Work-life balance frames work and life as mutually exclusive compartments of life that are competing for space and time. As technology has accelerated and we look to be purpose-driven, this delineation is rarely possible.
Aided by the changing attitudes and tech advancement, work-life integration removed the compartmentalization of work and personal time to evolve to the notion of synergistically interweaving work (as a part of life) into your day when it makes the most sense for your flow and productivity.
But challenges of constant connectivity - such as weak boundaries and “24/7 on” culture - have also amounted to extra work hours and burnout. In the absence of solid time blocks of focus, fragmented attention and scattered tasking can hinder productivity. A week of virtual meetings leaves 38% of employees exhausted and 30% stressed.
Now, the desire for work-life effectiveness is “about aligning personal and professional priorities in a way that’s energizing and brings greater clarity and focus to both.”
Work-life Effectiveness Means Different Things For Different People
People are individuals who exist outside of work in diverse ways, so interweaving work and life is different for different people. The desire for work-life balance is not a reflection of ambition level, a simple matter of allocated hours or even the what/how/where of the workplace. Rather, it includes subjective measures such as: feeling like your work impacts positively on your life and vice-versa; having the ability to make time for all the co-existing priorities in your life; feeling calm and focused around work rather than stretched, scattered and under-the-gun; and having energy for your life beyond work.
The discussion of work-life balance has fixated on traditional families. Women in opposite-gender dual career couples are four times more likely than men to be doing tasks at home. The traditional and stereotyped interpretation of what this means is that women express desires around balance and living a meaningful life. Men talk about priorities and impact.
But for Millennials, creating work-life effectiveness can mean creating an inviting and fun workplace to be in day or night, holding casual digital meetings rather than formal ones, giving guidance on what and why but freedom in how work is done, using facilitative not directive leadership, as well as connecting daily work to the bigger purpose and bigger picture.
Companies stand to gain by moving away from traditional families as the sole approach and framing work/life initiatives around diversity. According to Diversity Officer Magazine, “the goal of Work/Life measures today is to create suitable working conditions for an increasingly diverse workforce.”
Work-life Effectiveness, Employee Engagement and Business Performance
An employee that experiences work-life effectiveness will have greater engagement, and be more invested in and committed to the workplace. Globally, only 20% of employees are engaged at work (36% in the US) according to Gallup.
Among engaged employees, 30% are looking for new work or watching for openings, yet that goes up to 50% among non-engaged and 74% among actively disengaged employees. A toxic culture is often why people leave, and has even been identified as ten times more important than pay in predicting turnover.
Employee loss is costly. Over 63% of companies with a workforce of 50-500 agree that retaining employees is more difficult than recruiting them. Replacing an employee has been estimated to collectively cost US employers $2.9M per day: losing over $4000 in hiring costs, $1000 in onboarding costs and invaluable experience each time someone walks.
Conversely, employee engagement creates value - more organizational profitability, better productivity, and less absenteeism to begin with. The best corporate performance-enhancing cultures have been shown to deliver real financial results across an eleven years period, such as 600+ percent revenue growth. And 87% of European companies in one study found employee motivation to be the most critical reason to implement work-life measures.
Creating a Work Culture that Promotes Work-Life Effectiveness
The DEI approach is a paradigm shift that breaks away from systemically embedded mono-cultural dynamics and inequities in the workplace. Through a DEI lens, work-life initiatives are about creating effective work conditions in which diverse employees with different life contexts can thrive. It's about cultivating inclusive workplaces - virtual and physical - that attract, engage and retain diverse individuals.
Here are some key ingredients to build a culture that supports work-life effectiveness:
Empathetic, Engaged Managers:
Actively disengaged employees tend to be poorly managed. Employees who say their manager is a poor communicator are 23% more likely to experience mental health declines. But having a supportive and empathetic manager who leads with empathy and models vulnerability can lead to greater engagement, job satisfaction, and performance and also lowers turnover.
Recognition and Appreciation:
Far more people (37%) indicate recognition as the most important method of employee support than any other - with private recognition with a one-on-one manager being preferred the most according to one survey. If you want to motivate your employees to be more effective in both work and life, appreciate them. Workers who don’t feel recognized are more likely to be actively looking for a new job, and providing stretch and development opportunities matters to retention, too.
Leader and Manager Role Modeling:
Work-life policies are insufficient. A former Goldman Sachs Managing Director just wrote a book describing her manager’s disapproval of taking time “out of the workday” for pumping breastmilk.
42% of women and 35% of men report feeling burnout, yet feel judged when requesting or utilizing flexible work arrangements. More than a third of European employees don't agree that employees are encouraged to take advantage of the available work-life options. Half of law firm employees have said doing so would hamper their career. Leaders need to act as visible role models in utilizing the policies that support work-life effectiveness, to remove the stigma and create safety around creating healthy boundaries between work and home: walk the talk.
Flexibility in Work Arrangements:
Workplace-flexibility is about meeting the demands of personal life (family, social, health, independence) while being able to perform at high levels at work. This includes not only when the work gets done, but where and how the work is done. This requires managers who can assess and understand individual employee’s motivations, needs and work styles. Schedule flexibility can range from flextime to part-time to condensed schedules to job shares. Flexibility in the how allows employees to work in their own best way, increasing a sense of control, calm and work-life stability, by for example adjust check-in points in a big presentation to the individual’s work style.
Autonomy in Work Arrangements:
Researchers shared in HBR that people want flexibility but by way of autonomy - “having the ability to be the primary decision-maker of where and when they do their work.” For example, not having to meet a hard quota of days in the office but coming in when it best fits and staying home when it best fits. Autonomy is a core component to self-determination: the intrinsic motivation that leads to well-being and performance. The recommendation is establishing principles (emphasize the value of both remote and office presence) rather than granular hybrid policies and investing in skills development as an enabler of autonomy.
Work-Life for Everyone:
At Pulsely, our diagnostics frequently indicate that men with caregiving responsibilities, people with disabilities, and those who identify as LGBTQ+ also struggle with work-life effectiveness. Relying on outdated stereotypes leaves them out of the conversation and minimizes the potential positive impact of a more inclusive approach to facilitating work-life effectiveness.
To sum it all up, work-life effectiveness matters to everyone. The DEI approach is to break away from traditional family notions of who needs work-life balance initiatives and look after all groups within your workforce and their individualized needs, while making it a cultural ethos to support work-life effectiveness.