The nationwide need for a healthy work-life balance has not changed much since 2003 when the U.S. Senate unanimously supported a presidential proclamation that October be designated National Work and Family Month.
Caregivers—especially working mothers—still have to overcome challenges that prevent career growth and upward mobility. Employees with family obligations or disabilities are still underrepresented in company diversity and inclusion practices. Employers still need to create “equitable practices that enable healthy work-life experiences.”
In 2010, President Barack Obama made his statement to reaffirm the resolution behind this month’s social awareness:
“National Work and Family Month serves as a reminder to all of us, especially working caregivers, their families and their employers, that while we have made great strides as a nation to adopt more flexible policies in the workplace, there’s more we can do. Millions of Americans continue to struggle day-in and day-out to balance work and family life—to juggle their job responsibilities with caring for a child, an elderly relative or a loved one with a disability.
“There are steps we can all take to help—implementing practices like telework, paid leave and alternative work schedules—and my Administration is committed to doing its part to help advance these practices across the country. Because at the end of the day, attracting and retaining employees who are more productive and engaged through flexible workplace policies is not just good for business or for our economy—it’s good for our families and our future.”
Who was to predict that 10 years later, a global coronavirus pandemic would accelerate the implementation of flexible workplace policies, and in doing so, also blur the barrier lines for both employers and employees.
When it came to creating a work-life-family balance based on a 30-plus-minute commute, the onus to set boundaries tended to fall on the employer’s policies and workplace schedules. But now, from the employee perspective, pandemic “flexibility” has removed that invisible room divider between working from home and living the rest of your life six feet over on the sofa. Throw in any pursuit of furthering your education during or outside of normal hours and where is the line drawn that at one time was the commute? Where is the balance?
A few years ago, we took a look at the elusive work/life/study balance, but that was before the pandemic changed how we saw success in the areas of education, life and work.
Last year, President Joe Biden issued an economic “Build Back Better Framework” during National Work and Family Month. The framework outlines the need for preschool or high-quality child care that all families could afford, better care for the elderly or disabled whether in home or in a familiar community, and education beyond high school and workforce development.
In order to achieve a successful work-life balance, both the employer and the employee need to contribute to it. Let’s take a look at how flexible work locations and scheduling and personnel wellness policies are tipping the scales in the future of work.
Among the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted is the need to rethink workplace policies.
“Many people are questioning the how, when and where of their workday expectations as they transition from office life to remote working,” LinkedIn reports in “Employee’s expectations from their work-life in 2022.”
These worker expectations include “flexibility and skill development, such as allowing workers to choose their own start and finish times; having more vacation days; providing more perks and benefits; and having fully flexible work options.” As in for all workers.
In an October 2021 article by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), data reinforces the “need for equitable practices in the workplace that support all working families. From paid family and medical leave to flexible work hours and access to quality child care, research shows policies that support a healthy work-life balance are good for workers and employers.”
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers, in order for flexibility to work, companies should prepare for a wide range of circumstances. “Effective workplaces are not one-size-fits-all scenarios, as employer and employee needs are varied and determined by a multitude of factors. Flexible programs, or workflex, can include family leave, flex-time, compressed workweeks, telecommuting, employee-managed time, reduced hours, welcoming environments/worksites, coaching to assist parents’ transition back to work and other solutions.”
Employees aren’t just looking for flashy work perks; they want better options for work-life balance so that they can also manage professional and personal happiness and fulfillment. For example, working from home full time might not be the best solution for everyone.
“One disadvantage of the new hybrid and remote workplaces is that it is becoming more difficult for employees to interact with their coworkers. Nonetheless, these relationships are critical. Chatting with a coworker is one of the top ways to keep employees motivated throughout the day,” according to a survey on remote work cited on LinkedIn.
Managers in charge of flexible teams should also incorporate time for feedback and appreciation in their scheduling. “A small appreciation for the work or feedback would boost employees' confidence and self-esteem,” per the LinkedIn Pulse article.
Despite location and time challenges, a poll by Accenture that LinkedIn also cited, “83 percent of workers want a hybrid work model, and 63 percent of high-growth businesses have already implemented a ‘productivity anywhere’ workforce model.”
