is more likely to have multiple jobs at the same time, and that wants to make positive impact with their work – a job is not just a job anymore. It’s a way of living, not just a way to make a living.
What we’re seeing now is work/life integration.
Future of Work thought leaders see work/life balance being replaced by the ideal of work integrating with life, and life into work, seamless and complementary, with technology making it possible. Work/life integration is about letting people choose how, when and where they work. And letting them live their lives at the same time.
“That Sounds Terrible”
I had an interesting interchange on Twitter recently. In commenting on an article about work/life balance, I referenced the growing trend of work/life integration. I got a tweet from a stranger asking me what that meant. Constricted by 140 characters, I replied: “Work doesn’t end at 5pm, and then life starts. It’s a blend.”
His response? “That sounds terrible.”
Well, I don’t think it does. It doesn’t mean everything is always about work. It doesn’t mean you can’t unplug and go on vacation. It doesn’t mean you have to choose a work engagement over an important life situation. It doesn’t mean you have to respond to work email on Sunday morning – unless that’s what you want to do. And smart companies don’t expect it of you. That’s the “life” part of “work/life integration.”
So What Does Work/Life Integration Look Like?
Letting employees make choices about how, where and when they work means goodbye to regular work hours. Managers of remote workers are already familiar with that. Now this flexibility is extending to in-office employees too. When employees get to choose how they work best, productivity rises and so does job satisfaction. The days of “just showing up” are over. Performance is judged not by seeing people at work, but by evaluating the product of their work.
What the integration model does, however, rely on is employee engagement. This is what truly drives the functionality of giving employees choice over how they work. For disengaged employees, work is an obligation they have to fulfill to get a paycheck. But employers should trust that engaged workers, by and large, will do what is needed to get the work done. They’re just not necessarily doing it on a time clock.
What if instead of increasing productivity by working harder, we worked better? Worked when we’re most energized, inspired and driven? In turn, we let life blend in with work because, really, it’s going to anyway.
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