The balancing act of work life balance

As most thriving organisations hone in on a need to empower and motivate their talent, one could assume the notions of freedom, flexibility, productivity and profitability all sing from one melodic HR hymn sheet.

From brainstorming on a beach to parenting with productive panache, countless “think pieces” would have you believe that the professional/personal pieces are falling into place. Especially across the developed world.

Work-life integration – where flexible working, remote working and always-on media enables professionals to juggle full-paced careers and home lives – in all its forms, has created a world of possibilities where they didn’t exist before.

But there are risks to this, which we ignore at our peril.

These liberated working practices becoming employment norms do of course enable some new commitments outside of work, generate loyalty and open-up the workplace to a much more diverse spectrum of talent than ever before.

BUT nothing comes without a price and, in this case, that is an increasing encroachment of work into personal time – both home-life and social – as well as into headspace where clarity and mental decompression can happen.

Living a high-octane, always-on existence can only be sustained for so long and unless employees, as well employers, pay careful attention to creating boundaries, performance and mental wellbeing suffers.

So, what’s the answer? Tokenism must be ruled out in favour of sustainable practices that truly equip and enable people, rather than demanding more and more behind a thin veil of flexibility and empowerment.

Culture is crucial to this. All the flexible policies and workplace benefits you can conceive of will not pay off if employees feel an unspoken sense of judgement or guilt for taking advantage of them, thus layering further onto the stress of meeting commitments at home and work. While, equally, a lack of parity – where some reap benefits at the expense of others, who then feel like they are left carrying the can – leads to resentment and stress in equal measure.

Team cultures built on trust, respect, accountability, mutual support and clear boundaries will, however, ultimately empower people when it comes to giving their all at work, as well as protect the important personal space that enables individuals to stay well and be their best.

Providing the tools and professional development that supports people to manage their energy, as well as their time, is another important factor. Energy management – whether through sport, mindfulness or use of development tools, such as Strengthscope – is a skill that, for most, needs to be learned.

Developing resilience and the discipline of self-care can be taught (and self-taught), and while individuals may not appreciate the importance until their own chips are down, socializing best practice and making it part of the workplace vernacular goes a long way.

So, next time you read or hear about work-life balance, don’t just think about the weight of those two concepts. Think about the metaphorical scales you’re using. The positive benefits of excellent infrastructure and professional support cannot be under-estimated, whether it’s reliable, streamlined technology that enables efficiency and reliability, or professional coaching and well equipped managers who are trained and developed to effectively support the people in their care.

Faith Howe, Talent Development & Employee Engagement