Work-life balance is dead – and that’s OK
Breaking away from the search for balance allows us to embrace the harmony of this new world of work.
Defining balance as “a situation where different elements are equal or in the same proportion” asks us to seek equality between work and life. If we designate that work is our salaried work done at the behest of an employer and life is anything but that, then the demand to spend equal time on both is not only ridiculous but contravenes labor laws. use of any civilized culture.
More and more employees are performing personal and professional tasks simultaneously, resulting in an increased focus on the concepts of fusion and flexibility between work and work life. Fusion, for the purposes of this article, can be defined as work and life happening at the same time and flexibility being our mindset and our approach to doing both.
When we look at the context of a post-pandemic workforce, we have seen a shift from a fixed mindset of manufacturing, nine-to-five, to a mindset of flexibility and growth. At best, a new way of working allows life’s tasks to flow through the workflow. At worst, there is a risk that flexibility will become the norm, which can mean that employees are “always on”.
That said, the evaporation of work-life balance may not be a bad thing, and some would argue that work-life fusion or work-life alignment is just work-life balance 2.0. . Alas no! The concept of balance has been mastered over the years, imposed by the need to be present in a workplace to work and in any other place of life.
Let’s say that in sporting language, the alarm clock signaled for many the call of preparation for work, akin to the warm-up for the athlete. Routine took over as we prepared mind and body for the “game” of that day. The ride felt like the way we identify now with the activation drills we see when athletes get closer to the starting point, then bang, we’re in an office, at a desk and it’s facing the game.
Natural in-game breaks for coffee or even the half-time lunch break are the norm and we usually join our team and participate. We return refreshed and ready to go. At the final whistle, we metaphorically shook hands with the opponent and teammates, struck the clock and left the stadium. A recovery exercise was the commute to work which also served as an activation exercise for the next phase, life. In the past, once the game was over, it was over, and we could forget about it and move on.
In some ways, technology has become our forte every day, bringing us back to the game, asking us to relive it and justify it. Long before the turn of the decade, many were electronically connected to an office environment and the balance had already begun to tip. With the turn of the decade still fresh in our minds, working life was about to undergo its biggest change.
Going back to our sports analogy, we now had to play every game at home, without our warm-up and activation drills, the breaks in play were getting less and less and the halftime show was less fun in this new solo version. . The need to work from home, imposed by external factors and often adopted by organizations to keep us safe, had varied impacts. Some loved it, resolved it was the future. Some longed for “normal” to resume, but it would be the start of a new normal.
We have embarked on the first glimmers of a hybrid model. Whether you work hybrid or not, you are part of a hybrid model. Gone are the days when the majority of associates in an organization worked the same way, and for many that meant nine to five in an office. Going forward, meetings will be in person, virtually, or a combination of both. Some people will be in an office for part or part of the day and not every day.
Organizations are preparing for and embracing a transitional workforce. There is a cost to having everyone on site which now reduces without hurting performance. In fact, productivity seems to be increasing. The most impacted in the hybrid model are those who work permanently or temporarily from home when it was not their usual practice. They are adapting to this new way of working – and thus seeing their work and their lives merging like never before. Home is the office and you live at work.
To a lesser extent now, those returning full-time will also get the merge. The same storyline that started when technology accompanied them home is developing faster. And due to the accelerated blending of work and life for the homeworker, working hours are extended and working nine to five often means catching up on what happened while you were away to take care of the life or extend your own hours to be available. The demands of life mean that eventually something will give way and people in the office will have to perform life tasks during the normal day. We know it started before the pandemic as various connected devices came with us, but now it’s accepted, formalized and accelerated.
One of the most important stories about remote work was that without supervision, employees could not be trusted to complete their work. The concept of balance was easier, work was a nine-to-five in an office, and life was a five-to-nine in your spare time. Advances in technology meant that this changed. On the work side, where companies had in some cases banned specific websites and restricted access to the outside world, phones were now mini-computers enabling the outside world.
Conversely, these same devices contained the world of work and the two worlds collided regularly. The changing times have ruled that work is often on the move. Work is no longer dedicated to a single location with an increase in working from home. The increase in the third workspace has also meant that the new hybrid approach to work is more important.
Today’s worker has an important question to answer. Do I have to be in a workplace? Aside from roles that cannot be performed remotely and are primarily service-based, customer-facing, or require the manual operation of equipment, there is a large workforce cohort who now works remotely. Upstream work estimates 22% of the American workforce will work remotely by 2025. That’s 36.2 million Americans.
The activities of life and work coexist in the new world and often without supervision. The impact of this has seen an increase in productivity and appetite to keep this arrangement. Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work 2021 surveyed over 2,000 US employees and results showed that 67% were more productive working from home and 56% of those working remotely during the pandemic would quit or seek new employment if they were unable to to continue to do so.
The increase in productivity can also be linked to the increase in the number of hours worked during the day: 30% of men and 21% of women surveyed said they worked more than two hours of overtime a day. This level of extra effort could come with trade-offs. Although online longer, if done to accommodate life activities, it is sustainable and can even benefit the employee. If, on the other hand, it is a gradual increase and employees do more, it risks employee burnout and it is the responsibility of employees, their managers and their shared organizations to monitor demands and to move away from “always on”. ”
The question is, now that work-life balance is dead, is that a bad thing? In our quest for balance, have we neglected to go with the flow, take breaks when we have them, and be strategic in our approach to both our work and our lives?
Calendars that once contained back-to-back meetings can be repurposed to have focus time, time for personal development, and life tasks. The technology exists to take the dog for a walk and simultaneously hold a conversation. A school pick that combines an important call for strategic team planning and the smiling face of a child, who revels in both the release from his daily commitment and the increased time in the presence of his loved one. As we learn this new way of working, we will make mistakes in how we handle blending, but detaching ourselves from seeking balance allows us to embrace harmony.