Why ‘Work-Life Balance’ Remains Elusive


by Granville Triumph

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” famously said: “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance.”

Human resources managers would disagree. According to the 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study, 67 percent of HR professionals said that their employees have achieved work-life balance. In a survey by Workplace Trends and CareerArc, 87 percent of HR managers said that workplace flexibility programs allowing employees to work from home periodically have dramatically boosted employee morale.

However, the 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study also found 20 percent of employees spend more than 20 hours each week working outside the office on their own time. Sixty-five percent of employees say they are expected to be on call during their off hours, and 45 percent wish they had more personal time.

Part of this is due to mobile technologies that enable us to take work with us wherever we go. However, it is also due in part to a persistent workaholic culture that rewards those who log overtime. In today’s hyper-competitive, around-the-clock environment, company owners and managers are afraid of losing business and they often put that same pressure on their staff. Limited budgets may mean staffing levels remain steady even as workloads and customer demands increase. These problems can be particularly acute in small to midsize businesses.

There are no easy answers. Clearly, certain expectations as to employee performance must be set and met if the business is going to succeed. And work-life balance doesn’t mean the same to all people — after all, work is part of life. Some individuals identify strongly with work and thrive in a high-pressure environment, while others want a clear demarcation between work and personal time.

As a result, managers should not make any assumptions but rather engage in active conversations about work-life balance and workplace flexibility. If in a typical week an employee is averaging more than 20 hours of overtime, determine what that employee is working on and make sure he or she understands management expectations. Encourage employees to use their best judgment in striking the right balance — just make sure that the result is fair to all. Frank should have time to attend his kids’ ballgames but Sally, who has no kids, shouldn’t be forced to shoulder the extra burden.

As a manager, finding your own, personal work-life balance starts with identifying what really matters to you and communicating those needs to your staff. Make sure that you focus your energies on activities that drive business goals, and eliminate as many low-value tasks as you can. Pace yourself and turn off your smartphone and email when it’s time to rest and recharge. Once you’ve established these boundaries respect them, both for yourself and others in your organization.

The holidays can be a time of added stress even as we look forward to time with friends and family. May you find the right work-life balance and enjoy a happy and prosperous year in 2016.


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