Everyone’s seeking it but first - what does 'balance' look like?
Besides a bigger pay packet and growth opportunities, better “work life balance” has ranked highly on the list of reasons why people jump ship – and countless studies have been backing it up in recent years.
A survey by Robert Half goes to the extent of saying that the prospect of having more “balance” is even greater than the desire for money: One in four office workers would leave their current roles for better balance, with financial rewards coming in a close second.
A study by Qualtrics, on the other hand, found that employees look forward to going to work if they feel the organisation supports that balance. Yet another study to back the trend up is Randstad’s finding that 64% of employees see work-life balance as a “must-have” if you’d like to be an ideal employer.
While everyone keeps hankering for it, what does “balance” actually mean?
It depends on who you speak to. If you ask billionaire Jeff Bezos, he’d quickly lambast the concept of work-life balance as a “debilitating” phrase. Speaking at a summit in 2017, the tech mogul told the audience to gun for “work-life harmony” instead, because “balance implies there’s a strict trade-off”.
To him, success is not just about achieving the sweet spot between hours at the office and at home, rather about ensuring you have enough energy to engage enthusiastically in both settings. If you’ve attained a harmonious state, being productive at work makes you “better at home”. And being happy at home in turn makes you a better employee or boss.
How to be “harmonious”
In a fireside chat attended by HRD, LinkedIn’s Asia Pacific managing director, Olivier Legrand, said he subscribes to Bezos’s concept as he finds it “more interesting than balance”.
“If your understanding of work-life balance is 50% of what I do is work and 50% is personal, that becomes really difficult,” Legrand said. “Balance means equality on both sides. Harmony means you are happy with the amount [of time] you invest in both parts of the equation.”
As a father, he shared that spending quality time with his children is indispensable for him; but work is a very important part of his life as well. This is why he believes that the “underlying piece” to achieving harmony between professional and personal is flexibility at work.
When he’s not “on the road” for work, the MD leaves the office “super early” because being present for his kids at home is his “idea of harmony”. Recounting a typical day, he said he would typically leave the office around 5pm, be home in time to help his daughter with homework and have a family dinner, before reconnecting with work around 10pm. That’s when he checks his emails to see if anything needs attending.
“My day is just structured differently,” he said. “I’ve decided to run this way because I feel that it provides me with the harmony that I’m looking for.
“Everyone should have their own way and their own flexibility in today’s work to organise their work as long as they’re able to deliver.”
Not just for millennials
Legrand added that the rousing calls for flexibility and work-life harmony is not limited to young workers. Yes, millennials and gen-Zers have been very vocal about their search for more independence, autonomy and purpose with work, he said. However, an organisation that supports the “harmony” will also attract and retain a diverse workforce.
His example as a working father is testament to that concept. The need for “harmony” is even more apparent for working mothers: a Monster.com survey found that the lack of flexibility is a key reason why three in five intend to look for a new job this year. Unsurprisingly, 90% of those women consider work-life balance a crucial factor when picking an ideal employer.
Legrand added that the silver workforce will also benefit from increased flexibility at work. He spoke about baby boomers who will retire in the next five to eight years. “Some of them, in my opinion, will want to keep a connection with work,” he said. Flexibility will help older workers through the transitional period in their lives.
“When you work for a company, you have to find out if the company is giving you the tools and technology to – sometimes – work from home,” he said. “Do you have to be in the office every day? Can you take a phone or video call from home and be able to be there for your kids?
“I think [to determine] how to give people responsibilities and autonomy, [it requires an understanding of] what it takes to do their work.”
The dark side of flexi-work?
However, insomuch that flexibility supports the attainment of work-life harmony, it could also all go south. A separate study by Randstad found that despite the increasing demand for flexi-work, more than half fear the “freedom” will interfere with their personal lives.
As companies provide employees with digital devices to work offsite, 56% of staffers feel compelled to be “always on” and are not sure how and when to disconnect. Can HR mitigate this risk? One HR professional suggests that clear communication and guidelines is all it takes.
She said while there is no expectation to be online 24/7, managers can easily send quick messages, which is why it falls back on the individual to keep the entire situation under control:
1. Set the expectation – Seek clarity on when you’re supposed to be online
2. Ask yourself: Is it a priority? – If you receive messages over the weekend, think about whether anybody else, apart from the person messaging you, is going to read the information.
3. Practice mindfulness – It’s important to be present for whatever it is you’re doing. If you’re answering emails, then answer them. If it’s family time, then try not to think about work.
4. Turn off your notifications – You don’t have to disconnect from the world if you want to disconnect from work. You simply have to ignore specific notifications. If you can’t, you can uninstall any apps that may lead to you being overworked.
5. Be respectful – Of your time and the time of the person you’re with.