Can Work-Life Balance Be Achieved?
Regardless of what type of organization we are working with, from private to public sector, small to large, professional environment to skilled trades, leaders consistently speak of their employees’ desires for a greater work-life balance.
Balance is a very tough thing to achieve. True balance would mean that each area of our lives would represent an equal part of our day / week / month / year. Almost no one can achieve that. But we can achieve fluidity where there is a blend of personal and professional obligations so that both work responsibilities and family commitments can be met. How we do this requires building a flexible lifestyle that can accommodate and achieve your goals.
Each of us will have different goals and will require a unique mix of work time, play time and family time to achieve a sense of balance and sense that you are running your life, not that life is running you.
Modern Work-Life Balance
In a recent study on the status of modern day relationships, it found that we are feeling less satisfied in our personal lives because we have assumed almost “Olympian” level expectations of what it means to be a good parent, spouse and employee. Today, many people have set goals of being the most involved parent in the PTA, the highest performing employee, and a pillar in the community through volunteer work. This leaves little room for personal downtime, relaxation and connection with family and friends.
In a session this week with a client, they noted that increasingly younger employees are opting out of being promoted to higher levels of responsibility. Despite the pay increases, they would prefer to stay in their current roles so that they can have a more balanced life style which allows for time and energy to focus on areas of interest outside of work. This is particularly true for Gen Xers, who view their careers as only one part of their lives and not necessarily the most important part.
This doesn’t mean that Gen X employees don’t work hard and invest long hours at the office because they certainly do. However, they won’t martyr themselves for their organization and if they can’t achieve flexibility in their lives to to focus on other priorities (family, friends, travel, fitness etc), they will quit their jobs and seek opportunities that provide greatly flexibility. In addition, many Gen Xers have partners and spouses who will support them emotionally (and perhaps financially) to make such a radical change in their career to help them achieve balance.
Gen Ys also seek a work-life balance. This is certainly no surprise and has been written about for years. However, what is new is the way in which young employees expect their organizations to help facilitate their balanced lifestyle. Employees have been known to ask their organizations for the following support:
- Time off to care for a sick pet
- A membership at the fitness location / club / sports team of their choice
- On-site chiropractic and/or massages
- Concierge service to help with running errands
- On-site daycare
- ‘Use your own device’ – technical capacity and support for individual hardware of their choice
- Use of company owned technology for personal use
- A car allowance towards the vehicle of their choice
- Use of company rented condos
- Parking reimbursement
- Permission to promote / fundraise on site for individual charity events they are participating in
- Reimbursement for at home internet costs or personal cell phone usage
- Use of company vehicles /drivers / planes for personal use
And the list goes on and on…
While many employers do not permit some of these requests, the reality is that Gen Ys will ask for what they want and expect a reasonable response from leaders as to why it can or cannot be provided. Many employees increasingly feel that their personal time is being encroached on by their employers who expect access to them during evenings, weekends and holidays. Therefore, employees expect their employers to help them achieve a work life ‘balance’ by providing support, tools and financial compensation.
What “Work-Life Balance” Truly Means
The desire to live a balanced life won’t be going away. However, how we define ‘balanced’ will change as younger employees challenge us to think more creatively about how, when and where we can work, play and take care of our family commitments. As our communities and families change to reflect a more diverse and modern make-up there will be even more demand for fluidity. Older children will be looking after their parents; parents will be looking after nieces and nephews, friends will be taking care of other friends’ pets, blended families will be coordinating multiples schedules, athletes will need time off to train for competitions, employees who observe religious holidays / practices will need flexibility in their work schedules, parents who travel will require extended child care support, etc.
Our lives have evolved to include a more complex make-up than the traditional 9-5 work day, 40 hour work week with a nuclear family. With this more multifaceted approach, employees’ needs and goals will change. Some employees will make work their priority while others will seek ways to fit work around their other commitments. Whatever the make-up looks like, you can be assured that the need, desire and expectation of achieving ‘balance’ isn’t going away. Employers who help employees to achieve their personal and professional goals will be the organizations that recruit and retain the highest performing employees and will increase overall employee engagement.