Is the work-life balance a myth?
- 07 July, 2014 23:04
In theory, the concept of "work-life balance" seems to make sense splitting your days and weeks between a collaborative and connected working life while also enjoying personal activities and leisure time with friends, family, pursuing hobbies, exercise or just watching TV.
"The idea behind "work-life balance" is to offer a connected and social work environment that fosters creativity and career fulfillment whether engaging remotely or from an office and also allow for a well-rounded personal life outside of professional responsibilities," says Ajay Kaul, managing partner of AgreeYa Solutions, a secure mobility and collaboration platform solution.
"In laymen's terms, in the traditional sense, 'work-life balance' means having 40 hours of work followed by unconnected weekends and employees' share of allotted work leave," Kaul says.
Work-Life Balance is a Myth
But what if everything you thought you knew about work-life balance was a myth? Alexander Kjerulf, founder of Woohoo, and an international thought leader and author on topics relating to happiness at work, says he believes "work-life balance" as it's traditionally defined doesn't actually exist anymore.
"Traditionally, we see work and life as competing activities fighting for our time," Kjerulf says. "There's work and then there's 'free time,' implying that work is not free. And the term balance implies that more work automatically means less life. But where I take issue with that is we only have one life we just happen to live some of it while working and some of it engaged in other activities," he says.
The traditional concept of work-life balance is inaccurate because the evolution of global, knowledge-driven businesses has diminished geographical boundaries and made time zones irrelevant, says AgreeYa's Kaul.
Consumers expect 24/7/365 service and support, and most enterprises either have already moved to embrace mobility or are making the transition to workforce mobility to enable a more connected, always-on and engaged workforce, Kaul says.
The New Definition of Work-Life Balance
"The modern concept of work-life balance is focused on offering employees the flexibility to work anywhere, anytime -- leaving fewer fixed working hours and more project-driven or service-level deadlines and opportunities for ongoing streams of innovation and communication between team members," Kaul says.
The emergence of cloud-based IT infrastructure and the prevalence of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies now allows employees to work from home or remotely and seamlessly continue collaborative efforts with colleagues and team leaders, Kaul says.
"With companies of all sizes becoming more dynamic, flexible and accommodating in their use of enterprise social collaboration tools and solutions and BYOD, the 'mobility effect' will continue to cause an overlap of the workforce's professional and personal lives," Kaul says.
Mobility Changed Everything
According to IDC research, the world's mobile worker population will grow to 1.3 billion by 2015. While the explosion of mobility and remote workers and workplaces has enabled a new era of productivity and collaboration, it can have a dark side if employees don't know how and when to disconnect from work or are actively discouraged from doing so, says Kaul.
"Enterprise mobility and workforce flexibility is beneficial for rapidly expanding enterprises with increasingly mobile workforces, and those looking for opportunities to grow market reach and business opportunities across borders will continue to adopt this emerging business trend," Kaul says.
But while the always-on, always-connected trend is tangibly valuable to business innovation, collaboration, cost of operations, customer satisfaction, employee retention and customer engagement, mobility can absolutely disrupt the concept of a work-life balance for those employees who are unprepared or unable to disconnect when necessary, Kaul says. Between the varied time zones across which work occurs and the ability to connect and collaborate from anywhere, it can be really difficult for workers to find a satisfactory blend of work and life, he says.
[Related: Working at Home a Win-Win for Employers and Employees]
"While it's great that workers are adequately supported by technologies like virtual desktops, mobile technology and cloud based computing, this creates a blurring of professional and personal life," Kaul says.
"To prosper and thrive in any industry, especially the ever-changing and always-growing technology industry, workers need to carefully command work and life so as not to lose themselves, their family or their focus on enterprise/workplace success," and that's a fine line to walk, he says.
How to Maintain the Balance
For many workers, there's an unspoken expectation that the more hours they work, the better, says Kjerulf. This 'Cult of Overwork,' he says, is subtly reinforced by executives who themselves put in 60 to 80 hour work weeks and seem to expect their employees do the same.
"Working 60 hours per week or more is going to screw up your life," Kjerulf says. "One of the ways to avoid this is to consciously disconnect and make time spent not working meaningful do more than just binge-watch "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix, for example," he says. "Spend time with close friends, take a class, try a new hobby, volunteer or contribute time to a charitable cause," he says.
Change Starts at the Top
"Also, executives and managers should take this advice and try to keep from working 80-hour weeks, too," Kjerulf says. "That just creates pressure on everyone else to do the same; many employees feel they don't dare leave while the light is still on in the boss' office."
"As a managing partner, and the same should ring true for my peers, ensuring a healthy work-life balance for valued employees is crucial for fostering organizational fulfillment, frequent innovation and ideation, employee retention and the attraction of new talent," says AgreeYa's Kaul.
"Companies entertaining mobility solutions, or those with elaborate mobility programs already in place, should spend the necessary time and effort to institute policies, processes and incentives, all to set expectations that enable entire workforces to easily pursue more balanced lives. A balanced work-life will reduce the stress among employees and result in increased productivity, engagement, innovation, collaboration and so much more," Kaul says.
To further emphasize that employees understand the importance of this delicate balance, managers should practice a healthy work-life balance in their own lives, modeling appropriate professional responsibility and support of their teams' pursuit of their own balances, Kaul says.
Executives and managers must remember that a business's success in the workplace isn't dependent on how many hours people work, but is about the results, Kjerulf says.
"Executives and managers must realize once and for all that it's not about how many hours people are logged in, it's about the results they create," he says. "You must shift your thinking and as hard as it can be, give people much more autonomy in deciding when and where they work," he says.
And for employees, Kaul says, ensuring the balance between a working and a personal life begins with establishing realistic goals, prioritization, organizing their workload and staying focused to accomplish each responsibility as a milestone, he says.
Self-management and effective time-management are the keys to a healthy work-life balance, especially within the mobile workforce where remote employees are not governed by their ability to unplug at the end of each day, says Kaul.
Technology Can Help Achieve Work-Life Balance
Technology can offer a concrete solution to helping employees and executives maintain the continuum of work and life, says Kaul. He recommends social collaboration solutions to reduce the hassles and burdens of never-ending email chains and long meetings, and to give workers quick access to relevant information or to the chain-of-command as well as the ability to interact within a "virtual workspace" rather than a physical office.
Combined, technology, management buy-in and positive examples and a focus on business results can all lead to effective time and work management, thus leaving more time to spend attending to personal life matters, Kaul says.
The ultimate goal, says Kjerulf, is to avoid separating work and life into separate spheres, and find the sweet spot that allows you to do both without neglecting either.
"Looking at my own life, I certainly don't see a 'work life' and a 'private life.' I just see one life, mine, being expressed in different aspects. And these aspects are so mixed and so mutually dependent, that it makes no sense to attempt to separate them," says Kjerulf.
"They are already as integrated as they can be, and there seems to be no time where I am 100 percent at work or 100 percent off work -- I'm always just me, living my life. To me, it's not really about balance, it's about being happy and living a full life in its many different aspects."