We often talk about work-life balance, especially in corporate contexts; organizations and employees consistently battle with this. This topic has gained even more prominence with what’s happening in the world with the COVID-19 pandemic.
I am not a fan of the term ‘work-life balance’. It positions work as being separate from the rest of our lives while work is an integral part of our lives. Just like family, friends, hobbies, and interests are part of our lives – so is work. Life balance is always tough and we all struggle to find the right balance for ourselves.
This balance is especially challenging with the abundance of technology in our lives. Gone are the days of going home to only be reachable via landline. Today, we are connected 24/7 which means anyone can reach us anytime, anywhere. Add the flexibility that most want in terms of how to work and when to work, and our borderline addiction to checking our devices over 20 times a day, and the equation just becomes a mess.
A big part of this lack of balance is because each part of our lives used to be (pre-technology days) so separate from each other that it didn’t require much focus. We went to work in the morning, spent time at home with family, spent the weekend with friends engaged in hobbies, and had proper vacations that included travel. There were some late nights at the office but once you left the office, that was it for work. Today, this balancing act needs a lot of organization, flexibility, and self-management. Once we see a notification on our phones, it has almost become instinctual to check the email and immediate take some kind of action, often replying immediately. Even when we don’t reply, we find ourselves thinking about and contemplating the matter at hand. The same thing happens when we are at the office and we see a social media notification and find some news relevant to us; we mentally check out of work and check into our personal life.
Many corporates have evolved the concept of ‘work-life balance’ to ‘work-life integration’. Understanding that the lines between the different parts of our lives have virtually disappeared, organizations have embraced the evolution of the ‘work-life balance’ concept. They want their business priorities to be delivered on while empowering employees to manage things to fit their lifestyle.
Through the experience of the pandemic, research shows that the majority of people have worked longer hours with more productive outcomes than what was delivered at the office. With the struggle of what people have endured with the impacts of COVID-19, how people work with ‘work-life integration’ as the approach showed that this is something that should be further leveraged. Some people worked very early in the morning, not having to manage a commute to work, then take time to manage taking care of things for kids at home, then coming back and working, then managing things at home, then working again once the kids have gone to bed. This is just an example but what was once unacceptable and frowned upon; is now a lot more tolerated – think of kids running around while video-conferencing is happening as one example. The flipside of that, people are over-worked, and newly coined terms such as ‘Zoom Fatigue’ are coming about.
The best case scenario is people looking at what they need to do in their life in terms of work, family, and other parts of their life, then look at how much time they will give each of those and then plan around those two things. Each of us will be different depending on their personal circumstances and what is important to us. Don’t let other people dictate how much time you should be giving things and when you should be doing this. These are decisions only you can make and there is no right or wrong answer. This empowers people to manage priorities and schedules in a purposeful, conscious manner instead of constantly having their lives hijacked by obligations and expectations.