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Work-life balance

Work’s work and home’s home, and never the twain shall meet

The traditional approach to balancing work and home life is to treat it as a simple equation. X hours at work. Y hours at home. That gives the business X hours. If you spend an hour of work time dealing with personal matters, you’ve given the business X – 1, and that’s not on.

Now we talk about work-life balance. You are only one person, although you play many roles. The self that plays with the kids is the same self that works through the accounts. You need to know that the accounts are sound, so you can relax with the kids, and you need to know the kids are content, so you can attend to the accounts.

Work-life balance is the phrase used for this, although this still separates work from life, as though when you’re working, you’re not alive. It would be better to talk of life-balance, where you integrate work, family, gardening, football, and whatever interests you.

Business needs people who concentrate on the job. They’ll do this better if their life-balance is good. This has long been recognised in extreme circumstances, when compassionate leave has been granted to deal with a crisis. Now, it’s known that people will work better if they have space to deal with niggles in their lives, as well as to expand their horizons.

Communication technology has impacted this from all angles. It has reduced the need to be ever present. We can go to the beach and build sandcastles, and still have instant contact with the office. It also means there’s no guarantee we can stick around till the final sand turret is built. We can be called away instantly.

Social changes have had their effect. People who have traditionally stayed at home are now in the workplace in large numbers. The largest increase in the labour force between 1990 and 2000 has been in mothers of young children. There are also huge numbers of people from other cultures, whose input we need. People with disabilities are no longer expected to give up on careers – employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments. All these people have their own needs for a good life balance.

We are in the Age of Knowledge, and this brings new strains. No matter how much you learn, there’s always a lot more, and much of what you’ve learned already is out of date. To keep this stimulating rather than stressful, you need sturdy emotions, which includes keeping a good life balance.

This is more than making our lives pleasant. It is sound commercial sense. The case for a good life balance is clear.

  • No organisation can be better than the people in it, so it’s paramount to attract and retain good staff. Organisations vary widely in what they offer, and the best staff will go to those who offer the best
  • Once they’re there, they will do better if their total life balance is good. Having satisfied their own concerns, they will be more able to concentrate on those of the organisation. They will also be more willing to give of their best, if they know that their own needs are considered
  • For some groups, it is not possible to take a job with strict rules. There are many reasons for preferring part-time, unusual hours, or working from home. Flexible working practice enlarges the pool of talent available
  • Many organisations now need to provide a 24/7 service. They can approach this by insisting on unsocial hours, but are more likely to gain sustained commitment and high morale if they are as flexible as they can possibly be
  • Excess stress leads to more sick leave. This may be because they are genuinely ill more often, or because they need time to address personal issues. If the employer will not acknowledge this need, they may simply take what they need. When one London Borough introduced a work-life policy, absenteeism went down by 2.5%. Some companies grant ‘duvet days,’ which are simply to restore energy levels
  • Greater staff satisfaction leads to more commitment, better work, and greater customer satisfaction. This shows through in profit
  • If staff are not satisfied, there is a high risk that they will leave. There is also the wasted investment of training people who do not stay

Good life balance is a universal need. Surveys show that life-balance is high priority, in many cases top priority, for workers across many cultures.

Legislation is now increasing to enforce a flexible attitude from employers. This is only a first step. The ideal is to build trust and commitment between employers and employees, so that each person has a unique individual work pattern that accommodates their needs, and gets the job done.

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