Much has been written and discussed about the captioned subject. Literally, at the end of the click there is so much of material available on it--and yet I felt the need to write on it.
My motivation to do so? Simply, somewhere I feel that the whole issue is being discussed and tackled more (only?) at programmatic levels than going into it’s intrinsic aspects—thereby losing an ongoing opportunity to touch the essence of the concept.
Disclaimer: My discussion is basically centered on how work-life balance issues are handled in the corporate environment, and therefore, my observations are restricted to this sector alone.
What is work/life balance? In layperson’s terms, it is a state where an individual is able to juggle his/her personal and professional priorities in such a way that there exists an equitable blend of both.
Now, interestingly, the corporate organizations take initiatives to help individuals attain such a fair blend by providing programs like flexi-hours, work from home, concierge desks at work place and…..the list is endless. Obviously, the notion here seems to be that these are the programs that help individuals to balance their work/life priorities better—and more so, it indicates that (albeit in an implied sense!) any pursuit of professional priorities is generally at the cost of individual/personal priorities and hence there arises a special need to correct such an imbalance.
That leads me to really raise a question: what does the ‘balance’ part of work/life balance mean?
Balance, as a term, brings with it an assumption of some kind of a state of equilibrium. Therefore, consequently, we are likely to infer that a uniform and well structured organization-wide work/life balance program will address the ‘balance/equilibrium’ needs of the workforce. And I have a problem with such a ‘broad-brush’ deduction!
I have seen/observed/personally experienced multiple push and pull factors that act against such equilibrium.
• A fresher at the beginning of his career, generally has high pull towards work priorities. Work-life balance does not matter a lot to him as much as someone who is married, has children and an extended family from spouse’s side, has ageing parents to look after etc. In case of such folk, the domestic life demands their time equally, which makes it necessary for them to strive for a work-life balance.
• And now let’s consider an example of two persons in a similar situation and yet how they look at w/l balance differently. Both of them are in their mid-careers, stable, married. They take a pause to think how they want to take ahead their career. While one decides to take a middle-course, giving equal importance to his career and family; other decides to aggressively follow his professional career and reach far greater heights of success. Obviously, w/l balance is a non-critical issue for the second person.
Given the above, I have come to conclusions that:
* Work-life balance initiatives that started as employee satisfaction/motivation enhancers have now become just the hygiene factors. Their presence does not motivate, but absence demotivates!
* Work/life balance initiatives work very differently for different folks—and they don’t work for some folks as well!
* Work/life balance is a transient state—always vulnerable to ongoing push and pull factors referenced earlier.
* It is an individual’s choice as to how to balance one’s work/life and as such what work/life balance programs can at best do is to merely provide a framework for those individuals who want to correct a degree of imbalance in their priorities—and that too, only where such balance is tilted in favour of the professional side.
* Work/life balance is a state of mind and thus a person voluntarily spending in excess of 12 hours a day, consistently, in his professional activities can also claim to have attained a state of balance as much as someone who methodically carves out not more than 9 hours a day for similar activities. In summary, physically measurable dimensions such as hours spent, facilities offered etc are not the necessary and conclusive determinants of one’s work/life balance.
* Finally, work and life can’t be after all so separable from each other, at least for those who don’t wish to separate it. E.g, for me, spending even an hour in the office after the day’s work is over may amount to disturbing the balance.But for someone else at a different stage of life, who has many of his personal friends working in the same office, spending even weekend time in the office and in the company of his friends will actually work as a ‘balance enhancing’ phenomenon!
Since I’m a great follower and a fan of work/life initiatives, I would like to endorse the noble intent behind institutionalizing those across the organizations. However, in my view, one must understand the practical outcomes of such initiatives and more importantly, their built-in limitations—that’s why this blog!
Many a time, introduction of work/life balance programs is seen as an end by itself and that’s precisely why one must understand inherent limitations of such programmatic interventions, so that in the overall context of encouraging ‘employee engagement’ one can assess realistic contribution of such programs—not underestimating their impact, but not over expecting the outcomes either!!
Finally, we must realize that work/life balance is, in more ways than one, a matter of individual decision, judgment, feeling and expression—as much as individual satisfaction is. And therefore, just as no one theory of employee satisfaction has solved the riddle of how to satisfy (and keep them in a state of mid/long-term satisfaction) employees, equally, there is no one silver bullet to ensure broad-based work/life balance!