‘Work-Life Balance’ Makes No Sense
The term “work-life balance” is past its expiration date. It served its purpose by bringing to the forefront a conversation that needed to take place because of the all-consuming nature of work in our hyperconnected world – but the discussion associated with it needs to evolve.
“Work-life” implies mutually exclusive choices. “Life” is an overarching umbrella comprising obligations, choices, and commitments we have made about where, how, and with whom we’ll spend our time and energy. Work falls under this umbrella, because work is just one facet of life (or just one spoke on the umbrella). This is where “balance” comes in – below the “life” umbrella – deciding how to give the right amount of time and attention to the roles we have chosen.
Today, companies should care about the overall life success of their employees. Those that cling to traditional approaches of managing the workforce are behind the curve. We live in a world where technology lets people experience success in all aspects of their lives while business objectives are being met.
At my own firm, we’ve witnessed firsthand how moving to a flexible work environment in which employees can work where and when they please as long as they produce results can actually improved the overall performance of a company, including increased revenue, client satisfaction, employee engagement, and retention.
Moving to a mindset of “work-life success” means that an employee is able to coach his child’s soccer practice at 4 P.M. or take her elderly mother to physical therapy in the middle of the day. The lesson learned is that when you respect every aspect of an employee’s life and allow them to minister to non-work commitments in a guilt-free way, they thrive and produce their best work.
The four mindsets that employers and employees alike need to adopt in order to embrace a flexible culture that respects this new reality and keeps the “life” umbrella wide open are:
1. Employers Can No Longer Equate Time Spent in the Office With Productivity
Employers must help rid managers of the toxic “If I can’t see you, you’re not working” attitude. They must create ecosystems that are designed to facilitate results-focused performance conversations. There has to be a clear line of sight between each role in the organization, the quantifiable results expected of each employee, and solid ways of measuring success so that thoughtful and intelligent performance discussions regarding alignment with mission and vision can take place.
Many companies, especially those that employ large numbers of knowledge workers who use technology to do their jobs and stay connected, have no need to focus on where people are physically when they do their work. Technology is no longer confined to the hub of a brick and mortar office. People carry it in their pockets, have it in their cars, and use it in their homes. Why should people waste hours commuting long distances just to be in the same place at the same time?
Granted, there are times when people need to be together to collaborate, resolve problems, plan projects, and build camaraderie, but today, these gatherings can be thoughtfully planned instead of senselessly contrived.
2. As Much as Employers Need to Care About the Overall Life Success of Their Employees, Employees Need to Care About the Overall Financial Success of Their Employers
Those who divest themselves from any meaningful connection to their jobs – who “punch the clock” but don’t feel they own a company’s results – are also behind the curve. We work in lean organizations that need everyone fully on board, including their hearts and minds, not just backs and hands.
3. Employees Must Prioritize and Budget Time in Order to Spread It Effectively Among All of the Things in Life That Are Important to Them
Those who are disciplined and take ownership of their life responsibilities and who deliver results are the ones who will flourish. An individual who works with a “call me if you need me” approach will fail in a flexible work environment.
That doesn’t mean mathematically dividing time equally among all facets of life. It is about achieving success in each of the roles a person has chosen (spouse, parent, friend, employee, volunteer, etc.) and being fully present at the right times.
There is a balance between what has to be done and when it has to be done to meet business needs, and employees have to flex to the needs of the organization to ensure its success. This might mean missing a soccer game or working long hours to ensure a deadline is met. When a person accepts a job, a company gets the whole person. And when a company hires someone, that person has accepted a stewardship of that company.
“Role reality” means that some people have chosen jobs that require them to be physically present more than others, thus impacting the way flexibility works for them.
4. Employers Need to Accept That There Are No More Lifers
Long gone are the days when people accepted jobs with the intention of staying for life. However, providing a culture that frees people to pursue life success will undoubtedly yield greater results, higher-quality work, a more engaged workforce, and longer tenures. Most employees working successfully in flexible environments cherish the benefit and will move mountains to remain with a company that allows it.
A flexible environment enables everyone – the new college graduate seeking an advanced degree, the new parent with day care drop-off, the middle-aged child of aging parents who require time and attention, the worker who is nearing retirement and ready to ramp down – to honor all of their commitments.
While the animated conversation about work-life balance in recent years has primarily focused on properly prioritizing between wearing a “work” hat and a “life” hat, it’s time for a new perspective. All of us need to take responsibility for the choices we make related to work and other aspects of our lives, the objectives we are trying to achieve, and how we will communicate with each other productively along the way. The lines are forever blurred, and placing artificial constraints around work and life no longer makes sense.
A version of this article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Delta Emerson is president of global shared services at Ryan, LLC.