Work-life balance is a concept often discussed in HR circles. For years, it was hailed as a way of upholding office morale, but it seems work-life balance may have had its day. It has recently been superseded by a new and exciting approach known as work-life integration: a more fitting and realistic alternative for the ambitious, determined worker who not only places equal importance on the success of both their work and private lives but seeks to handle both simultaneously. The idea of work-life integration is having far-reaching impacts on morale, productivity and performance management.
What is work-life integration?
The more traditional idea of work-life balance revolved around the concept of being able to ‘balance’ your daily hours between your work and your private life. When you went home, you’d leave work behind and you wouldn’t allow your personal life to follow you into the office.
Over recent years, it has become clear that this attempt at a work-life balance is nearly impossible. Changes in the way we communicate and work mean work often bleeds over into our family lives. Due to the fact that we are not automatons, our personal lives have an impact on the way we approach our work. Work-life integration is a means by which we can prioritize — and integrate — both of these parts of our identity.
This change in approach was inevitable, given the advent of work phones and video conferencing. Few of us completely unplug when we return home, or even when we’re on holiday. In fact, 52 percent of employees check work emails during their vacation. According to a 2014 study, 42 percent of employees feel 'obligated' to do so. According to one study, 44 percent of workers in the Netherlands believe they should have the freedom to define their own work schedule. Over 50 percent of employees believe a traditional 9-5 work routine is outmoded.
Clinical Psychologist Maria Sirois has said that the practice of work-life integration results in less stress and more overall fulfillment. This is why work-life integration is so important from an HR and performance management perspective. Employees who are less stressed are generally more engaged, have higher morale and are more productive than those who are frequently stressed. This is also true of employees who have access to more flexible working environments.
Why it’s increasingly relevant for millennials
It’s estimated that by the year 2020, almost 50 percent of the workforce will comprise of millennials. For an organization to flourish, we need to adapt to meet their needs. We need to understand how they operate, how they are motivated and how to get the best out of them.
Despite ongoing stereotypes, the truth is millennials are hard-working and dedicated — perhaps even more so than generations before them. They are also more socially connected than any previous generation, as they have grown up with email, social media and instant messaging at hand. Ditching access to social media can often result in a phenomenon known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), which can cause productivity issues in itself. To get the best out of this generation, a degree of flexibility is required. They want to check their Facebook at work, but equally, they want to keep in touch on work matters while at home. Companies that refuse to adjust to changing times will likely lose out on promising workers, who would favor freelancing or starting a small business to retain their independence.
Work-life integration benefits working parents
Work-life integration can be of particular benefit to working parents. Fifty percent of employees say work conflicts with family responsibilities at least twice or three times per week. Forty percent of women delay having children as a result, and 33 percent of parents are worried they aren’t spending enough time with their children. Rather than forcing your working parents to pick between their family and their career and risk losing a valued employee, work-life integration could be the answer. HR managers should keep in mind that working mothers are generally more productive than those without children and, as such, efforts should be made to keep them on board.
Tips for introducing work-life integration into your performance management system
Introducing flexibility in the form of work-life integration may appear daunting at first, but it is a great move forward for your company. Your performance management system can stay ahead of the curve and ensure your organization remains competitive while developing a progressive reputation among graduates and other promising candidates.
For work-life integration to work, rules need to be enforced. Though it might be important for employees to decide their own hours, within reason, managers should be firm about their expectations. For this reason, goal setting is essential. Have employees set SMART objectives, which can be easily tracked by modern performance management software. This will ensure everyone is on track and nobody is taking advantage of your company’s flexible nature.
Communication needs to be a priority. Organize frequent one-to-ones with your employees to monitor performance and obtain feedback regarding progress. This will give your employees the opportunity to express any concerns or discuss relevant issues. On top of this, organizations should embrace technology and introduce a company-wide means of employee communication, where your workforce can receive real-time feedback and interaction when needed.
Managers need to accept that each employee is different and, in order to maximize their efficiency, they may have different working hours. Some are morning people and get the bulk of their work completed before noon, while others are more productive in the evening. This may take some time to adapt to, but as long as employees are adhering to expectations and set goals, exercise trust and take a step back.
Moving forward, your system of work-life integration needs to be considered at the recruitment stage. You want employees who are willing to work hard, who are independent and don’t require constant supervision. Specific questions can be asked of employees to uncover their work ethic; this will determine whether or not they are a strong fit for your company.
Finally, remember that work-life integration isn’t all about work. Be wary of employees who are clearly working too hard. Overworking and perfectionism can ultimately harm productivity as much as a lack of effort. Overworking can also result in high blood pressure and sleep problems, which will mean sick days in the long haul. If this behavior is becoming an issue, HR departments should step in to offer advice and assistance.
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