Arianna Huffington turned some heads earlier this month when she said, at a conference of Human Resources professionals in Las Vegas, that she believes there is no such thing as work-life balance.
“I’m passionate about never using the word well-being without using the word productive next to it,” she told the audience at the SAP SuccessConnect event in December. “We need to take well-being and wellness out of the fuzzy area of a soft benefit from the likes of benevolent HR professionals. This is hardcore. This is about the bottom line.”
In short, the concept of work-life balance is outdated.
Now, work and life are connected as never before. They’re one.
Email keeps us all tied to the office 24/7, chat apps means we’re always available, and even portable computers have erased the advantage of being out of the office. Today’s workforce can truly work from anywhere, and so they work from everywhere.
A recent study by Family Living Today determined that 11 percent of U.S. workers currently work more than 50 hours per week on average, and 33 percent regularly work weekends and holidays. Overall, the U.S. ranks 30th out of 38 countries studied in terms of so-called positive work-life balance.
(On the flipside, The Netherlands ranks number-one in the world on that same list, with only 0.5 percent of workers going over 50 hours per week and dedicating nearly 16 hours a day to leisure and personal care.)
And, despite our laid-back reputation, Coloradans aren’t doing much better.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Denver metro area ranks 10th in the country for having the hardest-working residents, averaging 42.5 hours a week in the office. That’s not much less than the hard-working folks in Washington and Boston are putting in.
On the surface, this all seems like bad news. It sounds like U.S. workers are getting burned out (and they are).
But it also makes Huffington’s point: work-life balance is changing. We already know we’ll be working a lot, but since we can do it largely on our own time and from home, it is easier to integrate with regular life than it once was.
What was a major concern for Baby Boomers and Generation X, who struggled to balance work responsibilities with family and other obligations, is just part of the grind for Millennials and Gen Z. That doesn’t mean the benefits aren’t still there, but the ways that employers and employees should approach these issues have evolved. Here are a few ways that businesses can work to improve the working lives of their workforces.
Offer flexible scheduling: Far and away the number-one request from workers is more flexibility in when and where they work. Employers that can work with their employees to figure out scheduling that works for both sides, enabling workers to fit their job responsibilities in among all their other tasks on a given day, have proven to be more attractive to potential hires and better able to retain good workers over the long term.
Offer remote work arrangements: Right after flexible schedule, remote work is a much in demand perk for the modern workforce that shouldn’t be much of a perk anymore. We all have smartphones, laptop computers, email accounts and more, why shouldn’t we be able to work from wherever we want to?
Establish meeting-free blocks of time: One of the parts of the working life that, according to many, feels the most like work is the dreaded hour-long meeting. All too common in many workplaces, these regularly scheduled events suck up time that could be better used for more productive purposes and too often pull employees off projects that they’re right in the thick of. By setting aside part of the day as meeting-free, employees are better able to self-schedule their time, enabling them to get things done professionally without having to dig into their personal time later to catch up.
Restrict off-hours email usage: Last spring, the Brooklyn Council proposed a new law that would make it illegal for any New York City employer to require that their employees check their work emails after hours, mirroring a similar law that passed in France in 2017. No matter if it passes or not, it’s good practice for employers to get out of the 24/7 game if at all possible. It prevents employees from being able to fully disconnect and can lead to sloppy work and burnout if not kept in check.
At the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, we fully understand the appeal of Colorado as a place to live and work. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, a mild average climate, and a world of outdoor activities right out our back door, we value a good work-life balance as much as anyone.
And, as workplaces evolve to meet the needs of the next generation of employees, we’re helping to make sure it works for all involved, no matter what comes next.