The Adaptable Definition of the Life Work Balance Debate

A very good friend and associate, Colin Smith and I were having our monthly catch up, Colin had just received a birthday present from a loved one, a Tibetan bowl. A Tibetan singing bowl is a type of bell that vibrates and produces a rich, deep tone when played. Also known as singing bowls or Himalayan bowls, Tibetan singing bowls are said to promote relaxation and offer powerful healing properties. When we moved our discussion to life-work balance.

The term “work-life balance” has yet to lose its buzz in the last few years. This is partially due to the dominating presence of millennials in the workforce. Employers have been putting in a tremendous effort trying to determine the best way to appeal to millennial workers. Brookings Education research predicts that the millennial generation of workers is projected to take up 75% of the workforce by 2025, many leaders think it’s time to redefine what work-life balance looks like.

In short, they want to be highly engaged by what they do and smart leaders will harness their sense of mission or risk losing these employees to more purpose-driven companies.

Work-life balance is an important aspect of a healthy work environment. Maintaining a work-life balance helps reduce stress and helps prevent burnout in the workplace. Chronic stress is one of the most common health issues in the workplace. It can lead to physical consequences such as hypertension, digestive troubles, chronic aches and pains, and heart problems. Chronic stress can also negatively impact mental health because it’s linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

There are significant and horrific trends that show employee illness, mental health issues that directly correlate within the business, not to mention Zoom fatigue. Too much stress over a long period of time leads to workplace burnout. Employees who work tons of overtime hours are at a high risk of burnout. Burnout can cause fatigue, mood swings, irritability, and a decrease in work performance.

This is bad news for employers because according to Harvard Business Review, the psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees cost an estimated $125 to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the United States.

It’s important for employers to realize that work-life balance is about more than just hours. Besides promoting flexibility, employers should also strive to improve the overall workplace experience for their employees. Prioritizing a healthy culture and cultivating a happy workplace environment promotes work-life balance. When employees are happy in their roles, work will feel more like a second home, and less like working for a paycheck. Employers should prioritize competitive compensation, comfortable office conditions, opportunities for professional growth, and opportunities for social connections.

Attitudes on work-life balance will continue to evolve with cultural, generational, and economic changes. Flexible leaders can update or reinvent their workplace culture to try something new if employees report poor work-life balance.

While maximizing employee productivity will always remain a constant goal, ensuring employees have the time they desire away from the office and enjoy their time spent in the office is the best way to retain talented employees and make them lifers, regardless of perceived generational differences.

Think about a bell out of sequence or even a change ringing, change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a tightly controlled manner to produce precise variations in their successive striking sequences, known as “changes”. This can be by method ringing in which the ringers commit to memory the rules for generating each change, or by call changes, where the ringers are instructed how to generate each change by instructions from a conductor. This creates a form of bell music that cannot be discerned as a conventional melody but is a series of mathematical sequences.

To ring quickly, the bell must not complete the full 360 degrees before swinging back in the opposite direction; while ringing slowly, the ringer waits with the bell held at the balance, before allowing it to swing back. To achieve this, the ringer must work with the bell’s momentum, applying just the right amount of effort during the pull that the bell swings as far as required and no further.

Despite this colossal weight, it can be safely rung by one (experienced) ringer, but in the wrong hands of expertise at the helm, the bell will be imbalanced.

Just like at a theatre, the maestro is on the podium is one of classical music’s most recognisable figures, long before Toscanini or Furtwängler, Bernstein or Dudamel, there was Pherekydes of Patrae, known in ancient Greece as the ‘Giver of Rhythm’.

A report from 709 BC describes him leading a group of eight hundred musicians by beating a golden staff “up and down in equal movements” so that the musicians “began in one and the same time” and “all might keep together”. A music conductor can be responsible for much more than just how a concert turns out. The balanced conductor has the ability to influence the entire system of music education, which can be emulated all over the world.

This is why the importance of wellbeing, life balance and mental health has never been more important.
Research from Mind confirms that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers:
• More than one in five (21%) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them.
• 14% agreed that they had resigned and 42% had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them.
• 30% of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’.
• 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance.

Employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This includes mental health and wellbeing. You can find out more about health and safety at work in our health and safety factsheet.

Employees who have a mental health condition may be disabled as defined by the Equality Act 2010, and will therefore be protected from discrimination during employment.

One of the greatest challenges for employers and workers in 2020 was finding ways to work to keep companies afloat and to support people, people managers and their psychological wellbeing.

This trend will not disappear in 2021, and it will be necessary to bolster and cultivate employee wellbeing while people continue to work remotely or in partial return to offices. There was a growing awareness of mental health and wellbeing throughout 2020, but the challenges are not over.

In 2021 and beyond, all organisations should be:
• Assessing overall levels of wellbeing of staff on an ongoing basis; and
• Ensuring frontline managers and teams are still sensitive to individual wellbeing.

At the leadership level, there is a sizable disconnect between how important purpose is claimed to be for business and how central purpose actually is to business decisions. This gap demonstrates the optimism and promise that leaders see in being purpose-driven to elevate business, but a hesitation to “walk the walk” and actively embed it into foundational elements of the company, such as organizational decision architecture.

In my mind, the purpose of a company is defined as the reason for being beyond profit. Or to cite EY, it’s the organization’s single, underlying objective that unifies all stakeholders. Purpose should embody the company’s ultimate role in the broader economic, societal, and environmental context for 100 or more years.

A clear purpose goes beyond products or services and instead describes what impact or change the company can make in the largest context possible. Some examples of good purpose statements are:
• Merck: “Our purpose is to preserve and improve human life.”
• Southwest Airlines: “We connect people to what’s important in their lives.”
• Zappos: “Our purpose is to inspire the world by showing it’s possible to simultaneously deliver happiness to customers, employees, community, vendors and shareholders in a long-term sustainable way.”

Clearly defining and articulating purpose can truly propel a company forward. Purpose helps set a long-term business strategy, creates a bigger competitive advantage and differentiation in the marketplace, inspires innovation, increases brand trust and loyalty, and ultimately, helps the company stand the test of time. EY and Harvard Business Review co-authored a research project which revealed that 58% of companies that are truly purpose-driven report 10% growth or more over the past three years, versus 42% of companies that don’t have a fully embedded purpose reporting a lack or even decline of growth in the same period.

Purpose also has the power to positively impact employees. In order for that to happen, the purpose needs to be relevant, aspirational, and actively embedded in the whole company. If that’s the case, a multitude of benefits materializes for employees.

Finally, we are living in a time of increasingly intelligent technologies, when an organization’s ability to be trusted really matters. But the way data and intelligent technologies such as AI are being used is creating significant trust gaps. For example, the public feels that intelligent technology is moving too fast and that regulators can’t keep up, as documented in the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer.

There are plenty of high-profile examples of data misuse and unintended outcomes from AI usage that have contributed to these gaps.

In short form:
• We need trust as an essential ingredient for wellbeing, life balance, mental health.
• Unless organizations anticipate and close the potential trust gaps, companies and regulators need to create policies to work with each other and with wider society to identify practicable, actionable steps that businesses can take to shape a new relationship with wider society: a new ‘settlement’ based on mutual understanding and a shared recognition of the positive role that business plays in people’s lives.

• To close trust gaps, organizations must embed a people-first strategy with purpose.
• Trust within and across this ecosystem is key to its long-term sustainability and survival. That’s why trust needs to be restored to the heart of the business world.

As Stephen M.R. Covey – American Educator, once said:

“Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create.”

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