Is the term ‘work-life balance’ now outdated?

by | Feb 19, 2013 | Articles

Management experts have always advocated a balance between work and personal life. But with boundaries blurring, is work-life balance now an outdated term?

Yes, says Simon Hayward, CEO of Cirrus.

For many of us, the boundaries between our work and personal life are becoming blurred. In fact, the different areas of our lives are merging.

For some, this causes stress, but having a degree of fluidity between the two can be quite liberating.

The difference between feeling stressed and feeling liberated is usually down to the culture of the organisation you work in.

This culture tends to be defined by the leaders. If leaders start work early in the morning and finish late, and send and reply to emails and text messages at weekends, chances are everyone else does too.

Many leaders argue that in today’s challenging climate, they simply have to work this way. And sometimes they do. However, not everyone does. A responsible leader encourages others to safeguard valuable personal time.

In a world where more people want their job to provide meaning as well as money, many are prepared to let working and personal lives merge. This can be rewarding rather than stressful if leaders place people-centred values such as respect and trust at the heart of the organisation.

I heard a good example of ‘merging’ recently from the CEO of an outdoor clothing company. One of the senior leaders in the company wanted to spend a couple of weeks on an expedition. The CEO’s response? “Great. He can test our clothing out. He’ll relish the experience and learn some things that will really help the business.”

When asked if the expedition should be taken as holiday or whether it was work, his response was, “I don’t really mind.”

I also heard the learning director of one of the world’s biggest social networking companies speak recently. He works in a demanding industry where long hours are the norm. His company makes it as easy as possible for people to stay at work all day (and often, all night) by providing free food and drink, and even free dry cleaning.

Crucially, the culture is also a supportive one. If someone gets up and leaves the office for a few hours in the middle of the day, they will not be asked where they’re going. There is a real fluidity between working and personal life. There is also a high degree of trust.

For many people, knowing they can spend time during the day at a school sports event or making sure an ill family member is OK (or maybe even something more frivolous like a haircut or a trip to the shops) during ‘traditional’ working hours can be a real stress-reliever.

And if these same people are regularly working early in the morning or late at night, leaders should be positively encouraging them to recapture a little personal time.

We need to accept that ‘traditional’ working hours are becoming a thing of the past as our work and home lives merge – and perhaps that could actually bring a bit more balance overall.

© Institute of Leadership & Management Edge magazine

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