I was at a conference a few years ago and the keynote speaker said something I will remember, he said there is something inherently flawed with the question “how is your work-life balance?” By his reasoning, which stands true in my experience, that question assumes that work is not a part of your life. Most of us spend 40 hours per week doing work related activity, sometimes more, sometimes less. Even if you spread that out over the course of 7 days and subtract 8 hours per night for sleep, work related activity consumes a little more than 1/3 of our life as adults. Think about that. So if it is true that “life” is only considered the time we are not at work, then realistically, we are only getting a 64% return on the time we spend awake. Well, that kinda sucks if you subscribe to the notion that work is not a part of your life.
We get it, but we are doing it wrong
And we get it, we get that we would rather spend our waking time feeling like we have a life. This is why over the past few decades, companies have been bringing people’s lives into the workplace as a perk. Companies bring in massage therapists, build gyms, have day care, coffee shops, cafeterias, game rooms, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, and all sort of other stuff to make the workplace feel more like home. And while these seemingly good ideas are received positively and may be nice attractors for new hires, take a look at them a year later, two years later; notice anything? They are not being used anymore and as a result they end up being seen an expendable line item that provides no real benefit. This has a cascading effect as now the employees perceive it as something company took away (even though they were not using it). “‘They’ took away another perk.” laments the worker. “‘They don’t care about us like ‘they’ used to.” and so on.
So why don’t these seemingly great perks work long term? It’s because they miss the point. I do not want to have a nice vanilla latte at work…I want to have it at the coffee shop down the street. I don’t want to play basketball at work, I want to go to the gym and play basketball. I do not want to eat at work, I want to eat at the restaurant. While those conveniences at work might be nice, they are misplaced. Think about it, if you were sitting at home and you wanted to get coffee, would you go to work for it? Even if it were free? Of course not. We don’t want those things at work, we want the freedom to do them however, whenever, and where ever we want. And what if I do not drink coffee, play basketball, or like the food you have? Those perks have absolutely no value to me whatsoever.
Yet, at the cost of millions of dollars, companies continue to try to blur the artificial line between work and life to create balance between the two. So essentially, companies are spending millions of dollars for an illusion.
Get it right, for free (or at least MUCH cheaper)
If you can get past the misplaced notion that work and life are separate and allow people to manage work responsibilities they way they would any other part of their life, I think you will see something remarkable. Since they can now balance priorities within a 16 hour window (if people sleep for 8), time management issues go away. They now have time to go to the gym when it makes sense for them, so they are healthier. And since work is now a part of who they are the entire time they are awake, ideas, solutions, innovations, and productivity don’t get turned off when the clock strikes five. Oh, and you know all those basketball courts, volley ball courts, massage therapists, etc. They are suddenly rendered obsolete and unnecessary, saving you millions.
So here is the solution. Define the results and expectations for the given role, give them access to resources to do it, provide feedback, then let them determine the how to get it done. Cast off the idea that in order to do work they need to be – sitting at a desk – in your building – between certain hours. This is the artificial part of the modern work place and the core of the idea that work and life are separate. If I know I have three things I need to get done for the day (get the oil changed, buy groceries, and finish a report) if I am left to my own designs, they all get done…why does it matter when or where? They are a part of my life and in between those “must do” things, I can go get coffee, go to the gym, get a massage, and grab lunch. Ahh, freedom.
Work is a part of our life, it is not separate. Give your people their life back, let them manage it, and stop spending money on things they would rather get somewhere else.