In the not-too-distant past, work was something you went to five days a week, and left at the office on weekends and holidays. But today’s business world is dominated by always-on technology, and the boundaries between work and personal life are increasingly blurred, if not obliterated.
It may be logical to believe that company expectations for employees to be constantly available are the cause of eroding work-life separation, but even in demanding companies, this isn’t the sole reason. Human nature and societal norms contribute significantly to the disappearing divide between work and home — and as a consequence, we’re focusing on the wrong problems.
What causes work-life imbalance?
There are real business reasons that most employees are unable to separate eight hours a day from the rest of their lives. Email is one — it’s omnipresent, available anywhere there’s a connection, and most employers don’t think twice about expecting their staff to keep up with email at all times. There’s also the globalization of business, and collaboration with co-workers and partners in various time zones that skew the start and close of the “business day.”
In addition to the modern corporate environment, the nature of people encourages a blending of work and life. American employees take pride in hard work and self-sacrifice, and many people thrive on being needed. Furthermore, some work activities — such as opening a new, unread email — influence us chemically, releasing dopamine that makes the action addictive.
Finally, exceptional employees are always working, even outside the office environment and without being required to. For many people, dedication to great job performance means constantly thinking up new ideas and planning ahead. This process naturally works itself into everyday life.
Conquering the work-life balance myth
In order to successfully address the issues surrounding work-life separation, we first need to accept that separating them is impossible for most people. The good news is that blending work and personal life doesn’t have to mean erasing your identity as a person, eliminating all free time, or becoming defined by your job.
What is the best solution for achieving both professional and personal satisfaction? For many, the answer is to embrace the blurred lines, and strive for a work environment that grants more control over personal time with flexible scheduling. The typical nine-to-five workday is practically extinct — and the best way to thrive in the modern business landscape is to get rid of rigid boundaries and time clocks, so the stress of “balancing” personal and work life is eliminated.
Any employer looking to provide work-life balance for their employees should institute a more flexible scheduling process. Despite beliefs to the contrary, studies have repeatedly shown that workers who have more control over their schedules are more productive and motivated, produce higher quality work, and have a greater sense of loyalty to their organization.
There are several reasons why flexible scheduling is so effective. One is that allowing greater control over work schedules allows employees to work at their personal optimal times, rather than conforming to a one-size-fits-all, eight-hour shift. Some people are much more productive first thing in the morning, while others don’t really get into gear until the afternoon.
Another, perhaps more impactful reason this arrangement works is the blending of personal and work time a flexible schedule allows. When employees can take time off in the middle of the work day and make it up when it’s convenient, they’re able to accomplish personal tasks they’d otherwise have to skip with a rigid schedule — like getting school-aged children on and off the bus, banking, attending personal classes, or caring for elderly parents. This allows employees to reduce or eliminate the personal stress that would otherwise affect their performance at work.
It’s in the best interests of any company to care for their employees as a whole person, rather than an eight-hour chunk of labor. By allowing and encouraging overlap between personal and professional lives, your company can bust the work-life balance myth and achieve a truly happy, productive, and loyal workforce.