Clearly, my mind is distracted by a forthcoming football tournament. But to me, the analogy has some merit. Surely achieving some kind of life balance is preferable to just knowing we exist.
I am roughly defining life balance here as the sense of contentment we feel when our lives contain the right mix of fundamental elements – the belonging that comes from family, friends and a strong social support network; the sense of achievement we get from work (paid or otherwise) that we feel is worthwhile and contains the right level of challenges for our ability.
Employers have options when it comes to workforce life balance.
Companies can choose to strive for ‘imbalance’ in favour of workplace commitment. Or they can actively acknowledge that work is just one element of a well-balanced life, and try to support their employees in finding their own ‘best mix’ that still represents fair value for the company.
In my experience as an employee I would suggest that many companies sit in the first category. Mostly through the pressure of unwritten but subtly enforced rules within the workplace. It makes sense. If there is an implied pressure to commit to work as a priority in life, workers will be less likely to under perform. Except these days this kind of culture is everywhere and everyone is working harder than before. Yet productivity levels are not necessarily increasing in line with effort.
Negative stress builds as expectations and time pressures rise.
In a survey published by the CIPD last month, 25% of workers stated they were unhappy in their current post. Job satisfaction has reached a two-year low. If for a minute then, we look at the possibility that promoting life ‘imbalance’ is not working very well for business or for employees, what about the opposite approach?
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Strong precedent exists for more companies to sit in the second camp, where people are genuinely keen to look after the wellbeing of their employees. It wasn’t so very long ago that Lever Brothers built Port Sunlight – a community offering not just housing, but very good quality of life. This garden village had allotments and public buildings including the Lady Lever Art Gallery, a cottage hospital, schools, a concert hall, open-air swimming pool, church and a temperance hotel. As well as building the physical spaces, these famous industrialists put in welfare schemes and provided for the education and entertainment of their workforce with opportunities for recreation, art, literature, science and music.
Why is football so engrained in the national culture?
Many of the football teams still in existence today were created from factory workforces, to give people something healthful and productive to do on their day off. Long live Accrington Stanley! In more recent history, the theory that employees who feel well looked after are much better at looking after customers is well documented. But even without this clear business rationale, isn’t it just the decent thing to do?
Employees will always strive towards their own optimum work-life balance. In our heads, we all work to an unwritten contract that drives us to give, but also get, fair value from the relationship we have with our employers.
So as employers we have a choice.
Do we push on regardless and ignore this, or do we help people achieve life balance and in so doing, gain the loyalty and engagement levels we so greatly desire? I know which camp I’d rather be in – as an employee, and as an employer.