“Work-life balance” is dead.
In my opinion, it is fast becoming one of those work related phrases that makes everyone roll their eyes when they hear it; like the phrases “think outside the box”, “touch base” or “it’s on my radar”. We have a vague awareness that we should be doing it – that it should be important – but we have limited understanding of how to put it in practice.
As a dinosaur for the recruitment industry, work-life balance was all I heard about in any job interview with prospective candidates when I started recruitment in 2011. It was at the top of the list of non-negotiable criteria for candidates. It was also one of the first criteria cited to me by clients when they were outlining why candidates would want to work for them.
The strange aspect was that when pushed on it, a lot of candidates found it difficult to pinpoint tangible ways of showing what this balance actually was. Most fell back on being able to leave work early to pick up sick kids or coming in late if they needed to drop a car off to be serviced. Nothing outside of the normal expectations, that couldn’t be taken through leave entitlements.
“We offer a great work-life balance here at company XYZ” clients would state. In the same breath, clients couldn’t give me anything in writing as to what they offered in regards to work-life balance. They would often say that a lot of their team left the office early on certain days or that there were no set working hours for the day, however, could they show me something in black and white for a candidate? Did they have a flexible work arrangement policy? A document outlining family-friendly workplace provisions, like a 9-day fortnight roster? Can employees purchase leave? Rarely!
Jump forward to the year 2016, the year of the Rio Olympics, the iPhone 7 and driverless cars (I don’t know which one I am or was more scared of!) and how is work-life balance viewed now? I meet with anywhere from 15 – 20 people every week and speak to countless others. These people are from a myriad of different industries and at various stages in their lives and careers, but rarely do I have any of them hit me from the start that they want work-life balance in their next role.
Personally, I think work-life balance has now become a norm in the workforce. Indeed, the recent millennial survey by Deloitte (2016) found that outside of salary, the work/life balance afforded by a prospective employer is a decisive factor in millennials joining a business (even above progression opportunities).
What is expected, accepted and desired is constantly changing in all aspects of our lives. We all expected our new iPhone to come with a head-phone jack, soon the new norm will be blue-tooth headphones that allow multiple people to connect with a single device. We accept that we have to drive our own car and fill up with petrol or diesel, soon we will probably run our cars solely off batteries and will be able to engage the standard driverless features in the same fashion that we currently switch on cruise control or air-conditioning.
The need for agility (the global nature of work) and technology advances are shaping the future of work and the way we work. More than ever we can be flexible with our working hours, logging on from home, completing work remotely. Interesting new research suggests that the term work-life “integration” rather than the word “balance” may better describe this new flexibility in working patterns. My colleague showed me a fantastic article from the Director of Human resources at Scentre Group, Janine Frew, who talked about workplace flexibility. Janine has a son battling a major health condition and an ageing mum who she cares for, thus she must juggle personal and professional priorities. She stated in her article “my flexible work arrangements are constantly changing according to my different needs and business demands – they aren’t fixed arrangements. It’s something you have to keep working at to make it work for you and meet business requirements so you can have that win-win… working flexibly doesn’t mean working at a different level, it’s just operating differently.” She describes working from home if she needs to leave the office early, often being on emails early in the morning before others have started, and purchasing additional annual leave when needed.
The message is simple. If you are an employer in 2016 who expects that your staff sit down at their desk at 9:00am and don’t leave until 5pm apart from their designated breaks, I’ll tell you now, you will have a difficult time finding top quality staff. Even if you do attract them, you will have a tough time engaging and ultimately retaining them which will end up costing you a heck of a lot of time, money and headaches. Not to mention the diversity of talented individuals, such as the above story, who you may be missing out on having in your business because of a poor culture around workplace flexibility.
“Work-life balance” is no longer on the wish list, it is now an expectation. If you don’t like it, go back to your V8 petrol sedan whilst the rest of us enjoy a relaxing drive in our automated cars! Bring on 2017!
To read more about Janine Frew click here.
Isaac Dufficy – Executive Consultant