Work-life balance: a fine tune

spring2015 work life Once upon a time, work took place outside of the home during fixed office hours. Today, for the majority of us that is history. Armed with tablets and smartphones we can literally work from everywhere and all the time... and that’s what people do more and more.

The recent Randstad Survey 2015 shows that work and life is more and more interweaved (and this is increasing if we compare it with a similar study six years ago), mainly due to the use of new technology. 73% of the participants declare that they check their mails at home. 53% read reports or professional documents at home and 46% call colleagues at home...

The problem is that at more and more companies it becomes an unspoken expectation.

But it would be too easy to blame the management for the collapsing boundaries between work and life. The causes are multiple: some of us pride ourselves on hard work and self-sacrifice and most of us thrive on feeling needed. Neurologically, certain elements of work can be addictive. Studies have found that satisfying curiosity about a novel event – say a new and unread email sitting in your inbox – releases dopamine in the brain, which conditions us to check again and again.1

For many of us, compartmentalizing our work and personal life is simply not possible, and not just because of the ubiquity of email. In a growing number of global companies, work now involves collaborating with colleagues in different time zones.

'Holidays will be holidays.'

Until we come to terms with the fact that separating work from home is a fantasy, we can’t begin to have an intelligent conversation about what it means to create thriving organizations. We can bemoan this blending of our professional and personal lives, or alternatively, we can look for innovative solutions. The degree of control employees possess over when and where they work looks to be the key to success. Providing employees with more control over their schedules does not only motivates them to work harder, to produce higher quality work and to develop greater loyalty for their company... but it also reduces stress and the risk of burn-out. Ludwig Huybrecht, Program Manager PLATO at KBC Bank says: ‘Our employees are demanding to have more control over their work and private life. We do not oblige them to do it in a certain way, but we give them a lot of options’.2

Instead of endorsing the work-life balance myth, organizations are far better off empowering employees to integrate work and life, in ways that position them to succeed at both... and maybe this may result in unforeseen effects, such as the return of nine-to-five.

It is predicted that in the coming years there will be a trend to rethink the long-hours culture. In 2014 a few visionary companies started fighting back: Google in Dublin confiscated employees’ devices when they left the office, and Daimler deleted messages that arrived in the inboxes of staff who were on holiday. In 2015 other companies will follow. Holidays will be holidays. The out-of-office e-mail will no longer be followed by a reply from the ski-slopes. To get your work done by a reasonable hour will not be a sign that you are a slacker, but that you are working efficiently; but maybe we started dreaming again.3

1This article is based on Friedman, Ron; Work-life balance is dead, CNN iReport, December 9, 2014.
2Huybrecht, Ludwig; Positief omgaan met vervlechting, Workforce 360, Tijd Connect, p. 5, 4 maart 2015.
3Kellaway, Lucy; The return of nine-to-five, The World in 2015, The Economist, p.114.