Work/life Balance – Aspirational or Achievable?

Apologies to Dolly Parton, but ‘working 9-5’ is a thing of the past. We no longer work fixed hours and work is encroaching on our personal lives. As businesses evolve in the digital environment, the boundaries are eroding. So many organisations aspire to the principles of ‘work/life balance’, but as the definition of the workplace has become more fluid, this goal remains elusive. More and more of us work from home, often outside of what used to be termed standard ‘working hours’. The consequence of this flexibility means that the separation between business and home life has become more difficult to establish and work now encroaches on personal lives.

The trade-off

We may want to juggle work and family commitments, and digital devices give us the power to be more agile in the way we work. So if we work from home, we can do the school run early morning and afternoon, but is the trade-off logging on to emails into the wee small hours? If we feel guilty about taking time out during the working day to take a child to the dentist or help an elderly parent, do we over-compensate by working late into the evening? And what impact does working late at home have on our domestic lives? With so many of us working across different time zones, we may find ourselves communicating with colleagues in Asia before breakfast and dialling into transatlantic conference calls after dinner. And in the era of flexible working, we no longer count how many hours we work. So there is a trade-off and we need to consider whether the stress of extending the working day really is achieving a true work/life balance.

Keeping in touch while on holiday

There’s no doubt that we find it difficult not only to switch off from work, but physically to press the off button on our devices.  Our digital addiction drives us to check not only our personal emails and social media feeds, but changes and disruption in the workplace also create job insecurity so that we may feel the need to keep checking our work emails at weekends and even from the holiday beach. A recent BBC article examines the dilemma so many of us feel when on holiday about whether it’s better to check work emails from the comfort of your sun lounger or to sift through hundreds of emails when returning to the office. And instability in the work environment may make us feel the need to remain in touch with the business and remind colleagues that we still exist despite the annual fortnightly vacation.

Work/life balance?

It is a challenge to achieve a true work/life balance and to know when to draw the line on the workplace. But everyone needs literally to switch off and relax. Learning when to take a break from work is something we all need to do. Companies that espouse the work/life balance principle need to make sure that employees truly understand what this means and that they do manage to achieve the right balance in their lives.

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