Finding that perfect work-life balance can feel a bit like catching lightning in a bottle. That probably isn’t too surprising though, because it is constantly evolving. And if the last two years have taught us anything, it is that things can suddenly change.
With a massively diverse workforce, finding a standard definition for work-life balance is always going to be a tough job. Our ideals are so heavily influenced by our personal details – age, family responsibilities, personality types, health, and changes in our personal life.
When it comes to having a positive work culture, work-life balance is a key feature. Affording your team the freedom to balance their interests and ambitions and blend work with non-work responsibilities shows that you understand and appreciate them. Moreover it has the potential to positively impact your bottom line. It has been estimated that between $125 – $190 billion dollars is spent per year on the physical and psychological issues related to burn out.
So, finding that balance for your team means that you may have to be flexible in your approach to managing expectations. Understanding what work-life balance means to different generations is a great starting point.
1945- 1960: Baby Boomers
A generation burdened with World War II, Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and 1960. Having been exposed to the hardships of making a liveable wage from an early age, many Boomers value stability and the opportunity to work. Work-life balance can therefore be less of a priority for this idealistic, competitive, and results-driven generation. ‘Boomers’ often stayed in their jobs for much longer than later generations, with many progressing to senior roles and having a moderate to high stress.
1960 – 1980: Generation X
Generation X encompasses the children of the ‘Boomers’, born between 1960-1980. This generation lived through the Cold War, celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, witnessed the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and grappled with the many economic and political crises in the post-1990 world. Having observed their parents working long hours, Gen-Xers became aware of the concept of poor work-life balance and its real-world repercussions. This generation has therefore put far more emphasis on work-life balance valuing things like telecommuting, maternity/paternity time, and reasonable holiday allowances.
1981: 2000: Millennials
Born between 1981 and 2000, Millennials, or Generation Y, came of age during a severe financial crisis and have been both the pioneers and guinea pigs of technological change in a globalizing work environment. The term Millennial has become synonymous with negative stereotypes such as entitlement, laziness, job-hopping and a lust for life rather than hard work. Such generalisations can however be counterproductive, failing to fully understand the motivations and aspirations of an important segment of society that will account for 75% of the workforce by 2025 and half of the global workforce by 2050.
Many employers have misread or misunderstood what millennials crave from work. They opted for games rooms, bean bags, and funky environments when in truth, those things don’t matter. Millennials, like so many others, want to do meaningful work in a positive environment, but they also value pay, job location, and most importantly a career that will support their lifestyle and their values.
Millennials prefer what Ann-Victoire Meillant terms “work/life integration”. With many of the securities enjoyed by previous generations falling away amidst global and local economic crises, millennials feel that work should at least be fulfilling or it simply isn’t worth it. As Sofia Niazi explains: “when you know all the money you earn is not going to guarantee you any security in later life then I think you are less willing to do an unsatisfying job”.
Building a positive work-life-balance culture
As can be seen, the idea of work-life balance is understood differently across generations. It should however not be forgotten that the concept is unique to every individual and their very specific set of circumstances at any given time. Finding that balance for your team therefore means that you must create an environment where employees can talk to you about their needs and concerns.
It’s about building trust and creating a positive culture that includes:
1. A Strong Code of Ethics
The comfort and safety of your teams should be priority number one for you. A recent survey found that only 11% of employees who witnessed unethical behaviour at work felt unaffected by it. Establish a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to unethical, illegal, or discriminatory behaviour.
2. Clear Communication & Active listening
Clarifying employee’s roles and exceptions is vital. Active listening will ensure that clear communication is effective and fosters respect amongst your teams. And ensure that methods of communication and reporting lines are clear and well understood.
3. Comfortable Work Environment
Ensure your teams have everything they need to succeed. Comfortable chairs, monitors, keyboards all feature, but also consider things like a healthy snack or food option and natural light.
Pay your employees what they deserve. Fair wages and incentives will make your teams feel valued and increase productivity and don’t underestimate the cost involved in onboarding when staff turnover is high.
5. Encourage Time-Off
You may have competitive time-off benefits, but employees may be reluctant to take advantage because of workloads or deadlines. Encourage teams to take breaks and time away, they’ll appreciate it and productivity will be steady.
It’s about empathy and understanding
The most important thing to remember when trying to establish a positive work-life culture for your employees, is that it involves more than just hours worked vs hours not working.
A healthy work culture may promote work-life balance through growth opportunities, competitive pay, comfortable environments, and social connections, but it starts with empathy and understanding.
It is imperative to understand that employees need more than just time away from work. They require a work environment that understands their generational needs and supports and enhances their lives. This not only promises to increase productivity, but should enable you to attract and retain the best talent.