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Traditionally, “Work-Life Balance” is a business imperative directly impacting productivity and business performance, and is the goal of almost every modern day professional to maintain an overall sense of harmony in life.
Work-life balance has long been considered a strict separation between work and personal life, but the lines between the two have gradually become blurred, attributable to the technology advancements which allow people to be constantly connected and businesses to be active and accessible at all times without boundaries.
With the capabilities of modern technology,“Work-Life Integration”, a new concept in which work and life are intertwined, is emerging and is perceived to be the future of the working world.
Work-Life Integration Trumps Work-Life Balance
Today, we are living in a 24/7 business environment. Professionals in all industries demand instant gratification and instant connectivity, and desire to optimise their precious time as effectively as possible.
The boundaries between work and home-life are increasingly indistinct as they find themselves more connected to the office and often handling work-related responsibilities at home.
Globalisation and technology’s impacts on the work environment have forced them to find a way to integrate their work and personal responsibilities, casting out the notions of work-life balance in order to build better work-life integration practices.
The Executive Centre, Asia Pacific’s leading premium serviced office provider, has recently conducted a survey on “Work-Life Integration” among 200 business executives, aiming to gauge their attitudes and thoughts regarding the quality of their professional and personal lives, and how that quality might or might not have changed in meeting the challenges of working.
According to the survey, 92 per cent of them agreed to the global trend of work-life integration driven by the power of the Internet, mobile technology, video conferencing and email communications which allows people to work virtually anywhere with connectivity.
30 per cent of the respondents have experienced a decrease in the amount of leisure and personal time, mainly due to an increase in globalisation and mobile technology, which requires many of them to be available outside of their normal working hours.
A majority of the respondents are so connected and even make themselves accessible during vacation. 91 per cent of them are either always available to respond to emails and can be contacted at any time during vacation or are sometimes available and can be contacted at specific times during vacation.
The survey results also revealed that while modern executives are working more hours and in more locations now than in the past, over half (56 per cent) are still very satisfied with their overall balance between work life and personal life attributable to the work-life programmes implemented by their companies. 80 per cent of the respondents said their companies offer flexible work arrangements and part-time schedules.
Perspectives from Business Executives on the New Norm
In order to achieve a beneficial work-life balance through work-life integration, a majority of executives in the survey are placing the highest value on flexible work schedules and telecommuting as the most valuable non-financial employer benefits.
From their perspectives, work performance should be evaluated by outcomes and deliverables rather than hours clocked and physical presence in the office, and meanwhile, every employee has different work-life needs and should have the flexibility to attend to family issues and accommodate kids’ schedules, doctor appointments and other personal concerns.
Flexible work arrangements thus are perceived to improve productivity and job satisfaction; increase retention; and improve loyalty and commitment. Their most preferred flexible way of working is to conduct telework on an ad-hoc basis for important family and personal needs or to take time off during workdays without loss of pay.
They also prefer taking sabbaticals - leaves paid or unpaid of six months or more for personal reasons.
Best Practices on Work-Life Programmes
Apparently, today’s professionals are interested not only in intellectually challenging work and the opportunity to contribute to company goals, but also in finding work environments that are flexible to personal life needs and interests.
To attain an edge in talent recruitment and retention, organisations have to recognise that meeting the wide range of needs from employees across their various life stages through work-life programmes can be a strategic business tool for win-win outcomes in the current competitive business environment.
In implementing an effective and sustainable work-life programmes, the organisation, managers and employees all need to play their parts, and the key to success lies in the workplace culture based on reciprocity and trust, with the responsibility for wwork-life integration shared among them.
Here are the three best practices on how an organisation can implement a successful work-life integration programme which not only facilitates telecommuting along with flexible working arrangements but also makes the organisation an attractive place to work at for employees.
1. Assess employees’ different work-life needs
A work-life strategy is not a one-size-fits-all approach as workforce across industries is multi-faceted, with groups from various age groups and cultural backgrounds, at different life stages and with diverse needs.
Thus, a key aspect of planning work-life initiatives well is first to recognise the degree to which one manages potentially conflicting family and work responsibilities. This can take many forms and range from flexible work arrangements to family care leave to having on-site child care facilities.
Conducting a regular company-wide survey can provide invaluable insights to help companies shape existing strategies and work-life programmes, and implement new and more relevant ones for employees.To be successful, work-life integration needs to remain relevant to the changing needs of the business and employees, which may change over time.
2. Cultivate a supportive and trusting environment
To build sustainable work-life programmes, it is of vital importance to create a culture of trust and personal responsibility which should be a joint effort of the organisation, managers and employees.
The goal of the organisation should be to help managers disassociate the notion of the “ideal worker” with face time in the office and cultivate a concept of “Work Smarter, Not Harder”. Managers should be encouraged to stay focused on the results by setting clear performance targets for their employees, and measuring their performance by these targets rather than hours clocked in the office.
That way, job flexibility and outcome-based performance management can act as powerful tools to help improve employees’ productivity and efficiency, and employees can feel at ease making use of flexible working arrangements and managing their time in an honest and reasonable manner.
3. Provide the right tools and technology
Leveraging rapid advancements in technology, working-on-the-go has become easier than ever before, and organisation sneed to provide the right business tools for employees to work wherever and whenever. With the right software and applications to allow live files sharing, mobile access, video chat and video conferencing, employees can stay connected and collaborative from both inside and outside the office.
Overall, people are rethinking the traditional concept of work-life balance as two separate entities, and accepting the fact that work will interrupt some personal time, and some personal time will interrupt work.
“True" balance will most likely never be found, but a harmony through work-life integration is attainable. Flexibility in work schedule, along with the ability to leverage mobile technology, is the preferred way to find a balance and is a trend that is becoming more popular at organisations and sought after by employees.
“Working Smarter Not Harder” makes real sense in the mature world of management that we all experience today.