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By Anna Meller, ABP Conference Speaker 2013
Monday 23rd September is the start of this year’s UK Work-Life Week and a timely reminder that in the current economic climate supporting work-life balance is one of the cheapest and most effective actions any employer or employee can take to safeguard wellbeing.
So what exactly is “work-life balance”?
The phrase has crept into our consciousness to such an extent that I can usually generate huge debates simply by uttering those three words. Many people will want to relate their own work-life challenges while a significant minority want to debate the phrase itself. Their dislike of the phrase is born of the (very sensible) belief that work is apart of life. Others look for what they consider to be more meaningful alternatives such as “work-life harmony”, “work-life integration” (which is becoming increasingly popular) and even work-play balance.
I have my own favourite definition of what work-life balance means and plan to share it with my workshop participants during the forthcoming ABP Conference. In the interim I’ll simply say that if you have a definition which works for you, then that’s good enough. What’s more important is that you have a clear picture of what you’re trying to achieve.
Much more than just flexible working
One thing “work-life balance” definitely is not, is a synonym for “flexible working” although over the years many employers have conflated the two. More recently, leading edge employers have begun to step beyond policies and procedures in their efforts to fully support work-life balance. They’re recognising there is no “one size fits all” solution – and working to identify how corporate culture can militate against balance.
Why should anyone care?
Quite simply because social science researchers (including psychologists) have now amassed a wealth of evidence which demonstrates that good work-life balance leads to good physical and mental well-being, increased employee engagement and increased productivity. Not only is the converse also true, but poor work-life balance is apparently contagious. If your co-workers are suffering it’s likely you will catch their mood with a resultant negative spiral.
What can help me improve my balance?
For the past four years I’ve been a member of the Division of Occupational Psychology’s working group on work-life balance. On 23rd September we will be showcasing recent developments in work-life balance research including the work of Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek who’s developed a self-assessment tool designed to identify balancing styles; and Dr Christine Grant who is currently working on how e-workers can maintain balance. Participants in my conference workshop will get a chance to look at both these measures.
From an individual point of view, one of the most effective tools for enhancing work-life balance is Dr Kossek’s Work-Life Indicator. The assessment is completed online, no certification is needed and the resultant report includes a development guide. Those wishing to explore her ideas in greater depth will also find Dr Kossek’s book “CEO of Me” an interesting read.
Ultimately, it’s about where personal preference meets corporate culture
Identifying your work-life style is only half the equation – the challenges arise when preferred styles hit company cultures. I’m planning a brief discussion of this topic during my session, but in the meantime, employers looking for radical ideas to shake up working practices will find them in the notion of ROWE – the Results Only Work Environment. Developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson at Best Buy and rolled out to a number of other employers in the US; the concept has been nicely summarised in their book “Work sucks and how to fix it.”
About the Author
For the past twenty years Anna Meller has been making work-life balance her business as a consultant, writer and researcher. Her current focus is on “bringing balance to the boardroom” as a means of supporting more women into senior management. More information about Anna can be found on her website: www.sustainableworking.co.uk
If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to hear more about Anna’s views on work life balance, she will be speaking at the 2013 Annual ABP Conference on Thursday 3rd October, Wokefield Park, Reading.
To find out more about the conference and Anna’s session click here for more information