As you may have read in this column before, the way people work in the U.S. and in the rest of the world is changing, and it's probably not ever going back. The traditional 9 to 5 office job is dying. It simply doesn't make practical sense in the modern world, where both parents have significant responsibilities in the home and business can happen 24/7.
If I need to work with my colleague in India for a few hours at 9 p.m., that means I can take some of the afternoon off if I want to. Situations like this are partly why, according to a recent White House report, over half of American full time workers have flexible hours, and that number is only going to keep rising.
Flexible hours are a necessity, not a benefit.
According to that same White House report, 60 percent of households with children also have both parents working, and over half of people caring for elderly relatives still work full-time jobs. Children and sick, elderly relatives don't tend to schedule their lives around business hours. These parents and caregivers need to have the flexibility to be gone sometimes during the day and work evenings or weekends to make up for it.
Companies that require a regular starting and ending time for these employees are quite frankly acting unreasonably in most cases and are going to inevitably end up having workers who miss time during the day. It's a lot easier for everyone involved if the employees have the flexibility to start a little later so they can take their kids to school, or take breaks midday to care for a parent and make up for it in the evening.
Businesses need flexible hours too.
It's not just employees who need flexible hours. Most companies can no longer function with employees working only from 9 to 5 on weekdays. The growth of online and multinational companies means that more and more businesses require someone available to deal with customers or suppliers at all times. Even if the office closes at night, there are usually employees staying connected via e-mail or other tools.
Navigating the various needs of businesses and employees requires a great deal of trust and communication. Employees need to be able to trust that their employers will respect their personal schedules and not demand an inordinate amount of work from them. Companies need to be able to trust that, if employees do work nonstandard hours, they can perform at a high level without supervision. More than ever before, cultivating strong relationships in the workplace is key.
Personal lives are important.
Many people fall into the trap of viewing work obligations as necessities and everything else as optional. This is dangerous, and it has the potential to spoil all aspects of your life, both personal and professional. Strong personal relationships with friends and family reduce stress, improve your health, and stimulate creativity. All these things in turn make you a better employee and a happier, more fulfilled human being.
With that in mind, it's important to discuss work hours and daily routines with your boss with an understanding that certain personal obligations are absolute necessities. You need to be home for breakfast. You need to be able to tuck your kids into bed at night. Protecting the important personal moments in your life from the start will make it much easier to achieve a happy balance.
Find your own balance.
The key to achieving a proper work-life balance is to understand that there's no one right answer for everyone. Different people have different needs and goals at different times in their lives. Maybe you don't have kids and want to commit to your career, making time for only a few close friends outside of work. That's totally fine. On the other hand, others will find much more fulfillment from investing heavily in relationships with friends and family, even if that means working less and possibly sacrificing career opportunities.
Even when you strike the right balance, determining the particulars can be important. For instance, you might be willing to accept a rigid schedule in exchange for extra vacation days so you can travel the world, or you might work longer hours provided that you have the flexibility to decide when you work those hours. Everyone has different needs, and finding the proper work-life balance means identifying what's most important for you.