Work-life balance has become a buzzword in a post-pandemic world. Survey has also found that employees are preferring a healthy work-life balance over a higher salary and that some workers are attracted to a new role for the work-life balance it provides.
According to one study by multinational insurer Aviva, work-life balance has overtaken salary as the top most desirable feature of a workplace since the COVID-19 crisis. Women employees are also more likely to opt for work-life balance over salary. In view of the new trend, businesses have also started reshaping their office space and reassessing their policies to make it people-friendly. Hybrid work culture seems to be one answer to ensure work-life balance as it reduces commute time and subsequent exhaustion.
Hariraj Vijaykumar, founder and CEO, NWORX, says that the world of work is moving towards remote-first and hybrid work models. “While there is a high degree of awareness of work-life balance and its importance, I do not see widespread clarity on all derailers of work-life balance. Time and energy expended on work commute cause stress and are alleviated with a hybrid work model. The hybrid work model also has the advantage of not requiring as mature management practices as the remote-only work model. Therefore, the risks to productivity and well-being are lower. So yes, a hybrid work model is a good solution in the right direction,” explains Vijaykumar.
At the moment there is no clear consensus on the issue. “Elements such as the nature of the work and the industry, the culture of the organisation, the core values of the founder and the management - all need to be taken into account to understand if a hybrid work model provides a healthier work-life balance. This cannot be a one-size fits all type of policy and must be looked at specifically to understand if it will work for an organisation, or not,” says Sawan Kapoor, a career coach.
According to Kapoor, the virtual work environment has also taken a toll on casual opportunities to interact with colleagues over a coffee break, or lunch. Monitoring of work and enforcement of the culture are among other challenges of the virtual work culture.
Work practices that affect well-being and work-life balance
Highlighting the work practices most likely to affect employees and their well-being, Vijaykumar says that employee-friendly career and work management practices go a long way in positively influencing well-being. These practices need to be activated by both managers and employees skillfully.
“The hybrid work model requires high role and job clarity coupled with autonomy on the work management front. This is a significant shift for junior and middle managers (I dare say it is an issue even for senior management in some job families). Processes around goal-setting, performance support for goal achievement, and goal tracking are critical in virtual work models, and managers and employees must be explicitly oriented towards them.”
Kapoor calls for setting up some clear rules while working from the office or home, or in a hybrid arrangement. According to him, employees must be aware of the core values of the company, there must be clear boundaries for personal time and finally everyone in the team must feel included.
To ensure a superior work-life balance for their people, Kapoor suggests emphasising productivity and not the hours spent, breaks and regular review of workloads by managers can help improve the work-life balance.
Other practices that can be followed for an improved work-life balance in the new normal are facilitating clarity and autonomy, and regular check-ins to ensure that employees are productive and feel supported.
Vijaykumar says that it is hard for managers to forecast all issues employees may face while working remotely, but they can uncover the problems in a psychologically safe space through skilled conversations.
Who is more responsible: the manager or the employees
Experts believe that both managers and employees have significant roles to play. While an organisation is responsible for providing a conducive environment that promotes a healthy work-life balance, ultimately it is your own responsibility to create a work-life balance that is suitable to your life situation.
On freedom to choose the work location and its impact on making an employee happier and more productive, industry people opine that this may not be practical or even beneficial in many cases. A hybrid work model alone will not make the employee happier over time.
For most, it has been hard to draw a clear separation between life and job while working from home. Especially for households with children, and as a result one’s professional obligations and in turn, one’s career can suffer.
Employees must have a purpose in work, and they must invest discretionary effort into achieving excellence, and feel supported in their performance to feel satisfied and sustainably productive.