But what happens when “productivity anywhere” isn’t the issue and the need for flexibility isn’t under just your own control?
Family and Health Care Are Important for Balance, Too
In a Forbes online article from 2019, author Christine Michel Carter highlighted the need for family life considerations when organizations and employers develop or redevelop their workplace benefits. Long forgotten to be given a seat at the table, caregivers and their personal life circumstances affect and are affected by an organization’s short-term and long-term goals.
For example, Carter spoke with an ex-Facebook data scientist about why she left the company: Human resources did not support her request for a short-term work schedule adjustment after having a baby. Not everyone has the ability to resign from a job in order to reach personal work-life-family balance. And you shouldn’t need to.
It’s not just about child care—more younger and middle-aged adults are caring for ill or older family members. For some, it is a delicate balance between being a “good” employee and a caring family member. Flexibility in scheduling is only one way organizations can provide equality in family care and personal sick time.
“While machine learning and automation surround the future of work, so must flexible paths toward economic mobility. More workers will spend more time caring for our aging Baby Boomer generation. And 64 million Millennials will become new parents in the next 10 years. That’s a lot of mid-day medical appointments and early bedtime routines. Employers must create more part-time 24-hour shift options to bridge in-office expectation and caregiving requirements. Teams who are enabling flexible scheduling needs and preferred physical locations are ahead of the game.”
But sometimes finding a new job that helps you work out your needs is the best way to find balance.
Mental Wellness Can Mean Better Employees
When it comes to addressing issues about the work environment and company policies, “It will be critical for employees to be able to talk to their bosses about stress, burnout and depression in advance,” states that earlier LinkedIn article.
Part of maintaining your mental health is being responsible for your decisions and coming to terms with your choices.
Self-awareness can be key to your work-life balance. One person’s balanced scale may look very different from a colleague’s or even another family member’s.
Quint Studer—founder of the Studer Community Institute and a successful business leader, speaker and author—touched on this in a Pensacola News Journal opinion piece: “There are people who choose to spend more time in work or professional activities even when their employer is okay without them doing so. Think of the person who furthers their education. They are doing fine on the job and decide to get a master’s degree. Will it help them on the job? It's possible; however, going back to school is their choice.”
Studer also suggests holding up a mirror to your life: Do you have a job that you find joy in? Do you say your plate is full yet are reluctant to give anything up? When people find a focus and don’t feel so overwhelmed, balance may come more easily.
Finding this work and family/life balance is crucial for a successful working relationship up and down the ladder, from entry-level support staff to senior-level executive positions. And according to 431 students in a BestColleges survey, 74 percent of new college graduates believe that work-life balance can only be accomplished if both employers and employees make the effort.
Those college graduates also say while “work-life balance is important, a flexible work schedule is necessary to achieve it.” Balance is also seen to be attainable with managerial support in time management, to engage in self care, have the ability to say no, detach from work when not working and evaluate priorities.
So what is work-life balance post-pandemic?
To be able to detach from work when not working: Yes.
To spend more quality time with family or provide loved ones with necessary care: Yes.
To be able to not worry 24/7 about your job: Yes.
To decide if working from home or working in an office—or a hybrid of the two—is your new normal: Yes.
But there is one thing that a true and effective work-life balance isn’t.
Quiet Quitting Isn’t Work-Life Balance
On the heels of the Great Resignation, we have Quiet Quitting.
This isn’t really about quitting your job or career to find work-life balance. It is “setting boundaries and simply completing the tasks you're supposed to complete within the time that you're paid to do them—with no extra frills,” according to NPR.org writers Greg Rosalsky and Alina Selyukh. There’s no balance when you’re not engaged with your work.
From the employer side, it can mean re-evaluating which policies to expand or preserve in order to make your employees more effective—and not disinvested—in reaching organizational goals. From cubicles to open floor plans, from work from home full time to pop-up meetings on site, there is no need for your workers to “quietly quit” if employers actively tip the scales in the employees’ favor.
How is your organization re-seeing work-life balance?