Only a short time ago we were warned that advances in technology and the automation of industry would create either mass unemployment or increased leisure opportunities for those in post-industrial, western society.
Modern industrial relations history is littered with debates and strikes surrounding the replacement of human labour with technology, the latest of which is the furore that engulfed the London Underground network in recent months regarding the closure of ticket offices in favour of advanced ticket machines.
Yet for many the reality is the opposite. For a vast amount of people technology has in fact resulted in increased workloads, exacerbating pressure and placing even more demands on what may previously have been considered private, social, family or recreational time. Personal tablets, cloud technology, wireless networks and social media have made us accessible whenever from wherever. For this reason and others, the discourse surrounding the concept of ‘work-life balance’ has continued as a frontline issue in people management.
The concept of a ‘work-life balance’, balancing two spheres equally in order to preserve quality of life, looks different to everyone. For example, according to recent data produced by the Office for National Statistics, more people than ever before are now working from home, further blurring the distinction that we continue to promote between work and home. Organizations are encouraged to allow their employees to work flexibly, and the concept of working nine-till-five, Monday to Friday, has for most already been consigned to history.
Speaking at the myHRcareers networking event in London this month, Siobhan Sheridan, head of people for the NSPCC, stated that there was no such thing as a ‘work-life balance’ and that the only way to not feel a conflict between your work and home experience was to engage with and enjoy your employment and your career. She stated that, instead of a work-life balance, there was just life, of which your career makes up an enormous portion. It is no longer possible for many to have a career that they tolerate and which they can then leave at the office. The only way to achieve the quality of life, and the quality of performance, that many advance a ‘work-life balance’ can provide, is to work in a discipline, environment and organization that you find stimulating, with values you identify with, and with goals you support. Through this you will be able to allocate your time between work and ‘life’ without fear.
Surely, the overwhelming importance being placed on employee engagement is contrary to the argument that organizations must be aware of preserving a work-life balance for their people. Engage them instead, and they will find their own balance and spent as much time working as you need them to. For individual HR practitioners, the heavy and constant demands on your time, plus the need to be reflective, makes a work-life balance incredibly hard if you don’t enjoy or identify with the environment you work in.
So don’t spend your time trying to balance your life with the demands of your job. Find a job that will allow the flexibility to work when you can in an organization you respect in an industry that you are fascinated by. Then the balance may take care of itself.