Work life balance as we know it at present isn’t working. Separation of work and personal life roles has become a blur. To many it's almost a seamless link. Nor is it just about family-friendly policies for caregivers. It’s about everybody in business – male and female. People in business are having trouble keeping all the balls in the air, experiencing prolonged excessive stress, working long hours and constantly feeling the pressure to perform. How business deals with these issues has become a major factor in maximizing productivity and attracting and keeping staff.
Rather than dividing up the time-cake between work and personal life, people are looking for ways of maintaining their mental, emotional and physical energy to get everything done. Survival isn’t enough. To maintain the essential competitive edge, people need to be able to thrive under pressure, sustaining the resilience to bounce back when they’re down.
Work life energy becomes the realistic way to go – for employee and employer alike - This approach focuses on energy management rather than time management – a harmonious mix of activities that burn up mental and emotional energy and others that generate new energy. A harmonious blending of the many diverse ways we allocate our energies - energy burnt through responsibilities (not just work) and personal interests that generate new energy. Those interests don't have to be physical. For example I get much of my renewed energy from singing in a choir.
You can’t deficit budget time. But you can deficit budget energy. Any pursuit in which you enjoy creatively expressing the inner self, passions and natural talents – even for just a few minutes – will refresh your energies for getting on with the more onerous tasks in life, for long periods of time. Given sufficient emphasis, energizing interests can transform your whole outlook on life.
The concept of a work ethic with work at the core of life is being replaced with what I call a ‘development ethic’. Features of this include:
- Working to live, rather than living to work
- Personal goals being a higher priority to the individual than the employer’s corporate goals
- Emotional needs as the determinant of material wants
- development takes place when you back your authentic self, your natural-born talents and passionate interests - through work and in personal life.
Business is therefore finding it has to seek ways of harmonizing the corporate goals of economic growth with personal goals of getting the most out of life, with work being just one –albeit important – means towards achieving their personal goals.
Work life energy provides the realistic approach for employees and employers alike, with advantages for both.
- gets to sort out his/her work and personal life priorities in ways that ensure sustained energy to meet their responsibilities,
- has more energy, enthusiasm and commitment towards his/her responsibilities at work (better still if there is due consideration to these issues by the employer) and in personal life.
- achieves benefits in terms of better and more sustained productivity, greater staff stability, ongoing cost reductions and greater staff commitment. Again, these benefits are greater if the employer encourages work life harmony principles and practices to flourish.
It’s important also to recognize that everything said here applies as much to the Chief Executive as it does to anyone else in the organization. With apologies to one-time US President Harry Truman, the sign on the boss’s desk needs to read “the buck starts here” to successfully build work life energy into the workplace culture.
Work will always be an important element of life – for the individual and for society. The change is that the workplace is no longer at the centre of everything we want to do. The individual sees work as a means to achieving wider personal interests. Employers and employees need to work in harmony, not in conflict, to ensure their respective needs are being successfully achieved.