Discovering Work-Life Integration

We are all tired of hearing about work-life balance and failing to understand what this truly means. We are now in a working world where the two are not separate anymore, they are integrated. Spaces in our homes that used to host a plant, or play area for the children are now our new office spaces, and collecting children from school or fitting in appointments has become so much easier!

So what next for employers and People Management teams?

We, as employers and people management teams, are responsible for making this new approach work. This begins with the basics:

  • Changing the mindsets of line managers.
  • Communication – at its best!
  • Understanding, and willingness to change and seek improvement.
  • Remaining current, and fluid.

Fluid is a word I use often with my team and the wider company. We need to understand that life is not a clearly defined black & white structure, it’s grey and full of surprises, and we can use this to our advantage to nurture the engagement levels of our teams. Who said that working 9 – 5 was the most productive use of time for every employee? We are all different, and that should be celebrated, and respected.

Research

Vast amounts of research on work-life integration have still had relatively little impact on workplace practice, and work-family conflict remains a regular hot topic on engagement survey results. I have read many articles, many explaining that work and home life should now complement each other, without losing aspects of one or the other, but instead creating synergies to achieve the best outcome. Professor Friedman’s solution proposes thinking about your work and personal lives as two parts of a whole. With this theory in mind, it is clear that both employees and employers must adapt to achieve work-life integration.

work and home life should

complement each other

Although interesting, I cannot find any tangible research that offers direction, so that is what I have set out to do.

 

Direction to a successful work-life integration

We have mentioned earlier in this article that we do have to start at the basics, and although they are basic tasks, they do not have basic goals. Changing mindsets is very challenging, we must appreciate that different generations in our workforces have been exposed to different working conditions and there is no magic switch to change the way people see work-life. Line managers will need time to fully understand, digest, and implement this new way of working and thinking, they may even demand evidence to prove the success before fully buying in so be prepared! This of course is always difficult in a people management discipline, but running targeted ‘work-life’ pulse surveys on engagement is a good start (roughly every three months). The information gathered in these exercises is extremely valuable to line managers offering them insight into their team’s views, opinions, and voice.

Next, it’s about remaining current. Work-life is changing so quickly, week-to-week sometimes. People management teams need to ensure they are seeking knowledge expansion in this area at every opportunity and communicate this back to key stakeholders and line managers to encourage buy in and fluid thinking. Understanding the changing mindsets of employees is critical. I learned recently that everyone has a different expectation in this area – I asked my team if they would like to trial flexible working, and perhaps a 4-day week, but a week later I had feedback to say they like the way they work currently and it works with home commitments. Although at first I was surprised I could fully appreciate this feedback and it made me change direction. This is not about finding a ‘one size fits all’ approach, which in fact is fairly lazy management, this is about understanding people are individuals, in different stages of their lives, with different home life commitments and demands. What works for one – will NOT work for another.

Then lastly we need to consider policies and the issue that policies are not fluid. Here at BB7 we have implemented a hybrid working guide, and it is simply that. It is a guide to offer insight into company expectations which align to a more flexible approach to work. Our industry is demanding, and our clients expect a high-quality service, and we want to give them that – but we do know we can still provide that high-quality service with some flexible and fluid working arrangements. Doing the school pick-up, or attending an appointment will not have an effect on our delivery for many reasons:

  1. We set clear expectations and role definition to ensure our team knows what their output should achieve.
  2. We expect line managers to manage resources effectively via exceptional communication – that is what they are paid to do!
  3. We have a ‘one team’ approach – we help each other and step in to support, guide and help when it is needed.
  4. We have to adapt to find a new way to connect. At BB7 we have started small, but we have changed our Teams icons to our photos so we can familiarise ourselves with all colleagues, and we run photo competitions where our pets often make guest appearances, closely followed by our children!

Employers and people management teams are taking exciting steps in a journey of discovery and implementation to encourage and embrace work-life integration, but we do need to continue to harness the value of face-to-face (person-to-person) collaboration and communication; but also hold an appreciation for our office spaces which home bonds, relationships, friendships, and organic learning. Having a designated workspace away from your personal life and duties, not only creates a physical barrier, but a mental and social one as well, so let’s aim for the best of both worlds.

Discovering work-life integration, and fully understanding the concept, has been an exciting journey for my team and I. I have personally found it fascinating how many people are ‘creatures of comfort’ and enjoy routine, and this is absolutely fine if that works for them. I have moved away from trying to find a solution for all, and instead focus my efforts on finding solutions for individuals. I know this will take time, but I also know the overall outcome will be worthwhile!