In today's "always on" economy, work-life balance is becoming an increasingly precious commodity for job seekers and employees alike. But when it comes to achieving this balance, who is responsible for making it happen? Are your employees tasked with separating work from the rest of their commitments? Or, instead, does the onus of flexibility fall on company leaders?
Both. Both employees and companies must work together to maximize our most precious time so we have enough for both work and life outside of work.
The challenge to balance the two is a given in 2015. No matter what the job or industry, you will not find an employee or applicant who doesn't struggle every day to make this balance happen. And that's why you absolutely cannot compete in the talent market without presenting some element of this balance as a natural part of your corporate culture.
Here are three reasons why:
1. The rest of our culture is balancing out. Once upon a (long) time (ago), the questions surrounding work-life balance would have been unspoken for the most part. Work and family were separated by gender roles, oftentimes. Someone tended to stay home to manage the affairs there, while someone else went off to work. And we also ensured that work was a place you went to and then left--you couldn't really manage work from home, and you couldn't manage home from work.
That was history. We all know these dichotomies are changing. While we still have a long way to go, workforces are more balanced now between men and women. In fact, according to a recent article, "Women today are more likely than men to complete college and attend graduate school, and make up nearly half of the country's total workforce" (but income inequality between men and women is still a problem). And gender aside, today's families are also more diverse. They split roles differently, and they have completely different expectations for who does what. Bottom line: We can't make a neat line between work and "life" possible or even justifiable anymore. And as a result, everyone needs flexibility--because life has to go on in the midst of all this work.
2. Technology is both the problem and the solution. While family and other roles have been shifting, technology has kept up at a wicked pace. Now, because of laptops and smart phones and WiFi and the cloud, we have constant remote connectivity. And because we know it's possible to work from anywhere, we don't just need flexibility, we expect flexibility. So, we have enabled work to invade the home, and we have our day-to-day issues outside of work entering the office via messages, emails and texts. But, the same technology that enables work to disrupt our non-work lives, also enables us to break the confines of the office and be productive while also being more physically present at home. We no longer think of work as a place you go, and home as the place you retreat to after work. Because we know that we have the tools to be more productive on both sides of the equation, that work-life line gets blurred. Home creeps into the office, and work comes home on a daily basis, through emails and texts and tools like Slack or social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
To expect any employee to have the ability to detach from this technology, or to shut off this kind of connectivity, is counterintuitive. Remember: This same technology is what is driving your business. These are the same tools you expect your employees to use in their jobs. In turn, they expect their employers to give them the autonomy and the trust to manage how they use that technology. They will decide how to divide their time, and as long as they are productive on both sides, they don't want interference.
3. The struggle to acquire top talent is real, and it's competitive. I won't mince words: This is only going to get harder. As I have pointed out in other articles, there simply is not enough skilled talent to meet the demand. The talent you are trying to acquire has impressive skills, and they are going to have lots of choices about where to work. If you choose to approach work-life balance as a perk, as something that's a "nice to have" on a bullet point list alongside game rooms and team dinners, you'll be edged out by competitors whose culture see it as a given, whose entire employment brand is built on giving freedom and flexibility to their employees. According to the most recent Jobseeker Nation Survey, 38% of applicants--both male and female--value work-life balance predominantly when considering a new job. Your very real task now, as a company leader, is to ensure that your work culture embeds this balance naturally. You do this by extending autonomy, by incorporating the right technology, and by--frankly--learning as you go.
Does this mean we're headed to a world where everyone should expect or even demand the right to work from anywhere? Absolutely not! Resounding no. Corporate executives must invest the time to understand the jobs they have available, the skills required, and which positions lend themselves to greater flexibility--and which do not. There will always be jobs that require hands-on work on a daily basis. No matter how good the cloud or videoconferencing gets, there are times when those tools will never substitute for being in the same room at the same time. But, if you can minimize the hours that require physical presence, you'll be far better positioned to attract the qualified talent that's dominating the landscape today. Their quest for flexibility and balance is only going to intensify. This has been, and continues to be, a cultural challenge for many companies. Don't be rigid. Design your jobs carefully to maximize their flexibility, hire the best employees you can, empower them with the best tools, and trust them to make the best use of their time for your company--at work and at home.