What do these employees have in common: someone who works 60-plus hours a week from a home office with a flexible schedule, someone who puts in exactly 40 hours in the office and can turn off her work phone as soon as 5 p.m. rolls around, and someone who works 40 hours a week with four 10-hour days? The answer: they can all feel like they have work-life balance.
There's a lot of buzz around work-life balance these days, but for something that gets talked about so much, it is incredibly hard to define. That's because work-life balance is very individualistic--what works for one employee might not be ideal for someone else. Some employees may love the freedom of working from home and taking breaks whenever they want, even if that means they work more hours, while that could be stifling for other employees--they might not want to take any work home from them and find balance with a stricter schedule.
The idea of work-life integration has also grown recently as more employees bring aspects of their personal life to work and aspects of their work life home with them. The line has started to blur between what happens at work and what happens at home, and many employees are happy to be integrating two important aspects of their life. But like work-life balance, integration is also a personal decision, especially as to how connected employees' work and home lives are.
Instead of focusing on work-life balance or work-life integration, which are both so personal and different for every employee, organizations should be focusing on enabling employees to choose how, when, and where they want to work. The future of work is all about giving employees the freedom to work however is best for them, as long as their work gets done.
A growing number of companies are giving their employees new freedom, and most have had great results with increased employee morale, retention, efficiency, and even increased sales and revenue in some cases. It can be harder for larger corporations to implement these changes, but we can learn from small and medium-sized organizations.
Employees at South by Southwest organize the famous SXSW music festival and various events throughout the year. Employees are given the freedom to work however it is they work best, whether that is in the office, at home, or at a coffee shop. The customized schedules help fuel the creativity that is so vital to the organization's success.
Another Texas organization embracing employee freedom is Austin-based OwnLocal, which focuses on digital advertising for newspapers and media outlets. OwnLocal allows employees to take unlimited vacation as long as their work gets done and also has a policy that allows employees to work from home or wherever they need to be the most productive and effective. According to employees, the policies help the staff stay refreshed and energized, which helps them work harder and better enjoy their time at work.
Giving employees the freedom to choose their work environment doesn't have to be a complete overhaul of the company, even one day a week can be effective. San Francisco-based microfinance organization Kiva has a no-meetings Tuesday policy that allows employees the freedom to work from home once a week without worrying about missing meetings.
Instead of trying to find and mandate that elusive work-life balance that looks so different for each employee, allow employees to create their own balance by giving them the freedom to do their best job. Some managers may be tempted to oversee everything employees are doing, but all leaders should be thinking about is making sure employees can get their jobs done and then enabling them to do that.
By letting go of a little control, your organization can gain a more effective workforce and have amazing results.