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Why work-life balance?

19 July 2017 | by Dr Roxane Gervais

By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day. - Robert Frost (1875 - 1963), US poet (attrib.)

The phrase 'work-life balance' seems to have evolved into a ‘buzz-phrase’ that is accepted as an essential component of the work environment.

Yet despite this acceptance, the question remains - does everyone have the same understanding of work-life balance?

Not necessarily. The terms to describe this concept, mainly among researchers of course, includes: Work-Life Balance, Work Family Balance, Work Family Conflict, Family to Work Conflict, Work-Life Conflict, Work Family Facilitation, Work-Life Facilitation, Work Family Enrichment, Work Life Enrichment, Work Family Depletion, Work-Life Depletion, Family Friendly, Flexible Work, Negative Spillover, Work-Life Effectiveness, Work-Life Integration, Work-Home Interference, Home-Work Interference… and the list goes on.

With such a broad terminology, it cannot be expected that everyone understands the concept in the same way, as all workers will have a personal view of what balancing work with life means to them. So do we need all these different views?

It is important to acknowledge that work-life balance is not static; it changes for individuals over time and will mean different things to different people. Therefore, what might have been relevant for an employee at 25 years old, might not meet their needs necessarily when they are 35 years old, or 55. Individuals change as they go through the life course, and their needs differ as well.

So for example, two women in the workplace who are 38 years old may have different expectations of how they wish to balance their work commitments and their life commitments. One may wish to focus on family, with another on life. While these are not mutually exclusive, such as enjoying skiing as a recreational activity, nonetheless experiencing it on one’s own, or with three children and a life partner will differ, but may provide the same level of intensity and life satisfaction.

The focus on women supports perhaps the underlying perception that work-life balance is still about women having enough time to engage in childcare; but it has transcended such a myopic oversight for quite some time.

The proportion of men who are becoming the primary caregiver for their children is increasing. There is evidence for this rise of ‘stay-at-home’ dads, for example in the United States and in Australia, while in the United Kingdom those men who are defined as economically inactive and who stay at home to take care of dependents is on the increase.

Although the research in this area is not extensive or very specific to date, as a new area, researchers may have to determine still the best way to collect these data. Moreover, within the last decade or so, those countries offering paternity leave is transcending from the expected Nordic block, such as in Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, where this is compulsory, to those that offer it under more limited conditions, such as in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

This ‘new’ practice is changing the dynamic of the gender interface of work family facilitation, work family enrichment, and family friendly policies. While such policies remain within the ‘Western’ context, new research is showing that despite the fiscal capacity of developing countries, this is an option that some of these economies provide, albeit with very low leave allowances.

Balancing work with life covers everyone - women, men, employers, employees, mothers, father - and crosses cultures. Class, race or type of employment does not and cannot define it. Regardless of their role, all workers have to manage the relationship between how they work and how they manage their non-work time. This could include managing their time more effectively to organise childcare, elder care, learning a new skill, or doing absolutely nothing!

Organisations that have policies in place that facilitate better childcare, such as flexible working, part-time working and allowing parents to take leave to care for sick children are all help individuals to reconcile work and family life. In addition, due to the ageing population, it is not only those who are parents who have to reconcile work and family life; more workers are taking care of their elderly parents or other relatives and, as with children, may require time away from work to do so.

One of the reasons that the Division of Occupational Psychology chooses to explore work-life balance is because it is a core component of the work environment, and one that adds to the Quality of Work and Employment.

In this respect, work-life balance supports ‘good work’ as determined by employee rights and participation, fair wages, workers’ protection of safety and health at work, as well as a family-friendly work organisation.

The Division’s work-life balance bulletin (available here) provides articles and overviews of current research in the area, interviews with key researchers, as well as detailing its global impact by assessing those practices, procedures and support systems that are in place across countries. Thus far, the bulletin has included overviews from Lebanon, Israel, Romania, India and South Africa, to name a few.

As we are all very much aware, the ‘world’ is shrinking, especially with rapidly changing technologies and the progression of the Always-on Culture.

Family, organisational and societal structures have all changed over the past few decades and these continue to change, with work-life balance having to change to address these.

But, despite these changes, it is important to remember that work-life balance starts with the individual, not the organisation, and not the family.

 

If you would like to get in touch to tell us about your perception of work-life balance please email us at: [email protected]

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