Work Life Imbalance

According to a recent poll, 73‑percent of workers value flexibility in looking for a job (or staying in a job).

Employers, in their self-interest, need to help employees with work life challenges.  But that is easier said than done.

This blog addresses some of the rarely discussed issues when it comes to work-life challenges.

1.   Nomenclature

The words we use are important.  As Lisa Horn of SHRM taught me [@SHRMLobbystLisa], we should talk about work life blend or integration, but not balance.  Why?  Equal balance (visualize the scales of justice) creates a standard none of us can achieve fully.

Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In makes a similar point.  If we try to balance work and life, life will always win.  But we want careers, too.

So let's make the goal blending work into life (and sometimes the other way around).

2.   It’s Not Just About Children

Allowing flexibility for child rearing is an essential component of work life blending.  It cannot be ignored.

But while necessary, it is not sufficient.  Too often this is the primary, even sole, focus.

Other aspects of life need blending, too, such as elder care.  But it is not only about care.

Employees have diverse interests and needs.  We should not be judging (outside of legal mandate) which aspects of life deserve blending.  Indeed, we are better off legally not delving into the why (and learning personal information) and focusing on the blend.

Where a work-life initiative focuses too heavily on child care, it can breed resentment.

People without young children and single people in particular often feel alienated in discussions about work life blend.  Although they rarely say it, they feel their needs are ignored.

I won't make that mistake.  If you want the talent of single workers or couples without kids, you better address their blend issues, too.  If you don’t know what their issues are, then, please, seek guidance on work-balance initiatives.

3.   Gender Roles in the Partnership

I don't like hiding the ball so let me say it directly:  some women struggle with work life blend because of the traditional gender-based roles they play in their marriage or partnership. 

Sandberg points out in Lean In that, if women want to have the opportunity to lean in at work (a meme for "go for it professionally"), their partners need to do more at home.  To be more blunt, if the spouses or partners decide that one person will have the primary care giver responsibilities, that choice should be respected.  But it may come with a cost to the caregiver in terms of opportunities to advance professionally. And an employer should not be blamed for leadership choices that are made at home.

Of course, many men are leaning in at home.  I take pride that my father did so when my mom went back to school to become a therapist (when Ms. Sandberg was still a little one)

4.   Training

Flexibility, a critical part of work life blend, does not come naturally.

Employees who need flexibility need to understand it cannot compromise accountability.

Managers need to focus more on results than face time, except where face time matters, such as a client meeting.

Assume you have an 8 a.m. deadline for a report.  Does it matter if the employee finishes the report between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the office or 10 p.m. and midnight at home?  No, unless your control issues need some control.

Need to cut this blog short.  One of my four-legged kids is recovering from chemotherapy and my blend needs to turn to him.  Coming Freddy!


Follow me on Twitter at:  @Jonathan__HR__Law




The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: