I have never really understood the term “work-life balance”. Why is work considered something separate from the rest of the important things in our lives? Am I not living my life during those 40+ hours that I spend in a workplace every single week?
Being able to balance our professional and personal lives is important. It is crucial to our wellbeing, to the organization we work for, and to the people that we connect with during our free time. However, speaking about a balance between “work” and “life” doesn’t seem to set a basis for building a healthy life. Instead of using the term work-life balance, I prefer referring to this phenomena as balancing professional and personal aspects of life so that they work in harmony.
Up to a certain point, everyone is obviously responsible for balancing their own lives. However, as HR people, team leaders, and managers we are also responsible for ensuring that we provide our teams with the possibility of finding this balance. This may be difficult because sometimes, we get misled by the misconceptions related to balancing professional and personal life. Here are three common myths as well as alternative ways of looking at them.
Myth # 1: “Work and personal life should be kept separate.”
It is reasonable to expect that when your employees come to the office, they put their full effort into getting the job done. However, there are two key reasons why we should be flexible about this. One, if you don’t give your employees the flexibility to take care of personal errands during work hours when they need to, you also cannot expect them to stay later or work over the weekend when an important project needs to be finished or an urgent client report sent. This doesn’t mean taking personal phone calls every day, but we all know that sometimes life happens, even during the office hours. The second reason is that there are moments in all of our lives when it is impossible to push certain things completely aside for eight hours every day. Such moments can include losing a loved one, family problems, or financial issues.
Instead of drawing a strict line between your employees’ work and personal life, give them flexibility and trust them not to abuse this confidence. Also, find ways to support your employees when they are going through a difficult time in their personal lives. You will contribute to your employees’ happiness and consequently, to your organization’s productivity.
Myth # 2: “If someone constantly works overtime, that is because they love their jobs so much.”
Could be true. Indeed, there are organizations where employees are so engaged with their work that they want to spend their free time pursuing work projects. However, there is also a good chance that this is not the case and your employees work long hours for another reason. Their workload may be so heavy that they simply don’t have time to get their work done during the normal working hours. The work processes may also have some for improvement. Maybe the employees don’t manage to finish their tasks because of constant interruptions or other inefficiencies in the processes. Finally, your organization may have a culture where continuous overtime is expected and working normal hours is seen as slacking off. Needless to say, none of these three scenarios is likely to make your employees enjoy their work and maintain a good balance between their professional and personal lives.
The first two situations can be rather easy to fix. If your employees are unable to get their work done within their normal hours because of the amount of work, you may need to revise everyone’s workload and evaluate if you need more resources. If you do have the right resources but inefficient processes are causing your team to spend more hours in the office than necessary, you should review and optimize your workflows and make sure that everyone understands them and follows them. However, if your employees spend more time in the office than they would like to because they are afraid of being seen as lazy or less dedicated than others, that is a sign that there could be issues with the culture. If this the case, you need to consider what kind of culture you want to promote and put some thought into redefining your culture from scratch.
Myth # 3: “If employees work 8-hour days, they will be happy.”
In some cases, yes. If you have a healthy work environment, a fair pay, learning opportunities, and your employees feel satisfied with their jobs, you probably have a rather happy workplace.
However, 8-hour days don’t guarantee a good balance between professional and personal life. A toxic work environment, especially workplace bullying, is not something your employees leave behind when they close the office door. The lack of reasonable compensation can also negatively affect your employees’ personal lives. Furthermore, if your employees spend eight hours per day doing something that doesn’t feel rewarding, chances are it will impact their sense of self-worth even outside of work.
You could also consider if a certain number of daily hours is what you should expect from your employees. While there are some professions that require the employees to show up and can perfectly well be paid per hour, there are others that are not tied to a certain time or place. If you measure the results instead of the number of hours spent at the office, you may increase your organization’s productivity. Think for example about trivago or Netflix. Both of these companies offer their employees unlimited vacation time, as long as the job gets done.
Balancing professional and personal life is not about totally separating the two or about spending a certain number of hours per day at the office. It is about finding the balance between professional life and personal life so that neither disturbs the other. Have you heard any other misleading arguments about the so-called work-life balance? Share in the comment section below!