Back in the 80s, the concept of a “whole-person approach” gave rise to an entire array of strategies designed to optimize performance and employee engagement in organizations. This “whole-person approach” considers every dimension of a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health, beliefs and values, relationships and social health, and the environment. In relation to work and life balance, a whole-person approach understands that work and life are interrelated, one always affecting the other.
Let’s reflect on how a “whole-person approach” has evolved HR and workplace practices over time to accommodate work and life balance:
- Policies and programs were designed to address all aspects of an individual’s well-being – physical, emotional, mental, and financial – to name a few. From this trend, we saw the creation of wellness initiatives, financial education, and employee assistance programs (EAPs). These programs promote work and life balance by offering comprehensive services to support employees and their families, providing more peace of mind in their personal lives so they can focus at work.
- New workplace cultures were created that recognize and embrace employees’ needs throughout the spectrum of their employment life cycle from workforce entry to retirement. With several generations now working side by side, this led to further expansion of programs for a multi-generational workforce. Managing different work and life balance expectations is one of the largest challenges of having a multigenerational workforce.
- Fostering flexibility in work, especially for caretakers dealing with both child and eldercare issues, and other societal factors such as technology and new workplace structures are all driving a change in how, when, and where work gets done. 72% of people say that while looking for a job, work and life balance is something they consider, signaling a need for more flexible work practices. And according to FlexJobs, about 79% of workers believe that a flexible job increases work and life balance.
All these dynamics and influences have led to a blurring of the traditional boundaries of work and personal life and a subsequent quest for “work and life balance” at a personal level. A common challenge for many individuals is managing the competing demands in their work and personal lives and avoiding any negative spillover from one to the other. Most experts agree, however, that this idea of work and life balance – which implies that one devotes an equal portion of time at work and to the rest of your life, whether fitness, family, friends, or fun pursuits – is not only a misnomer; it’s a bad idea.
What work and life balance should be
Researchers at Catalyst have coined the term “work/life effectiveness”, which contends that your work and your life can and should be in sync. In other words, work and life should be allies, not enemies. Understanding a person’s multiple roles as an employee, friend, parent, partner, mentor, etc., can enhance work and life balance, especially when done intentionally.
Finding the right “flow” isn’t easy for everyone; it requires focus on the individual. Here are some tips for fostering true work and life balance in the workplace:
- Define what success looks like for each of your employees. Spending time getting to know your employees and their values is key to helping them define what success can be. It can help them focus and align their decisions and actions with their goals and personal priorities. Sharing priorities and ideas with a key partner helps them to gain perspective and, if desired, buy into their career and life goals.
- Provide more autonomy. It’s when things spiral out of control that stress seeps in. Allow your employees to seek out work that is rewarding, meaningful, and fits with their passions. At the same time, help them set boundaries and parameters for work and personal time. For example, suggest they turn off any work-related technology when they’re off the job.
- Encourage self-care. Being intentional about caring for one’s body and mind helps individuals be more productive at home and work. Let your employees block out time on their schedule for relaxation.
- Practice self-compassion. Work isn’t always easy. No one does anything perfectly, and that’s ok. Giving grace and helping your employees be kind to themselves helps build strength, the kind needed to keep going in the face of changes and challenges.
It’s important to “walk the talk”
As an HR professional, it’s important to “walk the talk.” How does your organization foster real work and life balance?
Remember, when approaching work and life balance, look at it as a mutually beneficial relationship. Employers must support their people to be their whole selves and help them do work aligned with their strengths and values so they can be engaged and empowered in other aspects of their life.