Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge we all face every day. We are constantly seeking ways in which we can successfully combine our work, family and personal commitments into one 24 hour period. The 2017 OECD Better Life Index reported that Australians spend less time on personal care than the OECD average. Is it any wonder our organisations are concerned and focused on helping us achieve balance? Balance is something I encourage within my own team and among the executives I coach. I have even written a previous blog on the consequences of not achieving balance.
So what is work-life balance? It can mean different things to different people. It could be leaving the office by 5.30pm to go to the gym three days a week, it could be turning off the work mobile at 6.00pm each night, or not checking your work emails in the evenings or on weekends. Whatever it means to you, we do know that if we do not get some sense of balance our health, our productivity and our personal lives start to suffer.
Quite often, when we discuss the concept of work-life balance, we immediately assume the ‘life’ part of that equation is generally taken to mean ‘family’. This in turn leads to the generalisation that it is women who need to make the choice between career and family to achieve this balance. Thankfully this is changing with many organisations now supporting their male employees who choose to take a greater role in helping their families achieve balance.
While all of this is encouraging, I was reminded of an article I read a couple of years back by Dr Nikki Stamp that suggests there are other groups that we need to consider when we discuss work life balance. In her article, Work Life Balance Does Not Mean Work Family Balance, Nikki encourages us to think more broadly and include those without any children or family into our consideration of balance.
There is no doubt we are better at understanding the needs of all our people but at times our unconscious biases can often affect our decision making. The article cites an example where a single doctor explained that he had been rostered to work on Christmas day because he was single and it was perceived that he lacked a legitimate and compelling reason to have the public holiday off. How is this fair? How is it achieving balance for this single doctor? I am sure we can all think of an instance where a woman without children is perceived to be a more favourable candidate for a senior leadership role than a woman with young children. Her life is perceived as less busy which equates to less time off, less family commitments etc.
These unconscious biases need to change. We need to ensure we are recognising that work-life balance is something that is important to everyone regardless of their gender or family status. Most workplaces are encouraging flexible working arrangements that are available to all employees. We all need to continue to work towards a more modern approach to work-life balance by ensuring our policies and practices encompass the needs of all employees. As Hillary Rodham Clinton said ‘Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.’ As a leader, support balance for all members of your team and yourself.