Large amounts of dollars, measured in millions, are spent each year by firms to seek guidance and consultation on how to achieve work-life balance for their staffs. Some of the courses and projects initiated and implemented are commendable. Some leaders have been adept at introducing or restoring work-life balance for their followers without requesting additional support or recommendations from third-party organisations.
However, based on what I have observed and heard in interacting with colleagues, family and acquittances, most firms seem to be wasting their limited financial resources, and most leaders remain oblivious or ignorant about implementing a balanced work-life policy in their workspaces.
Life, it appears, is an adventure filled with stressors that are growing in numbers and magnitude, as people attempt to make daily decisions about getting tasks done, fulfilling family obligations and participating in family events, taking part in social events and occasionally, just finding time to think one’s own.
The methods taken by individuals and organisations worldwide to address a perceived imbalance between work and life are quite varied. Whether it is due to cultural and historical reasons, one thing is for sure: different society interprets work-life balance differently.
The most implausible solution is proclamation. The proclamation originates from a senior management team or an employee engagement committee that work-life balance is essential. Promoting work-life balance will raise the morale of employees and, thereby, productivity and employee retention. It should be mandated that all leaders, supervisors and managers incorporate work-life balance as a crucial consideration of every new project.
“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.”Hillary Clinton
Some managers urge their followers to promote work-life balance. They are concerned that individuals who perceive that long hours equal an excellent reputation and career advancement. On numerous occasions, the insistence to practice work-life balance arrives via email at ten o’clock at night whilst the manager works in the comfort of his/her home for a few hours after sunset to catch up. Sometimes, my colleagues would remind each other (including myself) not to work excessively because we recognise that all of us have non-work responsibilities. If it is not communicated verbally, firms will attach posters in high-traffic areas such as the entrance or the office pantry, telling people to have a better work-life balance.
However, the proclamation never succeeds, simply because nothing has changed about the nature of the work, the firm’s culture, the staffs’ skillsets, and tasks are done to fulfil the managers’ dreams, rather than lifting the organisation to all-new heights. Whilst some initial flurry of rebalancing takes place, it is short-lived once services resume as per usual.
Training people who are struggling to solve work-life balance problems has some virtue. Aside from the training provided, the pure act of raising thoughts about work-life balance assists individuals and divisions within a firm to consider their work policies and corporate atmosphere. When the circumstances are right, these thoughts can yield positive outcomes.
It is more favourable to educate people in some of these skills and organise events and projects so that they are given a chance to practice the skills before applying them. Taking one step further, determining their capacity to digest and leverage the skills and fine-tuning the training/coaching programme is the best.
Offering escape avenues from work such as gym memberships, social clubs and group activities works for those who are dying to go to a gym or participate in a social club right after work. For those who do not, the reluctance to attend or being seen as “a workaholic” only compounds their ability to spend time on what they would prefer to be working on.
“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”Dolly Parton
On the one hand, occasionally, what people prefer to do is to work. Their work-life balance is skewed towards work. It is their source of self-esteem. It is what they believe they do best of all, or it is what they require at this time for financial reasons, and their family supports them in possessing the work-life balance they have.
On the other hand, at times, people prefer to sit back and relax under their roof. They have new circumstances to deal with, such as a new family, a new relationship, or it is just the way they were raised. In certain situations, this balance does not match the expectations and the needs of the firm. So, it is not uncommon to see firms frightening or harassing their employees to put in the extra hours without being compensated fairly. Despite these intimidations, their family supports them in bearing that risk.
Understandably, firms require employees to work exceedingly long hours to meet deadlines, expand, or simply beat the competition. However, my take is that if a firm truly wants to promote a work-life balance attitude into its corporate environment, it can also offer flexible hours and “working from home” policies to its employees. Usually, when people think of firms competing with each other in the same industry, the standard unit of measurement is “which firm offers the best products and services?” and not “which firms look after its employees’ wellbeing the best?”
To have a realistic chance of success, work-life balance initiatives should
- Promote and raise awareness of work-life balance as an ongoing issue
- Develop skills to increase self-control and self-discipline over the use of time.
- Enhance flexibility of working location and time
Putting together initiatives and campaigns to improve work-life balance based on arbitrary values of balance, dictated by policy or an overzealous leader, is futile. Those measures will fail as the choice of what balance means is ours to make.