Summary: Work-life integration has evolved as an all-encompassing concept and is poised to be an inherent part of the new normal that is emerging. However, whatever pros it holds, it does come with its fair share of challenges as well.
To be fair, it has not been easy for anyone—neither the companies, nor the employees. The pandemic has not only caused a major, worldwide disruption, it has meant a quantum jump in challenges. Since much has been written and deliberated already on this topic, I decided to focus on how the so called ‘new normal’ is affecting different generations at work.
Most people are familiar with the term ‘worklife balance’; however, in recent times, the concept of ‘work-life integration’ has received more traction and paved the way for this phrase to transform into the new norm. Work-life integration focuses entirely on consolidating distinct areas of one’s life in creating a broader view and bringing work and life closer.
According to a new study by SAP Concur1, 88 per cent of the workforce in India prefers the flexibility of working from home. The same study also revealed that 69 per cent of Indian employees believe their productivity has increased while working remotely—highest in the APAC region as compared to countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand. The boundaries of personal life and work life have been blurring over the years; however, with work-life integration coming into the picture, these boundaries seem to be completely gone.
Significance of work-life integration
Professionals practising work-life integration can handle both ‘work time’ and ‘personal time’ by focusing on the ‘best-time’ to do these requisite things. For instance, professionals can work earlier in the day in order to focus on their personal engagements later or check emails after office-hours but also respond to personal mails during the work day. To be specific, work-life integration emphasises on every activity of the day as a part of a whole rather than compartmentalising it. This flexible form of work culture shapes an individual’s ethos which allows them to look at the big picture and work collaboratively. In simpler terms, work-life integration gives people the opportunity to explore their creative sides along with identifying new prospects to make things better in every aspect of life.
Challenges of work-life integration
One should know where to draw the line in work-life integration, as it encompasses a wide spectrum of things, anyone of which could backfire if not handled correctly. This fusion work can make an individual overloaded and bogged down if not dealt skilfully. Hence, professionals should be cautious not to work too much in one go. It is also important to have supportive family structure and a shift in workplace culture for ‘work-life integration’ to be welcoming.
Tips for integrating both work and personal life
An integrated work-life culture can be a tempting subject for both employers and employees; however, it is necessary to have an appropriate plan for a smooth transition. Here are few points to consider:
Encourage Managers to focus on productivity, rather than hours. It is essential for managers to focus on the completion of a task by the employee rather than a count of their work hours. An employee’s productivity estimates the outputs of employees. Any workplace productivity helps in keeping the company breathing and thriving.
Encourage breaks and opportunities for informal communications among employees. For a healthy and comfortable working environment, it is important to let the employees break away for some time as the constant meetings and phone calls can be too overwhelming. To build a stimulating office ecosystem the employees need to be encouraged to take breaks and establish a cordial relationship with their colleagues through informal communication. Employers should encourage casual interaction which will facilitate in establishing morale and a feeling of belonging for these employees.
Lead by example to demonstrate worklife integration. The Indian workplace has traditionally been hierarchical, and to break through this structure it is vital to safeguard the work-life integration by ensuring that the senior management also appreciates it. Make sure that the managers leave the workplace on time, take breaks, do not mail workers after office hours, or demand work on an impractical time scale when it is not top priority.
Regularly review workloads. An Oxford University research2 shows that happy workers are 13 per cent more productive. As an employer of a healthy workplace, one needs to keep a constant check on the allocation of duties and secure individuals from unrealistic workloads. It is critical to familiarise oneself and the managers with the procedure of allocating work. What seems like a simple task to higher management, might take an employer the whole day. Managers should regularly talk to their team and ensure that the staff is not overworked or has too much spare capacity.
Encourage employees to take planned leaves and mandatory leave. It is important to reckon that ‘leave time’ prevents staff from burnout and stress, which lead to low-level work performance and heavy health costs. Planned and mandatory leaves aid in the process of rejuvenating employees. The multiple days off allows staff to recharge their mental and physical health. Time away from work also helps an employee return refreshed and prepared to tackle their responsibilities again.
Increase support for parents and family. It is often witnessed that companies lose great talents, especially mothers, to cater to their childcare needs. This problem is not constrained to mothers alone as many men want to spend time with their children too. To tackle such a situation, an organisation can provide equal benefits for maternity and paternity leaves. Loan programs for emergencies and special events. such as marriage can also help an employee in a great way. Other than that, an organisation can also offer health plans for the employee and their family members to increase support.
If employees find meaning in their work and are valued for whatever they do, their motivation levels will always be at their peak. The best that any organisation can do is attach meaning to the employee’s work as a sense of meaning will win over the impediments that hinder employees’ growth in the organisation.
Employees are pretty observant; they do not miss much. The actions and behaviours they see modeled and the ideals their immediate supervisor appears to value will inform their decisions and behaviour at work. If they see a management team that prioritises tasks, efficiencies, and productivity (job functions), then that is what they will focus on—often at the expense of the company’s own mission.
‘Conditional telework’, with all its conveniences, is fast gaining acceptance among management as well as employees, alike. However, it does come with its set of disadvantages too and many aspects of it are up for debate.
Digital or not, most transformations do not cross the finish line. You might achieve your numbers for a while, but then people slip back to the old ways of working and nothing sticks, leaving you to solve the same problem again. In order to outdo poor transformation and engagement stats, we must manage to engage because the future of business is (still) people.
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