The common buzz phrase “work-life balance” has been thrown around for decades as the coveted and ideal state for the working professional — to work hard but still have a life. Companies that have a “good” culture put a lot of weight behind this balance, but what does it actually mean? Is it a goal that can be achieved? Or even worthy of pursuit?
Workplace stress and burnout isn’t a new concept — it’s been experienced since the beginning of time. But “crisis exacerbates an existing problem,” according to author Jennifer Moss in her forthcoming book, “The Burnout Epidemic.” Insert here: pandemic, increased chronic stress, and a culture that expects productivity at all costs. A Bloomberg study found that technology has increased pressure to be “on” adding an additional 48 minutes per workday and more drastically, the World Health Organization found that long work hours are leading to health risks. Balancing work and life is even more critical when it’s a matter of life and death.
The word balance evokes images of the wavering tight rope, the shifting weight on a scale, and even a balanced diet that promotes a sustainable and healthy future. So like that ever-teetering see-saw, what if work-life balance isn’t a steady state, but instead is a constant practice of professional sustainability and humanity. Employees and employers need to prevent burnout and make time for the other important titles they carry: mother, father, friend, caregiver, athlete, moonlighting musician, and more. In order to dissect the current work-life balance status, let’s look back to see how this story has changed.
Mothers at Work
Decades ago, when more women were entering the workforce, corporations created “family-friendly” programs often targeted to women who needed flex time to balance childcare. But policies do not equal culture. In a past world where workaholic tendencies were celebrated, in-person face time was essential, and women were trying to climb ladders and smash ceilings, it was difficult for women to do both — fight for a fulfilling career and cherish time with their families. As a millennial and new parent, I’ve had to carve my own path. Flexible work can’t be taught by the generation before. I was facing maternity leave at the peak of the pandemic and after, had to find a way to get work done around a growing family. Historically it has taken economic crises to shake things up, and it’s safe to say we’ve entered a new wave of work. This time, employees are expecting the flexibility that lets them not only do both, but thrive while doing both.
COVID-19 challenged the traditional office structure and it changed my perspective. Balance is no longer about hours clocked in the office and hours clocked at home. It’s finding a unique and personal way to do your best work and be your best self. That means doing more of what really matters to you. Employees are even quitting jobs in pursuit of flexibility, a movement known as “the great resignation.” In some industries, employees now have the power. So, how do we approach the future of flexible work?
How To Make Work Flexible
1. Find your community: At LogMeIn, I co-lead the Families Employee Resource Group. At work, we’re encouraged to “be real” and bring our whole self to the office. Together we create events and resources that our community and allies can benefit from including webinars, CPR courses, and a Slack favorite, Dad Joke Friday.
2. Stick to a schedule: Creating boundaries has helped me be present at work and present during mom duty. At 5 pm daycare pickup, my attention is on my son. I’ve communicated this to my team so they know when I’m available.
3. Ditch arbitrary deadlines: In a global company with varying time zones, it’s common to wait for a colleague to literally be awake before reaching out. End of day doesn’t have to mean 5 pm. Flexibility means you’re trusted to get work done without sacrificing family dinners.
4. Be human: Sometimes your child will be sick. Sometimes you have to go pick up your dog’s medicine. Sometimes you just need a walk. Bringing your full self to work means you are more than just an employee. Check in with your team at the beginning of a meeting. By practicing this every day, it helps us go beyond the policies, and make flexibility real and human.
The Future of Work
Maybe it’s time to break up with the phrase “work-life balance,” if it’s based in antiquated work norms. BBC reported that “organizations need to examine the demands they are placing on employees.” Perhaps the problem is that the work expectations are too much, crushing the balance scale all together. As some employees are being asked to return to the office, hybrid models are forming to allow the benefits of remote work and the benefits of in person collaboration. To ditch the old framework, balance is out, flexible is in. Flexible work is the future.
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