OK, so I’m exaggerating a little with that title but it’s only because I want people to really get it that work-life balance was just a fad that didn’t last too long. For a few years, HR professionals were trying to figure out why employees were so unhappy with their jobs and why they were getting so burnt out. So, they came up with “work-life balance,” the idea that employees will be more productive at work if we can create a better balance and distinction between their work time and their personal time.
Many companies, now, are finding out that their employee’s productivity and engagement still are not improving. But, why? Is it actually because work-life balance was a bad idea? I don’t think so. I think that the world of technology and work just grew faster than companies and HR departments could keep up with. Before we had all this technology and ways of multi-tasking and working more efficiently, things in work and life just took a lot more time and effort. Thus, it was important to differentiate and allocate specific time to our professional lives and our personal lives.
Now, we can actually engage in work and personal time simultaneously, which is why work-life balance is so last year. The new trend? Work-life integration. It might seem like it’s only a matter of semantics but I think it’s a little more than that. Whereas work-life balance focuses on how we can make sure that our employees are getting an appropriate portion of both everyday, work-life integration places a greater importance on how we can find ways to blend work and personal time so that both come together (rather than stay distinct) to create a more meaningful and whole life.
Work-life integration also forces our HR professionals to think about how to make work more enjoyable so that employees want it to become part of their being, their every day, their every second. The idea is that our work should somehow merge with our personal lives so that we can get the job done and still be able to live our lives as we please.
What does this look like in the real world? Gone are the days of no cell phones at work, no social media at work and no internet at work. Gone are the days of 9-5 shifts, work-life balance/distinction and dare I say, those crazy attendance policies. That’s right, employees are no longer being measured by whether or not they “show up” for work. Innovative HR departments are moving towards measuring performance based on results. This solves the problem of presenteeism, the concept of employees who are present at work but do not actually get work done.
With laptops, ipads, smartphones and smart gear (watches, fitbits, glasses, etc.), we can get work done anywhere, anytime. We can multitask too, performing personal and work-related tasks at the same time. For example, I can send a tweet out from my iPhone while I wait for my work computer to start-up or send a group text reminder about my dinner party to friends while I’m on a webinar at work. For many people, technology has become such a norm for them that it is the only way they know how to focus (versus the idea that technology is a distraction). Technology is no longer a distraction for everyone. I know I actually recall more information from a presentation when I am doing something else like checking my email on my phone. If I have to sit through an hour or longer presentation without being able to do anything else, my mind wanders more and I don’t retain as much information.
Clearly, everyone works differently and for some people, keeping life and work separate may still be a preference. That’s why it’s important for HR departments and business leaders to offer more flexibility and more choice in the workplace. If we let people work however it is that they work best, we’ll see more results, productivity and engagement.