Given a hybrid or flexible work model, evaluating life-work balance and optimizing it is what companies are aiming for in order to gain the employees’ trust.
BY SHIKHA VERMA
JAN 21 2022
For as long as I remember, we have been referring to Worklife balance as an employee centric practice and have deployed it for employee retention. Needless to say, it is grotesquely overused and is a complete misfit in the current corporate scenario.
To begin with, ‘work’ as a term has in itself changed dramatically. In the past, when someone claimed that she was going to work, it meant a ‘place’ or an office where employees came together for achieving company goals. Today, the entire connotation has evolved to a concept of ‘doing some tasks or a thing of value’ or ‘to be intellectually or creatively engaged and contribute towards a purpose in some way to yield financial returns. If you examine this closely, you will realise that there is a major mindset shift and the skills involved to do the latter. Additionally, the complexities of work-life balance have more to do with our effort to strike a balance between our very existence and what simply is an expression, discovery, and means for self-development.
Gen X had no choice but to improve their standard of living by giving more time to workplaces compromising their family time, dignity, and self-respect too. It also led to sabotaging weekends and family time post office hours due to work coming home. While the focus was Work-Life Balance, companies were invariably rewarding stress. This led us to a point of normalising and glorifying exhaustion and compromises. Employees were made to feel this is what they needed to accept as a part of their life.
Today, our work reality has radically changed, employees are spending more time at home, working and juggling with their life’s priorities alongside work or working in a co-working space a few days in the week. While we are aiming to achieve wellbeing today, the tools and practices we are deploying remain the same. It is like amputating one part of the story completely, leading to a lopsided reality.
Life is looked at as something extraneous ‘over and above’ work - this is puerile and outright ironical. Hence, the first thing we need to do is to give due weightage to ‘Life’, that makes it Life-Work Balance’. We will eventually delve into the latter aspect to analyse if there is a more befitting term in the current context. We urge you to ask yourself–
• What led to this extreme imbalance of life where ‘Work’ has become our primary entity?
• Why is there an overemphasis on success through a job when wealth cannot be created by earning a salary alone?
• Has this single idea of ‘balance’ robbed us of our basic human sense of prioritisation and wellbeing?
Picture this, someone tells you to get a glass of water from the tap and asks you to ensure you do not spill water. Guess what, the next thing you know for sure is that you will spill water – is it not? And you already know, why.
We have allowed ourselves to get too trapped in the thought of trying to balance when we needed to draw some boundaries and prioritise aptly. If you have had a baby, clearly, you need more family time. If you get the project of your dreams, you would rather focus on working more for some time. The idea is to shift gears as and when required, instead of undermining our personal life or neglecting one’s responsibilities or aspirations for that matter.
Of late, some are referring to this as work-life integration as well, to which I feel while you can bring work to your paradise ‘Home’, you cannot take your Home to Office. Have you ever seen people carry laundry clothes or unfinished home chores to the office premises? That is not happening either.
The way forward demands a humancentric leadership and a culture that makes employees feel valued and their best selves. Perhaps what we seek today is trust, connect and flexibility. Let us understand another reality that the corporate world is dealing with before we determine what is apt and contextual.
The Great Resignation is a Churning Point
Our lives are multidimensional, and work is one of the facets. After months and months of pressure, uncertainty, and workload, employees have reached a break-even point and are forced to rethink their careers. The staggering numbers of the GreatResignation across the globe are a testimony to the broken trust of employees.
Millions of people across the world are forced to rethink their careers due to the lack of security in jobs. There is a mass realisation that they need to give due importance to their lives and their families too. People are quitting their jobs even without having a source of income. As per a survey by McKinsey, a quarter of the employers believe they are holding on to more low-performing talent as compared to the previous year.
The attrition has risen from 10% in 2020 to 20% in 2021, according to the research firm Gartner. We may choose to sit back and contemplate that we are losing talent because we have lost physical touch with the employees. The truth, however, is that long-distance employment has made things clearer to the employees. To add to it, the company’s lack of support and mass retrenchment during the worst phase of life has shattered their faith in organisations as a steady source of income or questioned their overall sense of growth too. This is not a transformation of some sort, it is a churning point.
After the recent tumultuous years, employees are not seeking money and fun anymore. They are seeking to connect, find purpose, and focus on wellbeing. Companies are trying informal meetings, meditation, and laughter yoga which is not enough.
The Millennials and Gen Z are far more aware and committed to bringing a change and are doubly equipped with the necessary tools and resources too. Some students are choosing to do their own business, blog on YouTube, and build their brand instead of being a part of the Big 4’s as they do not want to work with controlling managers, put in long hours at work like their parents or ruin their peace of mind. This makes the task of HR and L & D far more challenging and critical. There is a pressing need to clearly define what an organisation stands for to make them feel connected and add more meaning to their work.
Let us reflect on a few fundamental questions like what is the importance of work in our life? And why do we go to work in the first place?
Work is an Expression and an Extension of us
Work is an expression of our skills and people’s capabilities. It allows us to learn, explore and rediscover ourselves. Most individuals spend their lifetime trying to find that ideal work that can offer them Beauty, Benefit, and Good, the tenets shared by Daisaku Ikeda. Beauty is when we wish to do something that we are good at already and enjoy doing. The benefit is when it can give you monetary rewards or you can get paid for what you are good at and at the same time that is something that the world needs too which is the 3rd tenet of ‘goodness’ getting addressed. Ikigai Philosophy also focuses on building a sense of fulfilment and wellbeing through an overlap of all these three constructs.
We need to start thinking about how we can operationalize the Ikigai Philosophy so that it can perpetuate into our day-to-day work experience (not place) given a Flexi or a Hybrid model. Indisputably, interaction through virtual platforms, community and social media, and flexible work options has increased the need to provide a sense of security, connect and wellbeing.
It is pivotal to provide a sense of safety and wellbeing to employees, which means the employee feels secure and can freely share his/her thoughts including a disagreement with the manager.
Every life is pulsating with unlimited energies – both positive and negative and it is up to us to channelise it in a direction where it can turn to be more productive and meaningful. This can happen only if we can manage this disruption and challenge well.
An overall sense of ‘Stability’ needs to be woven into the very fabric of the organisation creating holistic wellbeing, allowing them to bring their true selves to work each day.
This means if the ecology of culture is managed well the mechanics of an organisation and its people are bound to work well. Adopting a new age mantra of Life Work-Stability can prove to be liberating and sure-fire insurance to address pressing issues faced in this changing environment.