Traditionally, work has previously meant showing up to a physical workplace to clock in for an 8 hour workday, just to clock back out in anticipation to do it all over again, all week, and leaving very little time for the things that truly matter like family, friends, taking care of our health, hobbies and other things that bring joy. Cue Dolly Parton’s ‘9-5’! Work-life balance, a term we often hear a lot of, actually first emerged in the 1970s or 1980s as a plank in the Women’s Liberation Movement, advocating for flexible schedules and maternity leave for women. With working professionals everywhere struggling to define and achieve it for themselves, the concept quickly morphed into a gender-neutral priority for human resources departments and C-suite executives alike.
Today, work-life balance refers to the methods an individual uses to juggle the demands of their professional and personal lives, and how they separate time spent in and outside of work. At many companies, the tide is starting to turn in favor of the workforce – one that recognizes that employees are three-dimensional people with personal lives and their own array of circumstances, strengths and challenges. In efforts to create work environments that embrace employee individuality and value them as a whole person, HR staff have been tasked with helping employees incorporate strategies for effective time management, stress reduction and burnout prevention. (According to Harvard Business Review, approximately $190 billion is spent each year to address the physical and psychological effects of burnout alone.)
To facilitate better work-life balance, more than half of all US companies offered some sort of health program by 2017; yet, two years later, more than half of US workers reported still having poor work-life balance. And in a recent ranking of positive work-life balance across 38 countries, the US ranked 30th. In other words, it’s been four decades and something isn’t working. The most important aspect of work-life balance, that being the actual balance piece, is missing, and we need to reconsider how we think about and structure the work day, the work week, and our lives — for improved health and happiness, more effective employees, and stronger businesses.
Work/Life Balance vs. Work-Life Blend
An alternative to the dichotomous work-life balance is the newer, more integrated approach known as work-life blend. As opposed to drawing a concrete distinction between work and life, and identifying priorities that fall under each, work-life blend is designed to desegregate the professional and personal life, with a focus on flexibility — the flexibility to do your work on your own time in a way that meshes with your non-work schedule.
For the modern day worker, work-life blend more closely aligns with the way they envision their jobs and their lives.
As we highlight in our ebook on remote work:
- More than three quarters of workers say they’d be “more loyal” to their employers if they offered flexible work options
- 97% of employees are looking to be a “flexible worker” in the long term
- Nearly seven out of every 10 members of the fastest growing segments of the workforce are willing to trade other work benefits for flexible workspace options
- Companies that provide their employees flexible work options experience 25% less turnover
As Claire Cain Miller and Sanam Yar stated in The New York Times, “for millennials, work is a thing, not a place.” Also highlighted in our Remote Work E-book, for Millennials and members of Gen Z, who will comprise 58% of the workforce by 2028, the ability to blend work and life is an even greater priority.
- Almost one in three Millennials have left a job because it did not offer enough flexibility
- Nearly 90% would consider taking a pay cut to work for an organization whose values align with their own
The Business Case for Work-Life Blend
With increased freedom and flexibility, employees:
- Schedule work when they can be most focused and productive
- Take less vacation time, and often work when traveling
- Feel empowered by the implicit trust of their managers and company leadership
- Take breaks when they need to
- Take fewer sick days
For businesses, this means higher morale, increased productivity, and greater profits. (As Forbes noted in February 2020, the work itself improves by up to 40%!)
Facilitating Work/Life Respect
As we explain in our ebook on diversity and inclusion, it’s not enough to build a diverse workforce; the people you hire need to feel they are treated fairly and respectfully, are known and appreciated for their unique value, and belong to the group.
Research from Deloitte has shown that “the more included an employee feels, the more likely they are to be at work and to receive a higher performance rating.” Gartner, meanwhile, found that highly inclusive organizations are 120% more capable of meeting financial targets and generate 1.4 times more revenue and 2.3 times more cash flow per employee.
In an increasingly young, global and diverse workforce, this means showing all of your employees that you care about their needs and listen to their opinions. So, instead of creating a workplace flexibility policy from the top down, consider engaging your middle managers and their teams in the conversation to truly understand what would most help your employees thrive — and grow with the company, instead of leaving for another opportunity. Then, create your flexibility policy together, fostered around respect for each other’s unique work and lifestyles.
As individual employees, we all have times when we struggle with time management and stress, and the first step in preventing burnout and maximizing the emotional ROI of our jobs is identifying the right blend of work and non-work activities.
As MBL VP of Business Development, Tracy Avin recently wrote in Forbes, “if you take a step back and prioritize your personal and professional responsibilities, you can set boundaries between the two and ultimately find respect for your time.”
At the end of the day, employees are more interested in figuring out how their job can fit into their life(style) rather than trying to jam their life into their work schedule. Very few, if any, have mastered the science of work-life balance. However, promoting and encouraging work-life blend is a more attainable and attractive strategy for supporting employees who are happy, healthy, and who producing high-quality outputs.